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  • VideoNuze Podcast #180 - Does Live Streaming TV Make Sense?

    I'm pleased to present the 180th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. There was a rush of interest around live streaming this week. Among the news items: ABC,TNT and TBS announced live streaming of their linear feeds; YouTube expanded its live feature and Brightcove launched a new live module, which followed thePlatform doing the same last week.

    For live streaming TV, neither Colin nor I believe it will have broad appeal, with the possible exception of sports and maybe certain breaking news/events. It's no secret that on-demand, time-shifted viewing has surged in popularity, due to DVR penetration above 50% of U.S. homes and the widespread availability of TV programs online for on-demand use. So in a way live streaming TV is trying to put the genie back in the bottle - getting on-demand viewers to go back to linear.

    The fundamental inconsistency to me in this is that if you're tech-savvy enough to be drawn to live streaming on an iOS device, you're even more likely to now be a mainly on-demand viewer. And for those not tech-savvy, who still do enjoy linear viewing, well, why do you need an live streaming app when you can just watch on your TV as you always have? Even the sports use case is a bit thin as watching out-of-home for most will be very expensive given mobile data rates, and most mobile device viewing happens in the home anyway.

    Nonetheless, Colin and I describe all the reasons we think other TV networks are likely to roll out live streaming in the coming months as well. Maybe we're missing something, but it strikes us that these will have more to do with PR (countering Aereo for example) and supporting TV Everywhere/retransmission consent negotiations and won't end up resonating broadly with users. More interesting I think is the CW's move to make its shows available free next day on-demand via Apple TV and other devices which seems in synch with users' expectations.

    Listen in to learn more!

    Click here to listen to the podcast (17 minutes, 17 seconds)

    Click here for previous podcasts

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    The VideoNuze podcast is also available in iTunes...subscribe today!

     
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  • Are Live Sports Pay-TV's Firewall or Its Albatross?

    I've long assumed that live sports carried on cable TV networks (e.g. ESPN, Fox Sports, TNT, TBS, NFL Network, regional sports networks, etc.) would be a key firewall against cord-cutting since the games they air are unavailable online. In other words, if you're a sports fan, dropping your pay-TV subscription would be unthinkable. While I still believe that's mostly true, recently I've started wondering if it's possible that sports actually may also be an albatross for pay-TV operators, limiting their ability to effectively compete with online-only alternatives.

    I use the word albatross because pay-TV providers actually have very little flexibility to offer non-sports fans lower-priced packages that don't include sports-oriented channels. In fact, the most surprising aspect of last week's announcement by Time Warner Cable of a new lower-priced tier  called "TV Essentials" it's testing is that it will exclude ESPN, which is virtually unheard-of in pay-TV packaging. Because the underlying deals that cable networks have with sports leagues and rights-holders are so expensive, the networks try to get carried on the most popular pay-TV service tiers, thereby ensuring the highest number of subscriber homes (basic cable networks are paid by distributors on a per subscriber basis, so the more subscriber homes, the higher their revenue).

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  • HBO and Cinemax Join Comcast's On Demand Online Technical Trial

    The list of cable networks participating in Comcast's upcoming technical trial of On Demand Online continues to grow. This afternoon HBO and Cinemax announced that initially they will provide 750 hours a month of programming, which will expand over time.

    Full length episodes of True Blood, Hung, Entourage, etc, along with recent movies such as Transformers, The Dark Knight, Atonement and classics like Jurassic Park, Speed and Rosemary's Baby will all be available. Some programs will be available in HD and immediately after they're shown on the linear networks.

    HBO/Cinemax follows last week's announcement that Starz is on board with the trial, which itself followed the launch announcement that Time Warner networks TNT and TBS were participating. The list will no doubt grow further in the coming weeks.

    I've been bullish on Comcast's On Demand Online initiative from the outset, and HBO/Cinemax's perfectly illustrates the power of the model. As the most popular premium TV network, HBO would confer a lot of additional value to its subscribers by making its programs conveniently available online. But to date the only real option for doing so has been to sell them on a per program download basis through outlets like iTunes. The problem is that HBO subscribers end up paying twice for the same content.

    On Demand Online gives HBO a mechanism, finally, to give its subscribers online access without additional fees. This is accomplished through Comcast's "authentication," which queries its database to enable online viewing privileges. The upcoming technical trial is intended to prove that the authentication process actually works. It must, as the stakes are quite high when premium networks like HBO are in the mix. The last thing they want is to have unauthorized broadband users watching their coveted shows instead of subscribing to the monthly service.

    All of the details of On Demand Online are not yet understood, but I continue to believe that if it's executed properly, it will be a game-changer for the cable and broadband industries.

     
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  • Cutting the Cord on Cable: For Most of Us It's Not Happening Any Time Soon

    Two questions I like to ask when I speak to industry groups are, "Raise your hand if you'd be interested in 'cutting the cord' on your cable TV/satellite/telco video service and instead get your TV via broadband only?" and then, "Do you intend to actually cut your cord any time soon?" Invariably, lots of hands go up to the first question and virtually none to the second. (As an experiment, ask yourself these two questions.)

    I thought of these questions over the weekend when I was catching up on some news items recently posted to VideoNuze. One, from the WSJ, "Turn On, Tune Out, Click Here" from Oct 3rd, offered a couple examples of individuals who have indeed cut the cord on cable and how their TV viewing has changed. My guess is that it wasn't easy to find actual cord-cutters to be profiled.

    There are 2 key reasons for this. First it's very difficult to watch broadband video on your TV. There are special purpose boxes (e.g. AppleTV, Vudu, Roku, etc.), but these mainly give access to walled gardens of pre-selected content, that is always for pay. Other devices like Internet-enabled TVs, Xbox 360s and others offer more selection, but are not really mass adoption solutions. Some day most of us will have broadband to the TV; there are just too many companies, with far too much incentive, working on this. But in the short term, this number will remain small.

    The second reason is programming availability. Potential cord-cutters must explicitly know that if they cut their cord they'll still be able to easily access their favorite programs. Broadcasters have wholeheartedly embraced online distribution, giving online access to nearly all their prime-time programs. While that's a positive step, the real issue is that cord-cutters would get only a smattering of their favorite cable programs. Since cable viewing is now at least 50% of all TV viewing (and becoming higher quality all the time, as evidenced by cable's recent Emmy success), this is a real problem.

    To be sure, many of the biggest ad-supported cable networks (MTV, USA, Lifetime, Discovery) are now making full episodes of some of their programs available on their own web sites. But these sites are often a hodgepodge of programming, and there's no explanation offered for why some programs are available while others are not. For example, if you cut the cord and could no longer get Discovery Channel via cable/satellite/telco, you'd only find one program, "Smash Lab" available at Discovery.com. Not an appealing prospect for Discovery fans.

    Then there's the problem of navigation and ease of access. Cutting the cord doesn't mean viewers don't want some type of aggregator to bring their favorite programming together in an easy-to-use experience. Yet full streaming episodes are almost never licensed to today's broadband aggregators. Cable networks are rightfully being cautious about offering full episodes online to aggregators not willing to pay standard carriage fees.

    For example, even at Hulu, arguably the best aggregator of premium programming around, you can find Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report." But aside from a few current episodes from FX, SciFi and Fuel plus a couple delayed episodes from USA like "Monk" and "Psych," there's no top cable programming to be found.

    As another data point, I checked the last few weeks of Nielsen's 20 top-rated cable programs and little of this programming is available online either. A key gap for cord-cutters would be sports. At a minimum, they'd be saying goodbye to the baseball playoffs (on TBS) and Monday Night football (on ESPN). In reality, sports is the strongest long-term firewall against broadband-only viewing as the economics of big league coverage all but mandate carriage fees from today's distributors to make sense.

    Add it all up and while many may think it's attractive to go broadband only, I see this as a viable option for only a small percentage of mainstream viewers. Only when open broadband to the TV happens big time and if/when cable networks offer more selection will this change.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

     
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  • Turner Breaks Ice with Streaming Episodes

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    Turner Networks took a pretty significant step today - for cable networks - by announcing that it plans to stream all 7 of its original TV series slated for this summer. Though broadcast networks have been aggressively launched streaming efforts since last fall, this is the first big network group that has followed suit.

    On my Cable IPTV panel last week, we spent some time discussing the divergence in strategies between the cable nets and the broadcast nets. A key takeaway was that it's not going to be so easy for cable nets to stream their programs online. That's because all cable nets have complex provisions in their "affiliate agreements" with cable and satellite operators that circumscribe their ability to distribute through additional channels.

    Of course these provisions vary from agreement to agreement, but you can be sure that operators paying hefty per subscriber per month fees to cable nets are going to vigilant about allowing valuable programming to show up elsewhere, thereby (potentially) undercutting the value of their programming packages. For now the issue is being defused by Turner by positioning these streaming activities as primarily promotional. So says Jeff Gregor, CMO of TBS/TNT/TCM in today's B&C piece:

    "We want new viewers to come in, and, while we certainly want them to watch shows when we air them live, we want them to watch during encores and on-demand when and where appropriate."

    I'm skeptical that we'll see a rash of similar announcements from other cable nets any time soon. Lots of lawyers are still working hard to figure out how much wiggle room affiliate deals allow. Ultimately though, these restrictions will be renegotiated and cable programming will flow freely. Cable nets, like all other content providers, will conclude that online distribution is essential.

     
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