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Digital Hollywood: No Easy Answers for TV Everywhere, Panelists Say

When Starz launched its premium over-the-top (OTT) service in early April, a lot of people just saw another company getting into the OTT space. What they may have missed was the pay TV network provider consolidating its digital services, according to Scott Barton, SVP of branded digital content and products for Starz.

The new Starz app not only gives subscribers the option to access more than 2,400 pieces of content for $8.99 a month, the app also serves as a TV Everywhere platform for Starz subscribers via pay TV services. Additionally, subscribers to the Starz sister networks Starz Encore and Movieplex can also use the new app as their TV Everywhere landing spot. Lastly, Starz allowed subscribers to download their content for on-the-go viewing.

“We made it a single destination for all our subscribers,” Barton said May 3, speaking at the biannual Digital Hollywood event in Los Angeles. “As an industry, we’ve probably made this harder than it needs to be, adding layers of confusion for the consumer. Getting rid of the added complexity was the end game for us.”

That was the main discussion of the day among Barton and other experts from Epix, Fox Broadcasting and The Tennis Channel: how do you keep consumers coming back when the experiences with TV Everywhere aren’t as simple — or enjoyable — as something Netflix?

“Certainly, TV Everywhere hasn’t been what everyone thought it would be,” said Amit Ziv, VP of business operations, development and strategy for Epix, the premium channel run by Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate. He touted 50% subscriber growth for Epix in last 12 months (and plugged the company’s first two scripted shows, landing in October) but said that digital rights issues for Epix and other premium channels proved to be an unexpected challenge in the early days of TV Everywhere.

“But it’s gotten better,” he added.

“TV Everywhere has a lot of challenges, mostly because it’s not consistent across [services],” added Adam Ware, SVP and head of digital media for the Tennis Channel. “A subscriber to Comcast and a subscribers to DirecTV will have different experiences … different window restrictions for content.”

That’s why, for some TV Everywhere is a nonstarter, he said. And that also may be why subscription VOD services have grown so much so quickly, Ware added. “[Services] like Netflix and Amazon [Prime] Video simplify the experience, and simplicity is at the center of this.”

It’s been two years this May since the Tennis Channel used the French Open as a launching pad for its own digital service — Tennis Channel Plus — that does what Starz just decided to do: put TV Everywhere authentication and an all-access OTT service in one place, with live streaming of matches to boot.

“In the case of tennis, there’s so much of it … and a subscription streaming services, at least when it comes to live sports, seems like the direction it’s going,” he said. “And a digital product can deliver something linear can’t.”

For Joe Friend, VP of ad technology systems, Fox Broadcasting Company — whether it’s TV Everywhere or straight OTT — it’s up to content owners to pay attention to what consumers want, and give it to them.

“There’s always going to be an opportunity to monetize existing content, and will never go away,” Friend said. “We’re going to be where [consumers] are … and we’re required to constantly innovate.”