Nets Navigate Choice Versus Monetization

Despite the proliferation of connate on-demand and on multiple platforms and screens, programmers remain ever vigilant to construct deals that will protect the monetization value of expensive content.

That was the takeaway at the programming executive roundtable at B&C/Multichannel News' 3rd annual OnScreen Media Summit event in New York Oct. 28 moderated by Multichannel News Editor in Chief Mark Robichaux.

Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks, noted that authentication is just a new terms for an old idea.

"For us it's always a matter of when technology catches up with our product," said Blank. "We want customers running after our product. I liken authentication to when we introduced on-demand a decade ago."

Showtime this week announced Showtime Anytime, a subscriber-authentication based broadband video-streaming service that will be available to Comcast customers later this year., the sports giants' ISP-accessed broadband platform for live event streaming, also continues to gain momentum.

"We've had this philosophy at the network about the best available screen," explained Sean Bratches, executive VP of sales and marketing at ESPN. "At night, it may be your 40-inch TV set. When you're at the office it might be your computer screen. When you're on the train it may be your mobile device."

But all of those screens, added Bratches, "support the core linear business. It seems to make sense in terms of how the consumer is ingesting content. It's an opportunity for us to take our brand and move it into new markets in smart ways."

But Bratches admitted that the vast array of business models for multi-platform content presents programmers with "a double-edged sword."

"We've seen pretty strong growth in terms of television consumption overall while at the same time we're seeing significant growth of content online."

Josh Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media, whose networks include AMC where hit shows Mad Men and Breaking Bad are only available on-demand and not online, sounded a contrary note.

"In general, we think that [free] corrupts the proposition of value," said Sapan. "It very simply and fundamentally suggests that you don't need to pay for it. Our logic suggests that it is an invitation to follow that sort of treacherous path that the print industry or the music [industry] has followed. So we think it's not wise for the money that's there and it's not a smart system."

Lauren Zalaznick, president of Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks at NBC Universal, noted that consumers are "addicted to choice." And whether content providers make authentication a barrier of entry on online and on mobile platforms, consumers' expectations are driving many difficult choices.

"It's more choices in more places for more consumers," said Zalaznick. "The basic philosophy for us is advantage the consumer first and foremost while at the same time never disadvantaging our dual revenue stream and the monetization mandate that big businesses with high profit margins demand. Whether it's my own kids or the millennials, they are addicted to choice and you cannot take the choice away. I draw the line at the always saying never philosophy which we're getting into. They're addicted to choice, whether or not they're addicted to free, we'll see."