But, at least for this piece, I'm working from a new premise: Nobody cares about any of that. Consumers don't care about the economics of television. They don't care that the golden age of TV entertainment is a direct result of TV's weird quilt of cross-subsidies. What they care about is simple. It's convenience and cost.
So which of these bundles will be the final unraveling of the big bundle? All of them and none of them. All of them, because the sum of these smaller bundles will pull more young people away from the big bundle or at least encourage them to default to their particular status quo, whether that's Netflix, Amazon, or anything with an Apple logo.
But also, none of them, because the real disruption isn't coming from a repackaging of bundles, but rather from the mess of video and visual entertainment that nobody really considers television, but still competes cheaply for the scarce attention of young people: Vine, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. In the words of the media research firm MoffettNathanson, the mini-bundles proposed by Apple and Sling are...
... simply re-aggregations of traditional cable and broadcast networks. Our sense remains that we are still looking in the wrong place for disruption. The real revolution is likely to come from outside the traditional ecosystem, from the Vimeos and Vessels and even Facebooks of the world, where content is being created and distributed entirely outside the existing ecosystem, often at a fraction of the cost of traditional linear TV. Our suspicion is that the millennial cord cutter isn’t waiting around for just the right package of cable channels that only their parents watch.
Oh, snap. And also: pretty much. Disney and Comcast aren't just chasing Netflix, which is some great original shows alongside a beautifully rendered platter of TV's re-heated leftovers. They're also chasing the flatlining income of the typical young household. They're chasing Vine Stars, with follower counts three-times larger than Mad Men's viewership. They're chasing cost and convenience in a Millennial demographic where only half of young people say they are paying for TV but just about all of them spend hours a day looking at news feeds.
Extrapolating the present isn't the same as predicting the future, and many TV people have good reason to think this will work itself out in their favor. The familiar line from the TV executives I've spoken with is that the Millennial problem isn't really about technology. It's about age and income. That is, when young people get hitched and richer, they'll pool two incomes and splurge for cable just like every generation before them. These executives might be right. But they are pattern-matching to past generations who had no Vine, no Twitter, no Instagram, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Vimeo ... no video entertainment that didn't come through a TV screen or via a movie ticket. It's not clear that the behavior of adults born in 1946 is the right way to predict the entertainment future of adults born in 1996.
So the most important question isn't how many people sign up for smaller bundles instead of the big bundle, although that will be an interesting thing to follow. Rather, it's how many young people sign up for any bundle rather than embrace the chaos of entertainment on free apps. TV is still a paradox of choice. And "none of the above" will always be an option.