Has TV Everywhere Gotten Anywhere?
The proposition was ambitious, but quite simple. Pay TV customers were spending more time online. It only made sense that their television content would be available online as well. With the right deals, the right technology and the right marketing, your content would go where you go. In layman’s terms, Carrie Bradshaw would be made available whenever and wherever you needed her; because let’s face it, if Carrie isn’t everywhere, she isn’t anywhere.
When Time Warner and Comcast made the grand unveil of the TV Everywhere (TVE) initiative in 2009, it was meant to usher in the next chapter of the pay TV industry. It would essentially deliver on the promise of a multiplatform consumer viewing experience and be sold as a service add-on. As consumers shifted their viewing habits toward mobile and online consumption, a crop of new technologies would seamlessly enable their favorite programming to be delivered in high quality and without any glitches. TV Everywhere was yet another landmark of what we considered to be the digital age. But what began as a movement with great fanfare and promise has since been stalled by a series of overarching challenges since the inception of the concept in 2009. Now that we’re in 2012, TVE has seen major advancements and is no longer a pie-in-the-sky idea. And even though the pie has begun to fall in the past few years, it’s never quite gotten close enough for us to eat.
Since its very inception, the TVE movement has been plagued with issues. From the start, it was heavily criticized for its anti-competitive nature. Much was written about the damper it placed on online video/over the top (OTT) services and the efforts of upstarts such as Roku and Hulu. What was claimed as an enhancement for customers was framed as a survival tactic for the pay TV industry. Additionally, TVE was faced with a host of implementation issues. For one, TVE requires a lot of deal making because at the end of the day, it’s still a concept and not an actual service. Channels and distributors have to be in agreement over all the logistical details; ‘easier said than done’ would be an understatement here. On top of this, the technological implementation was problematic. In order for TVE to be truly successful, it has to be nearly invisible to the consumer. For this to happen, the right technologies have to be in place. New solutions have popped up across the years, but this was not always the case. The industry was very touch-and-go with the kind technologies they adopted and ended up creating great inconsistency in the consumer experience. And finally, another major issue was measurement. As an industry heavily reliant on advertisers, companies struggled with measuring viewers across mobile devices; something that was nowhere near the traditional TV offerings held by Nielsen.
Despite the veritable gamut of obstacles facing TVE, recent chatter indicates that the tide is shifting. Last month, Infonetics Research made a bold claim that 2012 would be the “watershed” year for the TVE movement. They stated that this would be the year, as global operators kept close tabs on Comcast and Time Warner’s TVE services to determine the viability and profitability of these efforts. Citing their own statistics, the report buffered their claims by showing that the global video infrastructure market is projected to grow 9 percent in 2012 and be worth over $875 million. Coupled with this is a projected doubling of the IPTV subscriber base from 2012 to 2016. According to analyst Jeff Heynen, “TV Everywhere and other multi-screen video initiatives are fundamentally changing the TV business model.”
In looking at 2012, a few notable events would certainly make one raise their palms in support of Infonetics. First of all, TVE as a service has become more widespread with the notable development we’ve seen in mobile app delivery. If you’ve never had a TVE experience via an app, it basically involves an authentication process that validates your status as a pay TV subscriber. Once you’re authenticated, the content is available on the app and can be viewed through your tablet or Smartphone device. Introduced in early 2010, HBO GO has long been seen as a solid example of an effective delivery platform. WatchESPN, ABC Player, Cartoon Network’s app and others were in the mix as well. One notable recent introduction is the TVE app from the Disney Channel. Released in June 2012, the app has a reach of 40 million cable subscribers through a deal with Disney and Comcast. What’s interesting about this app is how a recent paidContent article framed its position in the competitive landscape. As previously noted, many have criticized TVE for its anticompetitive stance towards online video and OTT services. Pulling from a BTIG Research report and details around app features, the article commented that the TVE app provides no threat to OTT services such as Netflix. It goes on to say that it may even be complementary in nature in that it pushes viewers to stream older episodes via Netflix.
The 2012 Olympics has also been a notable showpiece on TVE implementation. Billed as the first digital Olympics, this has been the very first year that fans have been able to view the games (both live stream and on-demand) across internet-connected devices. Many have considered this the biggest test to date for the TVE movement, noting that if it’s popular with viewers, perceptions may begin to change. Although we’ve seen issues around timing and usability, the data around streaming content has been staggering. Across online, mobile and tablet platforms, there have been 75 million total video streams (a 182% increase from the Beijing games) and 34 million live streams (a 333% increase from Beijing). Around TVE specifically, cable, satellite and telco customers have verified 6.2 million devices either online or via the app. According to the press, this is considered the most device verifications ever for a single event in the three year history of TVE.
We’ve also seen notable developments around TVE technology. With the customer experience being a majority priority for TVE, authentication has become a key area of development. Several solutions are available in the market and continue to be enhanced for greater usability. Text100 recently worked with its client Adobe on the launch of NBC’s two official Olympics apps; both powered by Adobe technologies. With the support of Adobe Pass authentication service, users were able to access more than 3,500 hours of Olympic live stream content. We’ve also seen progress in the way of industry standards. At CES 2012, the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) unveiled DLNA Premium Video specification, which expands the boundaries of the digital home through enhanced standards around the distribution and protection of premium video content. Service providers are able to provide consumers access to television and movie content via DLNA-certified products, which includes everything from tablets and smartphones to video game consoles.
This new industry standard utilized DTCP-IP (a content protection protocol) to protect premium video content between set top boxes and products compliant with DLNA, including tablet devices, blu-ray players and TVs. As more products become certified, it becomes easier for pay TV providers to provide content through internet connected devices via the home network.
On the measurement front, people typically look to Nielsen. Being the behemoth they are when it comes to the TV market, you’d expect Nielsen to be in a leading role when it comes to counting viewers across mobile devices. This is not to say the company isn’t, as evidenced by the fact that it began offering the measurement of cross-platform ratings for traditional TV, VOD, DVR and online. But at the same time, competition is alive and well. Rival comScore announced in May 2012 that it had proprietary technology in place that would allow them to effectively measure viewership across mobile devices. On top of that, they also partnered with AT&T on a “multiscreen research initiative” in an effort to measure consumer media consumption across TV, online and mobile.
What we’re seeing in these recent developments is a possible shift in perceptions towards TVE. Of course, some issues have no easy solutions. When it comes to something like deal making, every situation is unique and is complicated with layers upon layers of differing considerations and conflicts. On the other hand, a glimmer of light is slowly billowing across some of the other obstacles we’ve noted. When it comes to the anti-competitive nature of TVE, we can point to Disney’s efforts as one of many indicators that different strategies are available for win-win outcomes. As far as the technology is concerned, solution providers have perked up at the opportunity to provide the right products and services for the PayTV industry. And when it comes to measurement, competition is essentially breeding the proper solution. Whether 2012 will really be the “watershed” year for TVE is yet to be seen. But at the very least, we’re beginning to see why the needle is moving on the dream-to-reality spectrum. Although Carrie Bradshaw’s time on television ended too soon for the world to test her potential across screens, one can only hope that 2013 will allow Mariah’s ‘Idol’ critiques to be heard across smartphone, tablet and internet-connected devices everywhere.
P.S. – Texties have organized a fabulous TVE panel proposal for next year’s SXSW. Pulling together a veritable group of media brands including CNN, Bravo, MTV/VH1 and The Weather Channel, the session will dive into TV everywhere strategies and examine how these companies are overlaying co-viewing experiences as the second screen becomes the primary device for on-demand content viewing. Please vote for this panel here!