After years of struggling to find business models for the delivery of TV programming online, broadcasters will be taking a close look at Fox’s recent decision to change the online availability of its new episodes.
Under the new strategy that went into place on Aug. 15, next-day access to online viewing of new episodes—which had been free at Fox.com and Hulu.com—is now controlled by either a paywall at Hulu Plus or an authentication scheme for subscribers of multichannel providers that have cut a TV Everywhere deal with Fox. Viewers otherwise have to wait eight days after a premiere to watch online.
The move marks a fundamental shift away from free, ad-supported online access and toward digital deals that are part of larger TV Everywhere negotiations. “As we go forward, more and more of our deals will be tethered to the pay-TV subscription,” says Mike Hopkins, who oversees both affiliate sales and digital strategy at Fox. Hopkins is of course no stranger to controversial deals, as he continues to spearhead Fox’s noisy push for retransmission cash.
If Hopkins, whose title is president, affiliate sales and marketing, Fox Networks, and his affiliate sales team can get operators to sign on to the strategy, Fox will have established a strengthened business model for mobile and online distribution by making those rights part of their already lucrative deals with multichannel providers.
But taking content that has long been available for free online and putting it behind a paywall is generally difficult. Initial reaction from the blogosphere was critical, with some arguing the policy encourages piracy.
Hopkins disagrees. Strong anti-piracy efforts by the industry have made content theft harder. Fox also believes that most consumers will soon have access to the content via TV Everywhere deals. “When you look at people who have high-speed broadband subscriptions, most, somewhere in the mid-90s [percentile], already have pay TV subscriptions,” he says.
The debate may also be muted by the fact that more broadcast content is becoming available on the traditional cable VOD platform. Comcast recently added Fox network content to its VOD platform for next-day airing; Hopkins ! gures about 35 million homes will have VOD access to the new Fox episodes in September.
Hopkins expects to make more content from Fox’s various cable networks available via apps as part of TV Everywhere deals. Says Hopkins: “One day, in the not too distant future, I think you will have everything, both live and time-shifted, on every device.”
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