TV Everywhere’s Success Hinges On Simplicity: Panel

New York -- For consumer adoption of TV Everywhere services to reach the next level, operators and programmers would do well to adhere to the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Although other elements, such as broader access to content and personalization, will also help to drive usage upward, panelists at last week's TV of Tomorrow Show agreed that simplicity is one that rises to the top in terms of importance.

Authentication is critical because it ensures that only customers who  have the rights to TV Everywhere fare can access it, but the technical process should be more automated and occur behind the scenes, panelists agreed.

“Ultimately, we need to remove the consumer from the authentication process,” Jeremy Helfand, vice president of video solutions at Adobe, said. 

“Authentication isn’t necessarily the problem,” Matt Strauss, Comcast’s  senior vice president and general manager of video services, said. “We have to make it easier.”

Companies such as Comcast and Adobe have solved part of this issue using a feature that automatically authenticates customers when they are accessing TV Everywhere content on the home network with a PC. Comcast has previously said it is working toward extending this password-free feature, called Home Pass, to other platforms, including iOS and Android devices. Comcast has also introduced Facebook Connect, which lets customers link their accounts to their Facebook accounts.

But Strauss acknowledged that features like HomePass will have some challenges as operators and programmers develop and launch features that tailored for individual customers in the household. “If I want to personalize that experience, I need to know who you are,” he said.

To set up the panel, Helfand presented a TV Everywhere “mandate” that includes a bigger focus on not just on simplicity, but also on content ubiquity, content discovery and content personalization.

On the content side, TV Everywhere is still a fragmented mess. Some programmers allow live TV feeds to be streamed in the home, while others allow out-of-home access, and still others don’t allow access to any live TV feeds at all. And the amount of TV Everywhere content that is offered on-demand also varies by programmer and operator. While the industry is chipping away at it, TV Everywhere content remains far away from achieving a goal of ubiquity.

However, multichannel  video programming distributors are gathering a “critical mass of rights” to get them moving toward that goal, Sherry Brennan, senior vice president of sales strategy and development for Fox Networks, said.  “Over time, it [TV Everywhere] will  converge to a less confusing  consumer proposition; I think it has to.”

And operators need to figure out a way to morph TV Everywhere from a cost center to an initiative that can pay for itself.

Time Warner Cable Media, for example, has launched Ads Everywhere, a platform that helps advertisers to insert customizable, targeted ads into live TV feeds streamed to iOS- and Android-powered devices, as well as PCs. Those various devices “are starting to look more alike,” Chris Faw, senior vice president of operations for TWC Media, said, noting that his division is starting to see similarities on how data is reported across those screens and how the advertising avails are split. “It’s a little confusing right now, but less confusing this year than it was last year. It will be even sharper in the days ahead.”

But, like the content itself, usage data is also significantly fragmented at this stage of the multiscreen video game. The industry needs a “more uniform view” on how to measure usage,” David Algranati, senior vice president of TV product innovation at Rentrak, said. “We’re up to the challenge in the sense that we’re used to collecting a lot of data and processing it.”

And the measurement tools are there. “We know who’s connected, when they are authenticated, and how they watch,” Faw added. “If we don’t get it right, then shame on us.”

Although both operators and programmers would like to see TV Everywhere usage achieve more scale, at least usage is heading in a positive direction. According to Helfand, Adobe, maker of the Adobe Pass platform, has seen a 240% increase in TV Everywhere authentication for the first nine months of 2013, and a 200% boost in the number of homes using TVE.