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Authentication Gives StationsNew Distribution Platform

With over-the-top streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus gaining popularity, especially among young consumers, many TV stations are exploring ways to enter the streaming business themselves.

TV stations face two obstacles when it comes to streaming: First, they must acquire a separate set of rights to stream content over the Internet; and second, TV stations are statutorily limited to providing content only within their own designated market areas (DMAs).

Stations are on their way toward overcoming those obstacles, however, through technological innovation and negotiations with content providers.

Right now, some 70 television stations—including those from the Sinclair, LIN, Comcorp, Northwest, Quincy and Cowles groups—are running pilot tests of Jack Perry’s Syncbak technology, which authenticates that viewers are within a TV station’s DMA and then allows them to receive streaming content from the station. Syncbak, based in Marion, Iowa, does that by either offering consumers a stand-alone device or an app that can be downloaded to smartphones and smart TVs. Both the National Association of Broadcasters and the Consumer Electronics Association are investors in the technology.

This summer, Sinclair Broadcast Group will stream several channels, including The CW, in a 90-day test, says Mark Aitken, the company’s vice president of advanced technology.

Getting streaming rights to a network is an important step for Syncbak, Perry says. Warner Bros. as a whole has been progressive in giving TV stations the right to stream its content, with stations in three markets able to stream Warner Bros.’ syndicated shows, Perry notes. Years ago, when Warner Bros. was selling Two and a Half Men to TV stations, the studio also offered stations streaming rights to the show, but very few TV stations ended up offering that service. Warner Bros., in partnership with The CW co-owner CBS, also has sold streaming rights for The CW to both Netflix and Hulu Plus (see Cover Story).

Going forward, Syncbak is going to focus on acquiring in-market streaming rights to the other networks. To that end, the company has appointed Ed Wilson, former president of the Fox network and Tribune Broadcasting, to its board. In that role, Wilson is helping Syncbak arrange licensing deals with the broadcast networks.

In addition, at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas this week, Syncbak and consumer electronics manufacturer LG will announce a partnership that will allow LG to connect a smart TV to a smartphone using Syncbak’s technology.

“We’re working on the LG-connected TV platform to create a one-to-one relationship between the smartphone and the TV, which will then be able to trade content rights back and forth,” Perry says. “It’s a baby step in the direction” of being able to give consumers complete access to whatever is on their TVs via their smartphones or tablets, he adds.

Perry previously founded DecisionMark, a company that provided a similar authentication service to satellite TV providers and broadcasters. It allowed satellite TV companies to determine exactly who was—and wasn’t—within an DMA and then provide authenticated subscribers with distant TV signals.

Perry sold that company in 2007, when the issue of delivering distant TV signals via satellite within local markets was largely settled, and he began developing Syncbak. He already had plenty of experience in developing the necessary technology, and realized that the federal government would be amenable when he asked policymakers why they weren’t going after the place-shifting technology Slingbox.

“The response from lawmakers was that Slingbox was a consumer-friendly, market-driven solution,” Perry says. It was then that he knew he had a potential business on his hands. Concurrently, TV stations and consumer electronics manufacturers continue to work on mobile digital television, announcements around which should be plentiful at the NAB show. Many in the industry are placing their bets on mobile TV and not focusing as much on streaming.

“Mobile TV is similar to broadcast transmission in that it’s market-specific, it will send to different devices in real time, and all of the advertising spots will hold up,” says Jaime Spencer, VP of the Magid Media Labs. “That’s probably the most likely scenario to evolve in terms of rights and the ability for a TV station to be able to stream its full programming schedule in a market.”

Perry says Syncbak is complementary to mobile TV, but he’s also placing his bets on his own technology: “Syncbak allows a TV station to start streaming today,” he says. “Once we install our hardware at a station, it’s streaming within minutes.”

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