Turner Cooks Up TV Everywhere Log-In System

A key question about TV Everywhere: How will people log in if content is available “everywhere”?

Turner Broadcasting System over the last few months has developed a working proof-of-concept for an intermediary database that could authenticate cable, satellite or telco TV subscribers via a single interface to programmers and a single interface to distributors. According to one executive familiar with the project, Turner has tapped Adobe Systems to develop such a system. (Both companies declined to comment.)

Note that Turner, HBO and Warner Bros. Entertainment earlier this year announced a strategic alliance with Adobe to develop “next-generation video” across multiple distribution platforms, while HBO has standardized on Adobe’s Flash multimedia platform for HBO Go as well as the Adobe-developed encrypted Real-Time Messaging Protocol, “RTMPE” (see HBO Goes With Adobe For ‘TV Everywhere’).

Obviously, TV Everywhere would be more scalable across the industry if an intermediary handled the authentication process.

Otherwise there’s a complicated “N-to-N” matrix in which every Web site hosting TV Everywhere content — i.e., programmer-owned sites like TBS.com, TNT.tv, CartoonNetwork.com, truTV.com as well as affiliated online outlets — will need to connect independently to every distributor (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, etc.) to verify subscriber eligibility. A centralized authentication entity, in addition to simplifying things on the back-end, also would help avoid the hassle of requiring a subscriber to log in separately at each site.

“The raw problem is you have hundreds of cable programmers ultimately trying to communicate to hundreds of distributors, if you count telcos and smaller cable operators,” explains Scott Teissler, Turner’s CTO and chief digital technology strategist. “We want to determine someone’s level of service without having to keep asking him to log in.”

Comcast’s initial implementation of On Demand Online sidesteps this problem, by piping everything through its own portals (Comcast.net and Fancast). Comcast has moved to a single sign-in system across its own sites, but hasn’t discussed how it would allow subscribers to log in to external sites like TBS.com or TNT.tv.

In Turner’s third-party authentication model, users would set up a profile, initially through their cable, satellite or telco TV operator. Then those customer IDs (along with their subscription level, such as whether they get HBO or Starz) would be submitted to Adobe or some other third-party authentication provider and associated with the users’ specific Web browsers. A “TV Everywhere-enabled” service would then recognize a registered browser or device, and perform ID checks in the background.

But it’s questionable whether dozens of competing cable and broadcast networks can successfully consolidate their efforts around one universal authentication framework. After all, there’s not even consensus on the basic TV Everywhere premise — Disney, for example, has so far rejected the idea (see Iger To Cable: Show Me The Online Model and Hulu Could Charge Subscriptions, Says Disney’s CEO).

And on the operator side, there’s likely to be resistance to putting a third-party provider in charge of authentication, as the Comcasts of the world want to retain control over their own subscribers and the services made available to them. Pay-TV distributors are “going to want to have their own versions of TV Everywhere as differentiators,” notes Will Richmond, an independent consultant and publisher of VideoNuze.

Bottom line: There’s not going to be an easy answer to solving the complexity inherent with TV Everywhere. And at least initially, distributors like Comcast are going to call the shots about how this all works.