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"Skinny Bundles" Are Supposed to Be Big for TV. But Comcast Says Sales Have Slowed.

Comcast may be okay with that.

Shutterstock / Luis Carlos Torres
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Many people think that “skinny bundles” — pay-TV packages that include Internet access and a relatively small number of TV channels — are going to be a big part of TV’s future.

But that prediction got a little cloudier this morning, when Comcast* told Wall Street that sales of its skinny bundles have declined in the last year. It’s hard to tell if that’s significant or not, but it’s one of the few times pay-TV operators have offered any kind of performance updates on these packages, period.

Neil Smit, the executive who runs Comcast’s cable operations, told analysts that sales of packages that include broadband plus a scaled-down selection of TV channels had dropped in the third quarter of this year, compared with the same quarter in 2013.

Smit didn’t provide any other details, and Comcast reps didn’t have any other comment. So we don’t know if Comcast’s customers are less interested in these packages, or if Comcast is pushing other packages, or if there’s any other reason these things aren’t selling as well.

It’s worth noting that these broadband-plus-a-bit-of-TV bundles, which are sold by other pay-TV providers including Verizon and AT&T, are essentially teaser rates designed to get people in the door. A year after subscribers sign up, the monthly price goes up significantly.

It’s also worth noting that from Comcast’s perspective, the fact that its skinniest bundles aren’t selling that well isn’t necessarily a problem. The company is trying to get people to buy fatter bundles of services, and that seems to be working. This quarter it added 76,000 “double product” customers and 72,000 “triple product” customers.

But lots of other people seem to think skinny bundles are important. Dish Network, for instance, is assembling a skinny bundle of networks for its Web-TV service. And HBO’s plan to sell itself over the Web is designed in part to make sure that the pay network gets a place on skinny bundles.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.

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