Rather than keeping over-the-top streaming videos from the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon at arm's length, Charter is embracing the OTT providers by integrating them into a single online directory on its Web portal.
While cable operators, analysts and industry experts have long posited on the negative impact OTT video providers are having on cable operators' loss of basic video subscribers, Charter said its new search approach was an industry first. Instead of focusing on OTT providers as competition, Charter is accentuating the positives of its broadband network, which is a similar approach espoused by Time Warner Cable.
"We recognize that people embrace [OTT video], and we think the broadband pipe is superior," said Michael McMahon, vice president of Web experience and application strategy at Charter. "Ultimately, we believe it's the best customer experience to have that kind of unified view of what they're looking for, so that's what we want to offer."
By the end of the month, Charter will include free search and discovery results from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu on Charter.net. Pointers to content offered by Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu will be integrated with links to content already available on Charter.net through a unified search and discovery experience. In order to access the OTT content, Charter subscribers need to be signed up with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.
After a couple of months of work, Charter developed the search and discovery feature with Synacor, which was also the vendor that first helped it enable the TV Everywhere-type experience on Charter.net.
"There's entitled content, like HBO Go and Epix, that's based on your Charter credentials, either your a paid sub or not," McMahon said. "With respect to Hulu free content, that's also an embedded experience similar to the entitled content.
"Amazon, Netflix and Hulu Plus are all subscription services where you must maintain a subsection. With those subscribers, it's a link-off experience where you take this sort of 'remember me' button, and when you have the correct cookie, the video just starts to play. Otherwise, you would be presented with the authentication challenge from those providers' websites."
Initially available online, Charter said the enhanced functionality would be available on tablets and mobile devices next year.
"At the moment, we're enabling this search functionality on the platforms we can, the retail devices like laptops and tablets," McMahon said. "The rights equation in this area is very fluid, but we believe it will change over time, and we'll progressively support those other devices when we can."
This year, Charter added video content from HBO Go and Max Go, as well as BTN2Go and ESPN3, to its Web portal.
Charter first dipped its toe into the TV Everywhere waters last year with a trial that included shows from TNT, TBS, Style, E!, G4 and The Weather Channel.