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Summary:

Would consumers pay to stream live, local TV channels to a Roku or other connected set-top box? And if so, how much? That’s a question that’s on the mind of Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper, who’s doing a little bit of informal market research on the topic.

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Would consumers pay to stream live, local TV channels to a Roku or other connected set-top box? And if so, how much would they shell out for such a service? That’s a question that’s on the mind of Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper, who’s doing a bit of informal market research on the topic.

On Thursday night, Jasper tweeted out a link to a poll, asking if consumers would sign up for a local live-streaming service. The service would include live streams of TV shows from local broadcasters, including ABC, NBC, Fox and CBS, as well as PBS programming — but it would not have a DVR or on-demand component. Presumably that would come from other services available on the Roku box, such as Netflix or Hulu Plus.

This isn’t the first time Jasper has posed this question on social networks. A little more than a month ago he polled followers on Google+, asking the same question. But unlike the GoPollGo results, which are public, that poll was powered by Google Docs, and the results aren’t shared.

That said, it’s easy to see why Jasper might be interested in rolling out a subscription-video offering. For Sonic, adding a low-cost video component could be one way to differentiate its services and make them stickier. Unlike larger competitors like Comcast or AT&T, Sonic is a pure-play ISP, meaning that it doesn’t provide pay-TV services, just broadband. So adding a pay-TV component, even if that only means local channels, could provide a great deal of value for a relatively low cost.

How much would the plan cost?

But of course, the devil is in the details. Pricing seems to be the key sticking point here, and it’s not clear whether or not Sonic would even be able to roll out a low-cost alternative to broadcast cable packages at a sub-$10 price point. On DirecTV’s earnings call on Thursday, CEO Mike White told investors that it would be difficult for any provider to create a streaming package that would make sense at a reasonable price point.

“If you look at kind of cost of programming . . . its kind of hard to get to a meaningful group of channels for any price that’s I would say less than even $30,” White said on the call.

Didn’t users cut the cord for a reason?

Then there’s the question of whether or not Sonic’s broadband-only subscriber base would even want live TV. After all, at some point we must assume that they specifically chose not to pay one of its competitors for TV services. It’s possible that a $5 service might be more attractive than most available cable offerings, but traditionally low-cost cable packages rarely attract much customer interest.

And finally, there’s the reality that most of this content is already available to viewers either through over-the-air signals, which they can pick up for free with an HD antenna, or on-demand from Hulu and other network sites. There’s a good chance that users who have chosen to go broadband-only already are either getting their programming in one of those ways, or TV simply isn’t that important to them.

The results of Jasper’s most recent survey seem to agree: While admittedly taken from a small sample, half of all respondents said they would see no value in such a service, with about 40 percent saying they would pay just $5 and 7 percent saying they would pay $10. All of which suggests that even if there is a market for a low-cost, broadcast-only streaming option, the number of potential subscribers is likely very small. And they’re unlikely to pay very much.

  1. If the service was priced around $5 and I was super attached to Roku I think I would be interested. I would rather have the option of buying this type of service via HTML (Web Site) rather than specific Platform App.

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  2. I would like to see Roku partnering with companies such as Discovery, Travel… and provide a specific channel on Roku. Would be willing to pay $4-$5 each. Most of local channel programming is already handled by Hulu.
    To your knowledge, is there a reason why channels such as the ones listed above not interested in getting extra revenues outside of the traditional cable, dish companies?

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    1. Michelle Greer Friday, August 5, 2011

      +1 on this.

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  3. This is an easy no. I can get local TV over the air with a $15 antenna. In HD. Why would I pay anyone a monthly fee for that?

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    1. What if you live in an area in which your $15 antenna gives you no reception at all and your only choice is Cable or Satellite for an arm and a leg? Net Streaming service is good, but you can’t watch local live TV such as news reports and such.

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  4. Fieldforce App Friday, August 5, 2011

    People seem to be assuming that Sonic.net would have to pay to license the programming from the networks. But using something like Syncbak’s technology, the local stations could stream their content to Sonic customers within their broadcast footprint. Given the potential upside for local broadcasters to getting a foothold on connected devices (superior ad targeting and interactivity, eventual addition of on-demand programming, etc.) they might be willing to do it without charging Sonic a licensing fee. The Roku box would need to have a Syncbak receiver in it (or attached to it) but that’s not a big technical problem.

    As for why consumers would do it, the ability to receive local stations through an OTT device alongside Netflix, Hulu, etc., without having to switch inputs might make for a nice cord-cutting package if the price were reasonable. As for Sonic, it would put them on more of a level playing field with MVPD broadband providers without having to build out an MVPD plant.

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    1. And by “Fieldforce App” in this case I mean Paul Sweeting of GigaOM Pro. Are you sure that log-in app is working right?

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  5. There is a reason I completely cut the cord. Local channels are not an attractive option, especially when most of the programming are re-hashed, low quality viewing we’ve all seen before. The shows that push the edge into the area of new, innovative ideas are quickly cut loose into the void. Last two shows to completely turn viewing around – Miami Vice, and 24.

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  6. Why should I pay for something that I can get for free by pressing the channel up/down button?

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  7. It would solve my Chicago OTA Channel 2 CBS reception problem. I’m ready to sign up now!

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    1. you need to make sure you antenna can do VHF…. CBS 2 is still on VHF channel 12 so if you have a UHF only antenna you will have problems … you also need to have the antenna at least 1 foot up for each mile away you are from the tower… so for me I have it in the attic and i am 28 miles from the antenna farm.

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  8. Why not include an over the air converter in a Roku box? I would pay a little extra for that.

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  9. I would only be interested in such a service because my outdoor antenna drops signal under windy conditions meaning I can’t watch some channels whose broadcast antennas are further away.

    I would not be willing to pay more than $5 and only if all current channels are available including NBC, PBS (3), ABC, CBS, FOX, MyTV, and CW. I’m not willing to pay more because I detest 15-18 minutes of commercials per hour of programming.

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    1. This is the big point — not everyone can get good reception of these channels from an OTA antenna, but they also don’t want to pay more than $10 for those channels.

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  10. Why bother? Most TVs have an internal antenna that can pick up local terrestrial channels.

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