Calls for On-Demand content on multiple devices keep increasing, but the industry's buzz-heavy TV Everywhere initiative is not everyone's preferred approach to solving the complex questions of multiplatform distribution.
To be sure, TV Everywhere offerings have made a major leap forward over the past 12 months, with programmers such as Turner, Fox, ESPN and HBO embracing the idea of making their content available on many devices as part of larger deals with multichannel operators.
Yet operators and programmers continue to wrestle with technical difficulties, pricing for TV Everywhere rights, audience measurement, windowing strategies, ad models and a number of other hurdles that have slowed deployments and confused consumers.
"Everyone is at different stages and has different ideas of how to approach it," says Maggie McLean Suniewick, VP of programming for Comcast Interactive Media. "We have online content from Turner and others that is available one day after linear airing. And then there are other programmers who are concerned about the impact on their Nielsen ratings, who prefer to wait three, seven or even 30 days before making that content available." Comcast has embraced the process, increasing the amount of content on its authenticated or TV Everywhere offerings by more than 150% in the last year, according to Suniewick. Currently, Comcast has made 75,000 shows and movies available on-demand across its VOD, online and mobile platforms.
A major shift toward the TV Everywhere model of making online access part of larger multichannel deals also came this summer with Fox's decision to launch an authenticated product. Fox has since inked deals with Dish, Verizon and Mediacom for the service, which gives subscribers next-day access to nearly all of Fox's primetime lineup, says Julie Simon, senior VP of advanced services at Fox Networks.
"The Fox deal demonstrates that just about all the major content providers are moving in this direction, and that TV Everywhere is a big part of the industry's future," adds Eric Bruno, VP of product management for Verizon, which recently announced a deal to offer Fox's VOD and online authenticated service on its FiOS TV service.
But even among the biggest proponents of TV Everywhere, approaches vary. "Some programmers have been vocal about wanting more money for these rights, and there have been others like Turner who have been much more willing to try to put programming out there quickly as a way of attracting the largest possible audience," says Deana Myers, senior analyst at SNL Kagan.
Turner has inked TV Everywhere deals with operators serving about 72 million homes and expects to expand that to 80 million by the end of the year, says Jeremy Legg, Turner senior VP of business development and multiplatform distribution.
Others have faced resistance from operators trying to avoid paying additional fees. "Our customers are increasingly price-sensitive," says Bob Nocera, director of new video services at Cox Communications. "Our goal is to offer them as many opportunities to view content in as many ways as possible and add value to our products while keeping rates reasonable."
Some programmers have balked at the idea of handing over rights for free, given the cost of acquiring multiplatform rights and the willingness of over-the-top providers such as Netflix to pay for online and mobile rights. "We feel that we provide a value with these authenticated services, and we look for some value in return," says Matt Murphy, senior VP of digital video distribution for Disney and ESPN Media Networks, which has inked deals making its WatchESPN authenticated service available in more than 17 million homes.
Operators also worry that different approaches and windows may confuse consumers. "One of our biggest challenges is how do we communicate all these different windows to our users," says Comcast's Suniewick.
Among the broadcast networks, for example, Comcast subs can access next-day content for ABC and NBC shows via Hulu but must wait eight days for Fox content on Hulu and must visit CBS.com if they want to stream those shows.
To overcome that problem, Comcast and other operators are working to unify the user experience and make it easier for subscribers to find content.
"We think TV Everywhere adds a lot of value to a pay TV subscription," says Verizon's Bruno. "So, we want to make it easier for users to find the content and enjoy it."
While programmers see many advantages to the TV Everywhere model, Zander Lurie, CBS senior VP of strategic development, is among those stressing that windows and business models remain fluid.
"The goal is to maximize the overall revenue pie from all platforms, but I don't know if every content owner is going to have the same model for achieving that," Lurie says.
CBS, for example, has cut a number of deals for next-day access on the traditional VOD platform with operators, but has also seen rapid growth in its online property, CBS.com.
"CBS.com has been the No. 1 network site for 34 months in a row now," Lurie says. "I don't know if we are in a hurry to move away from that to an authenticated model. Right now, our customers seem happy, and we are being paid well for these shows via TV advertising and online advertising, where we are seeing significant CPMs."
Others warn, however, that the industry needs to speed up the rollout of TV Everywhere offerings to combat the competitive threat from over-the-top providers. Says Turner's Legg: "If we take four or fi ve years to roll this out, there is a danger that it will cease to be relevant."
Measurement is another key problem in this mix. The viability of multiplatform deals and TV Everywhere got a major boost this year when Nielsen began offering combined ratings for linear TV, DVRs, VOD and online, provided the content had the same ad load.
But Nielsen still isn't measuring smart phones, tablets and game consoles, which are increasingly used to access digital content, though Comcast's Suniewick notes that they are currently working closely with Nielsen to put a system in place for measuring tablets.
In the meantime, Viacom and others are delaying online and mobile access to content. "Until Nielsen is monitoring all these devices and can capture a rating, we aren't going to make [a lot of] content available in the first eight days" after airing, says Denise Denson, EVP of content distribution and marketing at Viacom Media Networks.
But given Verizon's belief in TV Everywhere, the company is still working to provide a consistent experience across different platforms. "Navigation is critically important as we move forward because customers need a sense of consistency," Bruno says. "If they can't learn one screen and know how to use them all, then they are not going to engage with the platform and we are not going to get the benefits of these TV everywhere offerings."
The implementation of technologies to authenticate subscribers for access to TV Everywhere also remains a problem.
Fox's Simon notes that "there are still a lot of technical difficulties involved with TV Everywhere services," a complaint that was echoed by a number of other programmers.
"Every new product we do creates new challenges because every new affiliate partner has different billing systems and infrastructure," she notes. "Every time we do this there's a several-week if not a many-week process to get it up and running with new affiliates because there isn't a standard for doing it."
Better models for advertising and measurement will also be important, Simon adds. "We are still launching content but until all the devices are measured by Nielsen and integrated into C3 ratings, we have to be mindful of that issue. We don't want to be hurting out linear business."
Turner's Legg agrees. He notes that the launch of combined C3 ratings for linear TV, DVRs, VOD and online earlier this year played a major role in the company's push to expand its TV Everywhere deals.
But he remains concerned that mobile devices still aren't measured. "For a news channel like CNN, mobile viewing is important," he says.
Operators continue to work with programmers to strengthen ad models for on-demand programming.
Nocera notes that Cox worked early on with networks to improve the ad model on VOD by disabling the fast forward button on their MyPrimetime VOD platform, adding that they've adopted a similar approach with authenticated online content.
"Having the combined C3 ratings has really helped move along that process," he says.
Comcast's Suniewick also notes that they've been careful to work with programmers who have different approaches to the amount of advertising and the windowing of their content. "We have built our platform to support whatever business model people want to carry out," she says.
She also stresses that Comcast worked to improve its infrastructure to better help programmers monetize on-demand content, both by making sure it works with Nielsen's measurement system and by recently deploying a system for dynamic insertion of ads in its traditional VOD platform.
"We want to make certain they can monetize their content on all these platforms," Suniewick says.
Acquiring the right content rights is another key issue. Turner went back to the Hollywood studios that supply much of its acquired content to renegotiate deals so it is now able to offer most shows that air on its networks; ESPN has been long at work securing multiplatform rights for its content.
"Our programming department has been working for the better part of five years acquiring these rights," confirms Murphy. "None of us fully knew what the world was going to look like but we knew that the walls that separate desktop, mobile and TV were blurring and [ESPN was] very aggressive in acquiring the rights they knew we were going to need."
As a result, he adds that "we are now almost 100% cleared in terms of the services we can provide across any platform and distribution," which was a key factor in the company's ability to launch ESPN Watch, which offers live feeds of its networks to authenticated subscribers.
The expanding nature of these deals, he adds, requires major media companies to carefully coordinate their rights, windows and offerings across multiple brands for TV Everywhere to work. "This was not something that was done in a particular group," he says. "It literally required the help and assistance of virtually every department in this company."
Looking forward, programmers are also weighing the merits of offering more live streaming services tied to TV Everywhere deals. So far, early, authenticated live services have concentrated on news-Turner has launched a live CNN app as part of its TV Everywhere deals-and sports, where both Fox and ESPN have been active.
Fox first entered the authentication arena with the launch of Speed2, an authenticated broadband service that is available in over 16 million homes that get their linear Speed Channel, Simon notes.
Live events are available both on Speed2 and its BTN2 Go authenticated service, which includes a live stream of the Big Ten Network.
For the moment, however, Fox and Turner say they have no plans to launch live steams of their entertainment channels.
"We're doing CNN live but we are not planning to do the entertainment channels yet," notes Legg, who adds that on-demand content has been the focus for the entertainment channel apps and TV everywhere products.
Legg and others say that this scenario could easily change in the years ahead. "My expectation is that linear, either as a modified version of the channel or as a simulcast for online, mobile and tablets will continue to grow and become a bigger part of the TV Everywhere platform," says Verizon's Bruno.
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