Why Viacom’s New Non-Sports Streaming Service Could Work – Despite Company’s Weak Content

How much do millennials really want their MTV?

At first blush, Viacom’s Monday announcement of a coming non-sports streaming service sounded like a death wish. How would its “entertainment pack” compete with the likes of YouTube TV and Hulu for audiences seeking live video content?

But after taking a step back, Viacom’s decision could pay off. For starters, the market for non-sports fans is sizable. Nearly 50 percent of women and one-third of men are not sports fans, according to a 2015 Gallup poll.

Altogether, that’s 40 percent of the U.S. for Viacom to target.

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As Viacom CEO Bob Bakish argued at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, it’s “highly unlikely” non-sports fans will continue to pony up $40 for other streaming packages.

Viacom can then carve its own niche — while withholding its own content from rivals like YouTube TV or Hulu. And for a company that has seen its stock price tumble more than 50 percent since 2014 as i thas struggled to adjust to changing media consumption habits, this is imperative.

But there is one piece to the puzzle still missing.

Viacom’s service will ultimately sink or swim on its ability to provide compelling content. Its current TV slate — including MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Spike (soon to be rebranded as the Paramount Network) — is painfully devoid of must-see shows, and ratings have suffered because of it.

This is an issue that would derail any goodwill built by an affordable streaming service.

Execs can’t expect millennials to climb aboard simply for “The Daily Show.” Customers will still turn to its competitors because Hulu, Amazon and Netflix — among others — have content viewers feel they have to see.

Bakish seemed to understand this hurdle, at least, noting Viacom’s need to bundle with “a few of [Viacom’s] competitors” but still be offered at a “very low price point.”