If you think your monthly pay-TV bill is already pretty expensive, then brace yourself for rate increases that will definitely be happening over the next several years, particularly in certain geographic areas of the U.S. Why? Because the cost of programming continues to spiral, led by sports. In fact, over the past 24 months, at least $80 billion has been committed by broadcast and cable TV networks to televise sports in the U.S. (note this includes $6 billion, the minimum either News Corp. or Time Warner Cable will likely pay for TV rights to the L.A. Dodgers' games).
The chart below itemizes all of the deals that I'm aware of; no doubt there are others as well that aren't included. Also not included are the expected increased costs of renewals for some of sports' highest-profile events like the Super Bowl and NCAA March Madness in coming years.
Talk to any pay-TV operator executive these days and you'll get an earful on the relentless rise in their programming costs - what they pay to deliver both cable and broadcast TV networks into their subscribers' homes. Programming costs drive up subscribers' rates, in turn exacerbating pay-TV's affordability crisis, which in turn exposes the industry to cord-cutting, cord-shaving and over-the-top alternatives.
As I've written numerous times, scratch the surface of the programming cost issue and the focus quickly turns to sports networks and more specifically Regional Sports Networks ("RSNs") which have the geographic rights to air their local professional teams' games. One pay-TV executive who's attempting to take a hard line on RSNs' escalating costs is Michael White, CEO of DirecTV, who, on the company's earnings call on Tuesday, once again said that "regional sports networks' structure in the industry is broken" and that "we are taxing most of our customers who wouldn't be willing to pay for that content."
These days you can pick any sport and you're guaranteed to find examples of how online video is improving the fan experience. Beyond improved access, through live streaming to multiple devices, and post-event catch-up through highlight clips, another dimension of online video's value is now also emerging - fan engagement and interaction. A perfect example of this is the US Open tennis tournament's first-time use of Google Hangouts during its men's and women's finals matches.
Recently, I caught up with the two US Tennis Association executives responsible for the hangouts, Phil Green, senior director, advanced media and Peter Dopkin, director, strategic and business development, advanced media, to learn more. Listening to the strategy behind the hangouts, and how they were executed, what struck me is that in the digital age, forward-thinking sports executives are able to bring the fan, analyst and game together as never before.
If you were trying to tune out last week, whether lying on a beach or on a family getaway, you didn't miss all that much exciting online video-related news. However there were some items worth noting and below I've highlighted five that caught my eye.
NBC was justifiably crowing late yesterday that the London Olympics was the most-watched TV event in U.S. history with 219.4 million viewers, but a more profound long-term takeaway from this year's games is that digital distribution of most of the competitions did not seem to hurt tape-delayed on-air viewing at all.
That was not a foregone conclusion, and given the billions in broadcast rights fees it paid, NBC made a sizable bet that with most competitions live-streamed and available on-demand, audiences would still tune in during ad-rich, prime-time hours, despite already knowing (or having seen) the results. The impact of digital distribution could have gone wrong, driving lower prime-time ratings, creating disgruntled advertisers and embarrassing NBC Sports executives. The fact that it didn't buttresses the argument that for sports in particular, digital delivery is a compliment, not a substitute, for on-air.
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 142nd edition of the VideoNuze-TDG Report podcast. In this week's podcast Colin and I first discuss NBC's Olympics video streaming. Despite some high profile criticism, we agree that NBC has actually done a pretty good job and has laid a foundation for live streaming to be an expected part of all Olympics coverage in the future.
Next we review Q2 '12 results from some of the largest pay-TV operators. Video subscriber losses continue, although Q2 is historically a soft quarter. Colin notes that recent TDG research shows the pay-TV value proposition is increasingly challenged and he believes that means higher churn is ahead, with bigger opportunities for OTT options.
Speaking of those options, Aereo announced new low-cost plans and both Colin and I agree that they're a clever way to reduce entry barriers and increase viewing flexibility. It's still early, but we like Aereo's odds of success.
Last up, we note the early demise of the Nexus Q media streaming device, a product that both us called a dud a couple of weeks ago.
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The Olympics is currently dominating the sports world's attention, but have a look at comScore's first half 2012 data (chart below), and what jumps out is that 2 of the top 4 properties aren't well-known branded destinations, but rather little-known video syndicators, Perform Sports and CineSport.
Perform is #2, with 14.6 million average monthly unique viewers, trailing predictable leader ESPN, which has 20.5 million. And CineSport is #4 with 11.4 million average monthly unique viewers, behind #3 Yahoo Sports, which has 12.4 million. Following them are properties you'd expect to see on any top 10 list: Turner Sports, MLB, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, NFL and CBS Sports.
There's a major breakthrough in the TV Everywhere landscape to report - Comcast is "auto-verifying" its Xfinity subscribers' access to NBC's online and mobile video streaming of the Summer Olympics. A Comcast spokesperson confirmed that this is the first time TV Everywhere content is being made available to its subscribers without them having to submit their user name and password credentials to gain access.
This is a real milestone as authentication has been widely viewed as a cumbersome process step for subscribers. That's because many people have not created user names and passwords with their pay-TV operator and/or can't remember them. In addition, authentication systems are not yet stable, often requiring repeated log-ins to the same app, and also across different apps (I've had to repeatedly log-in to every TV Everywhere app I've ever used). Exacerbating things, so much online video is freely available that the TV Everywhere login process feels intrusive for users accustomed to immediately being able to watch.
Adobe announced last evening that the BBC will be using the company's "Project Primetime" video platform to deliver live and VOD streaming coverage of the London Olympics, which start tomorrow evening. The BBC win follows news from 2 weeks ago that Adobe is also powering NBC's ambitious NBC Olympics Live Extra app, which will offer 3,500 hours of video. If all goes well from the NBC and BBC efforts, Project Primetime will gain significant credibility from the Olympics, helping position Adobe as a major player in the intensely competitive online video platform space.
For its Olympics coverage, the BBC is using "Primetime Simulcast" which allows it to live stream events across the web, mobile devices and connected TVs. Specifically, a new HTML5 app has been developed using Adobe PhoneGap, a cross-platform toolset. Video is prepared and delivered by Adobe Media Server for both HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS) and HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) adaptive bit rate streaming formats. The video player uses the Open Source Media Framework (OSMF).
Video technology provider NeuLion is powering China Network Television's (CNTV) streaming coverage of 5,600 hours of live coverage of the London Olympics, via a new premium service called CNTV 5+ VIP. The service, which is free, has exclusive streaming rights in China. CNTV 5+ VIP is yet another example of how central streaming will be to this summer's games, which start later this week.
Chris Wagner, NeuLion's EVP and co-founder, told me last week that while streaming is ubiquitous in China, what's noteworthy about CNTV 5+ VIP is that it is adaptive and will deliver an HD experience, streaming at an average of 1.6 mbps, compared to most online video in China which is 300-500 kbps. NeuLion is ingesting the linear broadcast and specific event video, encoding and distributing via its CDN as well as providing the video player technology.
This summer, England is the epicenter of sports video streaming; a couple weeks ago Wimbledon had multiple online video enhancements, then starting July 27th will be the Summer Olympics, the biggest live streamed sporting extravaganza ever. Sandwiched in between, running today through the weekend, golf takes center stage, as the storied Open Championship from Royal Lytham & St. Annes offers a variety of online video features to immerse golf fans in all the action.
For U.S. viewers, the centerpiece of online viewing will be ESPN's simulcasting of its 73 hours of TV coverage on WatchESPN, including 10 1/2 hours of live play of the first two rounds. Of course WatchESPN is an authenticated TV Everywhere service, so you have to be a pay-TV subscriber to access it (and not all pay-TV providers support it yet either). I've been tuning in this morning and the quality of the video is outstanding. ESPN also has a separate feed for cameras positioned at holes 1 and 18 so you can see all the players come through, plus other "outside the ropes" video and non-video features.
Here's a measure of just how all-important big-time sports have become in driving the entire TV ecosystem: in NBCU's latest court filing against Aereo (embedded here), it cites as one of the harmful consequences of Aereo's potential success that NBCU would be unable to fund its programming. But what single example of expensive programming does NBCU call out? Not its news or entertainment - staples of the traditional broadcast network program agenda - but rather its 9-year, $10 billion Sunday Night NFL rights deal.
Sports are considered so critical to broadcasters because they're primarily viewed live and therefore immune to DVR-based ad-skipping (see yesterday's DISH Network "Auto-Hop" news for more on why DVRs are so threatening). As a result, the networks have aggressively bid for sports rights, led of course by the pursuit of NFL and Olympics deals. But those deals have been partly funded by burgeoning retransmission consent fee payments negotiated from pay-TV operators. These payments give broadcasters another revenue stream beyond just advertising (and just like cable networks, as pay-TV operators pay more in retrans fees, rate increases are passed along to ALL their subscribers, whether sports fans or not).
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 128th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for April 6, 2012. First up this week we discuss another angle of last week's Xbox video launch - whether Comcast will reverse itself and authenticate HBO GO for its subscribers (as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote openly on Facebook asking Comcast to do). Then we discuss the downturn in March Madness online traffic and the effect of Turner's new paywall.
Last week when Xbox launched a number of new video apps including Comcast's Xfinity, HBO GO and MLB.tv, Comcast made a decision not to authenticate HBO GO for its own subscribers with Xboxes, thereby forcing them to settle for HBO content that's available within its own Xfinity app. As Colin points out, that was a continuation of Comcast's (and other pay-TV operators') policy of not authenticating the HBO GO app for its subscribers using Roku.
A vocal group of Comcast/HBO subscribers with Xbox complained, with Hastings's post getting the most attention. This week, the NY Times reported that Comcast might reverse itself and authenticate HBO GO after all. It's confusing stuff, and Colin and I do our best to explain what might be going on behind the scenes with the balance of power between cable operators and cable networks.
We then discuss news that daily March Madness traffic was down 10% year-over-year, likely attributable to Turner introducing a $3.99 app to view the games for which it had broadcast rights (CBS games were still available online for free). There was a paywall up until a few years ago, when the full tournament went free online, causing an explosion of traffic and ad revenue. Colin and I interpret the new data and its broader implications for TV Everywhere.
(For everyone celebrating holidays, enjoy your weekend!)
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I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 127th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for Mar. 30, 2012. First up this week we discuss Comcast's controversial assertion that streams from its Xfinity app running on Xbox won't count against subscribers' 250 gb/month data cap because they're running on Comcast's "private network" (note: Comcast has deleted "private network" references in its Xbox FAQ).
Colin argues strongly that this is an inappropriate policy in that it essentially creates a "fast lane" for Comcast's own traffic, while disadvantaging other video streams - basically the same concern raised by net neutrality advocates. Colin makes compelling points about the shared nature of broadband access and the longer-term implications of a "private network" model. For my part, I'm still curious the use case for the Xfinity Xbox app; unless it's used for TVs where a set-top box isn't present, it feels somewhat redundant to what's already available via Comcast's VOD.
Next we turn our attention to this week's mega-deal for the Dodgers. As I wrote yesterday, I think the deal will lead to even higher Regional Sports Network licensing fees, which in turn means even higher subsidies by non-sports fans to make the deal work. This is a problem throughout the pay-TV world, and the new Dodgers owners are betting non-fans will continue to pay ever-higher rates for sports they don't watch. Colin and I discuss the implications for over-the-top services and the pay-TV multichannel bundle.
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This week's eye-popping $2.15 billion acquisition of the Dodgers officially makes Los Angeles ground zero for the most egregiously anti-consumer aspect of today's pay-TV multichannel bundle: the massive annual subsidization by non-sports fans of hyper-expensive sports programming.
This is a topic I have written about previously in "Not a Sports Fan? Then You're Getting Sacked For At Least $2 Billion Per Year" and "Why Albert Pujols is Over-the-Top's New Best Friend." A confluence of factors, some particular to L.A.'s sports market, is bringing this little-understood issue into the spotlight, in turn raising the question of whether non-sports fans will revolt, seeking out less expensive over-the-top alternatives.
Topics: Los Angeles Dodgers
Online video and social media have become Super Bowl advertisers' new best friends, extending the ROI of expensive game buys to new levels. Helping quantify the impact, a new study by Kantar Video reveals that over $11.1 million in "earned media" (essentially incremental free online views) has been generated by all Super Bowl advertisers in the first 3 days following the game, from over 148 million total views. Viewership of this year's Super Bowl ads is up 267% vs. last year.
The top 10 ads alone accounted for $8.6 million of the total, providing an average of $862K in earned media per ad, or about a quarter of the $3.5 million each ad cost to run during the game. Viewership of the top 10 ads for the first 3 days is over 95 million views. Honda's Ferris Bueller spoof, "Matthew's Day Off," has gained the most earned media, approximately $2.3 million, from over 14.7 million online views.
The first-ever streaming Super Bowl attracted over 2.1 million unique viewers, who consumed 78.6 million minutes. That surpassed NBC's expectations, according to Kevin Monaghan, SVP, Business Development and Managing Director of Digital Media at NBC Sports Group, who said that usage increased throughout the game and peaked in Q4 during the Giants' final touchdown drive. According to Omniture and mDialog data, it was the most-viewed live-streamed single game ever.
The power of the video syndication model is on full display in the online sports category, where 2 of the top 3 properties in December, 2011 were little known, early stage video syndicators, rather than well-known media brands and sports leagues. As the chart below shows, the #2 slot belonged to CineSport, a company I wrote about 6 months ago, with 15.7 million unique viewers while the #3 position went to Perform Sports, a year-old entrant, with 14.6 million unique viewers. Both trailed ESPN with 24.7 million unique viewers, but were still well ahead of stalwarts like CBS, Turner and Fox. Earlier this week I spoke to Juan Delgado, Managing Director of Perform Americas to learn more about its syndication formula.