How Will TV Play on Multiple Screens?

Atlanta -- Consumers will be the ultimate arbiters of how they watch video on a multiplicity of devices, ranging from big-screen televisions to different non-TV devices, a panel of industry executives said here at TelcoTV.

The Internet has trained people to personalize their content-consumption habits, said AT&T director of programming Peter Tracy, and that’s what the next generation of TV viewers is growing up to expect.

“The broadband experience has been personalized for years,” Tracy said. “You talk to anyone who gets a DVR, it changes the way they watch TV. They’re customizing their viewing experience. It comes down to being able to watch what you want, when you want, and to manage that.”

The panel, “The Multiplatform Experience,” was moderated by Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, editor-in-chief of Multichannel News.

Dan Daines, EchoStar Communications’ general manager of IPTV, said business models trail consumer acceptance. “What becomes the default activity, consumers are going to decide that. We’re going to build out the infrastructure and see what consumers stay with.”

The advantage of an IPTV infrastructure, Daines noted, is that eases distribution to alternate platforms. “Once you get user-generated content or any other content in a routable format, you can get that to any modality a consumer wants: in the car, on my phone, on the PC,” he said.

The Weather Channel, for one, is already distributing content to multiple platforms. “We’re on just about every device that’s being used for information -- TV sets, in SD and HD, on PCs with, on cell phones -- you name it, we’re there,” said Bill Fogarty, the network’s vice president of new distribution.

In the near term, Weather is focusing primarily on high-definition content, building a $50 million HD production studio at its Atlanta headquarters. “I think HD is what’s next. We’re plunging with both feet into that,” Fogarty said.

Daines pointed to time-shifted TV viewing as the biggest change in the way people watch video content.

“People want to control their own entertainment schedule… once you get addicted to a DVR you can’t take the real-time experience anymore.”

To Daines, non-TV devices will mostly be used for watching nonlinear content. “If you’re watching something on a phone, it probably won’t be live except for weather or sports,” he said. The trend will accelerate as today’s teenagers become the mass market of tomorrow, he added.

Some concepts have been held back over disputes about how content is licensed for new usage models. Steinert-Threlkeld cited Cablevision Systems’ network DVR, which prompted a lawsuit by TV programmers as infringing their copyrights. The suit is awaiting appeal in federal court.

Nortel Networks leader of video marketing Grant Hall said programmers have been more accommodating in dealing with Time Warner Cable’s Look Back and Start Over on-demand replay services, which disable fast-forward functions.

“There seems to be some latitude to license that content on a more flexible basis,” he said.

When the panelists took questions from the audience, AT&T’s Tracy was asked what the telco “learned” from the U-verse TV channel outage Sunday, which made many cable networks inaccessible in the 33 markets where U-verse TV is available.

Tracy responded: “What we’ve learned is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’re going to make sure it doesn’t reoccur. … When a customer is inconvenienced and loses channels, it’s a very big concern.”

Daines then turned to Tracy and said: “Welcome to the TV business.”