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Open Mic: Taking the tethers off of TV Everywhere services

Wed, 06/05/2013 - 11:25pm
Michael Willner

TV Everywhere (TVE) is the hot new feature in the cable and TV industry. It’s certainly understandable – consumers are demanding it.

From Comcast’s Xfinity Player to HBO Go, distributors and programmers alike are rolling out products that deliver content to new platforms: smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and smart TVs. To a large extent, the industry is sprinting to keep up with its customers’ new behavior. After all, between 2011 and 2012, consumers increased their video consumption on mobile devices by 100 percent. Although we’re still in the “early adopter” phase of TV Everywhere, these services are rapidly becoming a must-have product for consumers.

There is one more big challenge - TV Everywhere isn’t really everywhere is it? Unfortunately, if you’ve got a TVE app on your iPad, you still can’t access all those great shows and movies in lots of places. You’re out of luck if you’re traveling or simply not connected to a high-speed pipe, as is the case for most of us many times a day. Today’s TVE solutions rely primarily on streaming technology, which means you need consistent, reliable, fast, (and ideally non-metered or free) Internet service.

TVE is liberating in theory, but in reality, we remain tethered to a big pipe because we’re limited to where and when we have high-speed Internet access.

Think of the sense of liberation when consumers can load up their mobile devices with movies and their favourite TV shows and watch that programming wherever and whenever they want, without having to depend on an Internet connection.

I’ll use myself as an example. To get to the National Show, I took the train down from New York. If you are like me, and 60 percent of iPad owners, your iPad didn’t come with a cellular data plan, so you depend on Wi-Fi hot spots for Internet access. Even though Amtrak has Wi-Fi on the Acela, you certainly can’t use it to stream HD video. What I’d like is to download a few episodes of “Mad Men” and “Homeland” onto my iPad for later viewing on the train. That is truly TV Everywhere.

We’re moving in the right direction. Earlier this year, CED reported on landmark rights deals between distributors and programmers such as Fox and Showtime that have TV Everywhere as a major component. And as Time Warner COO Rob Marcus promised, Time Warner Cable is now offering customers out-of-home viewing capabilities on their TWC TV apps for mobile devices.

But I’ve been in the cable business long enough to know that it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears – not to mention some sticky rights negotiations and technology development – to make all this happen. Programmers don’t own all of their content, nor do they have download rights for all the shows and movies that they license. They must negotiate for those rights with studios and producers.

Programmers and distributors are in a symbiotic relationship, making money with each other. As Ben Franklin once said: “We must all hang together or we will certainly all hang separately.” Even though that symbiotic relationship is simultaneously tense, they all do better for each other when they work together to provide consumers the type of content they want to watch whenever and wherever they want to watch it.

I see download rights evolving similarly to VOD rights. First, distributors had to convince programmers to give them content for VOD. Then VOD rights were automatically included in the overall network offering. Today, programmers require that distributors take their VOD content – in larger and larger packages. I expect download rights to follow a similar path, but at a much more accelerated rate.

Some big players in the over-the-top (OTT) space have recognized the value of download. Notably, Apple’s iTunes is primarily a download (to rent or own) service for TV and movies. Amazon Prime offers some content for download as well. With over 50,000 titles a day downloaded from iTunes, it is even more important that our industry quickly roll out services to meet the customer where they are, or we risk becoming irrelevant.

Giving customers the ability to be totally untethered and completely flexible with how they watch the best and most popular content from their favorite programmers gives the industry a great competitive edge against OTT. It is an opportunity the industry must not miss. And once we get all the pieces in place, the marketing is easy. That’s when we can really call it “true TV Everywhere.”

Michael Willner is CEO, Penthera Partners

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