• Time Warner's Jeff Bewkes is Hurting the Cable Industry by Hyping "TV Everywhere"

    Leading up to and during this week's Cable Show (the cable TV industry's big once-per-year conference), Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes continued to hype his company's "TV Everywhere" vision. Observing the media coverage of this initiative since the WSJ broke the news about it over a month ago, following how industry executives are responding to it, and listening to Mr. Bewkes's further comments, I've concluded that TV Everywhere - and Mr. Bewkes's hyping of it - is actually hurting the cable industry, not helping it. I don't think this was his intent, but I do believe it's the reality.

    Let me say upfront, I think the idea that cable TV network programs being made available online, to paying multichannel video subscribers, but without an extra fee, is terrific. But it is a very long-term idea, requiring that lots of divergent constituent business models come into alignment. It also requires significant - and coordinated - technology development and implementation by numerous parties that have widely varying willingness and readiness to participate. And not least, someone has to actually pay for all this cross-industry technology development and testing to preclude it from becoming a hacker's paradise. It's a very tall order indeed.

    Yet when I read Mr. Bewkes's comments about TV Everywhere and its implementation, he inevitably points to what Time Warner Cable (btw, not the company he runs any longer with the spinoff now almost complete) is doing with HBO in Milwaukee. By continuing to do so, I believe he is trivializing how complicated implementing something like TV Everywhere would be across the industry and across the country.

    Mr. Bewkes's sketchiness with the details of how TV Everywhere would work is obvious in his interview with PaidContent's Staci Kramer here and here. There are plenty of generalizations and descriptions of the end-state, but little offered about how this would all be accomplished. One example: "...all of the video providers would have a link in their software where they could be pinged to see if the person is a video subscriber. That's not a complicated thing. It's simply a software program that asks does anybody have Staci as a sub and then Charter says, yes, I've got her and bang."

    Yeah, right! And if things were only that easy then maybe the cable and satellite industry wouldn't also have the 2nd lowest customer satisfaction score out of 43 industries measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ahead of only airlines).

    Meanwhile because the details have been so sparse, the media has been left to come to its own confusing and often conspiratorial conclusions about what TV Everywhere really means to consumers. Here's a sample of the recent headlines: "TV Everywhere - As Long As You Pay for It," "Time Warner Goes Over the Top," "Some Online Shows Could Go Subscription-Only" and "Pay Cable Tests Online Delivery." Talk about message mismanagement...

    The cable industry - both operators and programmers - are getting hurt most by the hype and confusion around TV Everywhere. Consumers' expectations are being raised without any sense of timing or what will actually result. Many consumers already have no love lost for their cable operator and would jump at the chance to cut the cord. The flowery-sounding "TV Everywhere" suggests that day may be coming at exactly the moment when the industry should be collectively driving home a positive story that cable operators are investing in broadband - yet again - to provide more value to subscribers.

    Meanwhile cable networks are also being hurt by TV Everywhere's hype. They are being forced to respond in public (as Disney's Bob Iger did in his keynote yesterday) to these vague ideas. But it is a PR nightmare-in-the-making for them, as they need to defend why consumers will have to continue paying subscription fees to watch their programs online, while broadcast TV network programs are freely available. That's a thankless job for them, and reading through Mr. Iger's speech yesterday, you could almost sense his resentment at being forced into this position.

    Why Mr. Bewkes isn't modulating his comments about TV Everywhere in light of all this eludes me. Anyone who's ever created a product knows about "roadmaps," where product features are added over time, and customers are methodically messaged about enhancements to come. With TV Everywhere, it's as if all that matters to Mr. Bewkes is talking about the glorious end state, thereby erasing meaningful online benefits that can be delivered along the way. Contrast this with Comcast's OnDemand Online plan that offers the simple, but still highly-valuable near-term proposition of online cable programs on its own sites, and possibly the networks' as well.

    Ironically, nobody should know the perils of hype better than Time Warner executives, since this was the company that brought us the ill-fated "boil-the-ocean" Full Service Network back in 1994. A reminder: those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.