• For Pay-TV Operators, Will TV Everywhere Be TV Nowhere?

    I continue to be confounded by the fact that the pay-TV industry - both operators and cable TV networks - have not made more progress on TV Everywhere, their most important competitive initiative in the online era. Yesterday I got yet another dose of this sobering reality watching a panel discussion at ScreenPlays magazine's Media Innovations Summit in LA. The panel included Synacor's Ted May, Starz's John Penney, EPIX's Emil Rensing, thePlatform's Marty Roberts and AT&T's Dan York and was moderated by Marketing/PR executive Bob Gold.

    It's not that industry executives can't articulate the value to both operators and networks. For pay-TV operators, it's providing increased value to paying subscribers, which helps both acquisition and retention efforts. For cable networks, its expanded audience reach and advertising, while maintaining their hybrid model of paid distribution and advertising. For both it's staying competitive by providing access to premium content for consumers when, how and where they want it.

    Given those fairly straightforward objectives and the gathering momentum of over-the-top competitors, one might think that the industry would be motivated to make TV Everywhere happen pronto. Unfortunately for the industry TV Everywhere is getting caught in a thicket of issues that threaten to derail, or at least significantly limit TV Everywhere from achieving its full potential.

    In no particular order, here is the laundry list the panelists pointed to: difficulty integrating with operators' billing systems, lack of comprehensive online/on-air audience measurement, demands by certain networks for additional fees, complex content rights, including different ones for streaming vs. downloading, clunky authentication systems, unfriendly navigation/user experiences, lack of industry standards, piracy concerns, need for multiple corporate functional areas to collaborate, questions on ad loads, etc. It's a very long list and for sure there are no silver bullets.

    And yet, as John pointed out, pay-TV subscriptions last year amounted to $80+ billion and with that amount of money at stake, it is imperative that the industry resolves these issues. All the more so for underlying content producers because no replacement model online, either paid or ad-supported has yet been devised to generate this kind of revenue to fund their production budgets.

    In an impromptu demo of EPIX's authenticated access, things worked beautifully. Emil simply entered his username and password, was authenticated by Verizon FiOS and was watching the movie "Ironman" in seconds. If only it were that easy for everyone. EPIX was created specifically with multi-platform distribution in mind; as Emil said, "We don't think of TV Everywhere as a 'thing,' it's just what we do." If others in the industry made the same commitment to TV Everywhere, there might be more progress to show.

    Ten years from now, when the dust has settled, the verdict will be clear: did the pay-TV industry recognize the magnitude of competition new OTT players like Netflix, Apple and Google represented, and did they respond effectively, with their own significant online initiatives? Or, did they recognize it but fail to execute, in the process handing over a meaningful chunk of their core video business to the upstarts? Time will tell.

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