Wednesday, June 15, 2011, 6:25 PM ET
At least two major cable networks, HBO and ESPN, are getting strong traction with their mobile apps not long after launching them. HBO GO, which was unveiled in early May, has already gained over 2.6 million downloads, while Watch ESPN has generated over 2 million downloads since launching in early April. The data was released by Alison Moore, HBO's SVP, Digital Platforms, and by David Preschlack, ESPN's EVP of Affiliate Sales and Marketing in a TV Everywhere session I hosted this afternoon at the Cable Show in Chicago.
Both Alison and David stressed their twin goals of delivering anytime/anywhere experiences to their viewers while also supporting the subscriber authentication, TV Everywhere goals of their main pay-TV distributors. In fact TV Everywhere was, well, everywhere at this year's Cable show, dominating general sessions and informal discussions of the industry's future. Mostly there's broad consensus about how strategic untethering popular cable programming from the set-top box is, although many issues still remain unresolved. Chief among them are measurement, rights clearances and business relationship details.
Even the specific approaches taken by powerful networks like HBO and ESPN differ. While both are quite slick, HBO GO is all about an on-demand experience for both current episodes of popular TV series and back catalog. Alison noted that over 1,600 hours of content is now available on HBO GO, with the eventual goal of having all content in the app. Current episodes are released in the app concurrently with on-air delivery. Programs are wrapped with lots of ancillary information, social media integration and easy navigation.
Conversely, Watch ESPN is all about delivering a live, linear feed of existing ESPN channels. As David said, even in the age of time-shifted viewing, 99% of ESPN viewership is still live sports and the ability to watch out-of-home is a huge value add for viewers. For now, ESPN isn't inserting ads during the linear commercial breaks, instead just putting up a slate stating programming will resume shortly. Advertising will start in October, but David stressed that it won't necessarily be the full ad load or even the same ads as on-air. The online experience allows ESPN to deliver more personalized, interactive ads.
Also featured as part of the session were Synacor CEO Ron Frankel and TradeHarbor CEO Paul Heirendt. Ron demonstrated Synacor's new TV Everywhere authentication interface with Suddenlink and Paul showcased his company's voice recognition authentication and personalization technology.
TV Everywhere has clearly emerged as the industry's number one priority, and yet as all the participants agreed, it's still the first inning of the rollouts. Many issues still need to be overcome and various approaches are yet to emerge. But as Netflix and other over-the-top providers gain strength, TV Everywhere is becoming more and more urgent.
Cable Networks, Devices