At the ELEVATE conference earlier this week I moderated a panel with executives from 3 of the leading proponents of TV Everywhere, during which they estimated about 75% of cable TV programming could be available on connected and mobile devices within 2 years. That amount would be a huge increase from what's currently available and would also represent a massive shift by the pay-TV ecosystem to delivering content to IP devices. It would also represent a huge game change in the overall TV advertising ecosystem depending on what ad policies are implemented (full ad load, partial load, etc.).
The panelists included David Preschlack, EVP, Affiliate Sales and Marketing, Disney & ESPN Networks Group, Jeremy Legg, SVP Business Development & Multi-Platform Distribution, Turner Broadcasting and Matt Strauss, SVP & GM, Comcast Interactive Media.
With the rise of over-the-top competitors (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc.), TV Everywhere has emerged as the pay-TV industry's number one priority. No doubt at next week's Cable Show in Chicago it will be the most pervasive topic of discussion. Yet significant issues remain for TV Everywhere's rollout. Chief among them are lack of adequate audience measurement systems, limited rights and caution among cable networks. We discussed each on the panel.
With respect to measurement, panelists agreed that an inability to measure TV Everywhere viewership by Nielsen, much less in a cohesive way with linear TV, creates the risk that audience that bleeds to devices won't be salable like TV ads. Nonetheless, Jeremy said Turner has made a decision to move forward with TV Everywhere, on the assumption that measurement systems will catch up. David said that ESPN is also moving forward, but hasn't yet defined how ads will work in its Watch ESPN TV Everywhere app (which already has 2 million downloads), so the risk is reduced. Matt emphasized that Comcast is flexible to support whatever ad loads the cable networks prefer (he also said 5 million of Comcast's digital subscribers have used its Xfinity TV app to date) and is working with industry groups to resolve this issue.
Meanwhile rights also are a huge challenge for TV Everywhere and the panelists agreed it will be a lengthy process to work these out with underlying producers and talent. Rights clearances are just one of the reasons cable networks are cautious about TV Everywhere. Also key is whether additional payments for distribution to devices are warranted. Still, as the panelists agreed, TV Everywhere gives the pay-TV ecosystem the opportunity to recapture eyeballs from the Internet and illegitimate sites, an enhanced level of interactivity and engagement and new ways of monetizing content.
Subsequent to the panel I heard some skepticism from ELEVATE attendees that the 75% estimate in 2 years is way too high given the issues (and to be fair, the panelists did not position the figure as a slam-dunk by any stretch). However, as I noted, if the OTT competitors begin causing meaningful cord-cutting, the pay-TV industry will have a strong sense of urgency to get on board with TV Everywhere. As that happens and viewership shifts, and along with it advertising opportunities, huge spending shifts are ahead.
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