With the fall TV season upon us, Fox is alone among broadcast networks in deciding to create an 8-day authentication window for pay-TV subscribers. In fact, NBC appears to be taking the opposite posture, announcing last Friday that its iPad app would now include all the same episodes that it makes available online (and I've confirmed they'll all be available in the iPad next day as well). CBS hasn't announced any plans to change its distribution through its web site or TV.com. And despite some vague signals to the contrary by Disney CEO Bob Iger, ABC, which has been the leader among broadcast networks in embracing online/mobile distribution, hasn't announced any changes either.
I'll admit, I was skeptical that broadcast programs would still be flowing as freely this fall. The combination of protecting coveted retransmission consent payments, supporting pay-TV operators' interest in promoting TV Everywhere and the lingering concerns about trading "analog dollars (from linear delivery) for digital pennies/nickels/dimes" seemed to portend the broadcast networks would tighten up their online distribution.
Fox's move in July appeared to be a leading signal of coming industry change. The fact that Fox made its move - which clearly diminishes Hulu's value - in the midst of Hulu's sale process, indicated how emphatic Fox was about switching to authentication. In this context, NBC's decision to add episodes to its iPad app is particularly noteworthy because it suggests the network's independence from parent company Comcast, which has been among the biggest proponents of TV Everywhere.
Of course, there could still be announcements in coming days, but for now all of this is good news for consumers, device makers, brand advertisers and the larger online/mobile video ecosystems. Consumers are the big winners because although ad loads are increasing, they're still very tolerable and convenient, free, on-demand access is hugely appealing. Device makers and the ecosystem win too, because despite the resurgence of independent web-only programming and the possibility that more cable programming will come online via TV Everywhere, for now at least, broadcast programs are a key part of fueling consumer interest in ad-supported online video. For their part, brands that want to reach consumers online benefit as well with adjacency to high-quality content.
Not to be overlooked, the broadcast networks themselves win by continuing to offer their programs online. Though I'm keenly aware of the above pressures on the networks to impose some barriers to online viewing, I continue to believe that frustrating consumer interest in anytime, anywhere delivery is a counter-productive route. To the extent that ABC, CBS and NBC continue offering their full episodes online, that might even persuade Fox to reconsider its authentication window.
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