Charter testing $20, sports-less streaming skinny bundle

Charter is testing an IP-based skinny bundle, delivered over a managed network, just as Comcast is doing with Xfinity Instant TV.

Charter Communications is testing a $20-a-month sports-less streaming service that will livestream around 25 channels. 

The main programming tier includes local broadcast stations, as well as 25 cable-network staples, such as AMC, TNT, FX and Food Network, plus access to premium channels HBO and Showtime for an additional $7.50 a month. 

Sports networks, including ESPN, would not be available in the base tier—they would have to be added with a $12-a-month extra package. 

The product test was first reported by Reddit users invited to the trial. Charter has since confirmed the test.

RELATED: Comcast to roll out skinny ‘Stream’ service across footprint in Q3

“We are testing Spectrum Stream, an IP delivered in-home cable TV product with traditional TV everywhere out-of-home streaming, to a group of prequalified and current Spectrum internet customers to see if this smaller package resonates with a certain segment of non-video customers,” said Charter spokesman Justin Venech, in an emailed statement to FierceCable. “It includes local broadcast channels, 25 popular cable networks and access to thousands of on-demand choices—along with options for additional news, sports and premium channels—delivered to connected and mobile devices, without requiring a set-top box.”

Indeed, Spectrum Stream is not a virtual-MVPD play with national scale—much like Comcast’s Xfinity Instant TV, it’s an IP-based live-streamed service delivered over a managed network to subscribers in the Charter footprint. Notably, Comcast’s $15-a-month streaming skinny bundle is slated to exit testing and roll out across its footprint in the third quarter. 

In other words, it’s not an OTT play designed to compete head-one with Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube Live, etc. 

That said, it’s easy to envision Spectrum Stream as being a competitive alternative to vMVPDs within the Charter footprint. The only vMVPD priced competitively is Sling TV. But the $20-a-month tier is weighted down with the cost of ESPN—there are no broadcast channels, for example, unless higher tiers or add-ons are paid for. 

In its rhetoric and programming negotiations, Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar noted that Charter hasn't been a big backer of skinny bundles in the past. 

"If Charter is seriously considering pushing skinny bundles, it is quite a meaningful reversal of its core strategy," Venkateshwar said in a note to investors today. "However, we note that there are likely to be limitations on how many subscribers can be enrolled into these skinny bundles because of the nature of content agreements."