CBS Sports and Turner Sports scored last night. Their first-round coverage of the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament on CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV averaged an overnight household rating/share of 5.8/14. That’s the highest first Thursday ratings of the tournament since 1991. It is also up 4% compared with the 5.6/13 that the tournament received on the comparable night of March 15th last year. This is the third year CBS and Turner are showing all 67 March Madness games across four networks. The first primetime slot (7-10:15 PM), which saw South Dakota State vs. Michigan on CBS, averaged a 7.4/14 to register the highest rating ever for the time slot and was up 9% over the 6.8/13 the first primetime game of the night got in 2012. The second primetime slot of the night (9:30 PM – 12:45 AM) averaged a 6.4/11, down from the 6.8/12 of 2012, but featured two blowouts: Virginia Commonwealth thrashing Akron by 46 points on CBS and Syracuse slamming Montana by 47 on TNT. So far, this year’s March Madness, which began Tuesday with the NCAA First Four, is averaging a 5.2/12, up 2% compared with a 5.1/12 at the same time last year.
This year’s March Madness will have a lot more eyeballs in play. Millions more, according to CBS Sports and Turner Sports execs who boast that the NCAA College Basketball Championships will be available to more viewers on more devices plus a larger TV Everywhere Universe, Multichannel.com reports. CBS and Turner also are confident that consumers’ increased familiarity with authentication process will expand the overall audience for the tourney. NCAA March Madness gets underway Tuesday following today’s announcement of the 68-team field on CBS’ NCAA Baskeball Championship Selection Show. The Turner-produced NCAA March Madness live will offer free streaming of the 67 games comprising the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament across scads of online, mobile and tablet devices to pay TV subscribers. With social and interactive components, it will launch from ncaa.com/marchmadness, CBSSports.com and www.bleacherreport.com, along with Google Play and Apple’s App Store. The games beging with TruTV’s coverage of the First Four on March 19 and 20 and concludes with the national championship game in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on April 8.
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and News Corp COO Chase Carey took the message to The Cable Show this morning, urging attendees to jump on the Internet video bandwagon — even if it means relaxing their grip on the relationship with their customers. “We’ve just got to do it faster,” Bewkes says about TV Everywhere, the service that enables subscribers to watch TV shows on mobile devices. Carey agreed that “it should go faster,” adding that “we get too hung up on protecting the rules of the past.” That was a subtle swipe at pay TV distributors who covet their gatekeeper role. Many fear that they could lose control once subscribers begin to use an iPad or other device to access shows directly from programmers — without a need for the operator’s set top box or on-screen guide. ”We’ve got to find a way to make all of these experiences easier to use and more accessible,” Carey says. “That requires us to work together.” Bewkes agreed. “Let consumers use the interfaces they want,” he says. “You’ll still have your subscriber relationship. We can’t develop the best, world-class interfaces at the scale that a distribution company has. Silicon Valley, the Internet industry, is a global industry and that’s what they do. We should harness that….Don’t try to hold that back. Consumers won’t allow it.”
This has been one of the big sticking points for TV Everywhere: Advertisers and programmers say they still can’t tell who’s watching when a show is streamed to online audiences. That could result in lots of lost ad revenues. It’s the opposite of what you might expect. Internet users give up gobs of information about themselves every time they click a keyboard or mouse, while ad rates for conventional TV depend on imperfect surveys. But Internet server measurement “systematically overstates audience because it cannot distinguish one person using multiple browsers, account for cookie deletion, or distinguish content served to non-human audiences (i.e. crawlers, bots),” Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger says this morning in a report. He provides the clearest explanation I’ve seen so far of what advertisers do and don’t know about viewers from different platforms. Here (with his permission) is how he explains what an advertiser on Glee might learn about the show’s multiple audiences:
BETHPAGE, NY – March 14, 2012 – Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) today announced the launch of HBO GO® and MAX GO®, expanding to 12 the number of mobile programming services available to iO TV digital cable customers. HBO GO and MAX GO make HBO® and Cinemax® content available on any Internet-connected computer and other portable devices like the iPad® and iPhone® and Android™ smartphones to customers who receive the channels as part of their cable service.
Comcast doesn’t seem to think that it’s one of the unnamed companies that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes chided yesterday for dragging their feet on TV Everywhere — the emerging collection of streaming services for pay TV …
The Time Warner chief delivered an unusually impassioned address today imploring investors to pressure everyone from pay TV distributors to Hollywood studios to deploy on-demand streaming initiatives including TV Everywhere and UltraViolet home video. “Not enough consumers are aware of these powerful enhancements and not enough consumers have them at their fingertips,” Bewkes told the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom Conference. “We have to move much faster…You should absolutely demand that the companies in which you invest get serious and invest in this opportunity.” He’s most interested in television, the business that accounts for about 80% of Time Warner’s profits — and especially TV Everywhere, which gives pay TV subscribers the ability to watch shows on mobile devices on demand. ”The user experience today is really spotty. Some distributors make it easy and others don’t. You know who they are and so do they.” Specifically, Bewkes wants programmers to make more content available to TV Everywhere. He wants programs to be available on TV sets as well as tablets. He wants Nielsen to figure out how to measure the number of viewers on all digital platforms. And he wants distributors to make it easy to find and access programming. “You shouldn’t need to be knocked upside the head by an iPad to realize that consumers are demanding rich, flexible, intuitive user interfaces,” he says. Consumers “think they deserve it, and they do. And they’re voting with their finger tips everyday.”
Big Media Q4 Corporate Earnings Roundup: Can Moguls Stop Worrying About Cord-Cutting As The Economy Improves?
Big Media’s Q4 earnings season pretty much wrapped up last week. And the most startling takeaway is how quickly moguls have overcome their fears about the lousy economy and pay TV cord-cutting. That was becoming a big concern three months ago. Execs including Time Warner Cable’s Glenn Britt and Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen warned that cash-strapped subscribers would ditch pay TV and watch shows for free from an antenna – and perhaps a low-cost Internet video service such as Netflix or Hulu Plus – if program prices continued to soar faster than inflation. The anxiety was so palpable that I wondered whether execs were angling to use the economy as a scapegoat for some of their own bad decisions. But in the Q4 conference calls I listened to over the last few weeks, moguls returned to their usual assurances that all is well. They also seem to think that means the pay TV oligopoly can continue to charge consumers higher prices. ”We’re not seeing some great interest in cord-cutting because I think, generally, consumers are happy with the quality and the variety (of channels) that they’re getting, and the price-to-value relationship is generally good,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said. He and others signaled that they’re in an arms race to deliver hits: Viacom said its production costs will grow by low double digit percentages for the rest of its fiscal year. Discovery said expenditures would grow by high single digit percentages in 2012. Time Warner said that its figure would rise by at least mid-single digit percentages. Investors fear that the additional spending will squeeze profits. But moguls said not to worry: They’ll reign in other costs, and hope for the best. News Corp COO Chase Carey says that this is “a great time to be a content leader.” And Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes assured analysts that “our best years are ahead of us.”
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes channeled his inner Les Moonves in a conference call with analysts this morning to deliver one of the most relentlessly cheery infomercials he has ever presented for his company. But he wasn’t able to duplicate the CBS chief’s ability to mesmerize investors: Time Warner shares dipped sharply during the presentation after opening up on the company’s strong 4Q results and announcement of a new stock buy-back plan. The drop was due to the company’s warning that corporate expenses will rise in 2012. Execs also acknowledged that the film studio — which won’t have a new Harry Potter film — faces difficult comparisons with the 2011 results.
Still, Bewkes hammered on his theme that “our best years are ahead of us” — especially due to TV Everywhere and business models that promote digital distribution. “We’re at the vanguard of the industry” in promoting them, Bewkes says. For example, the HBO Go app soon will be available for Microsoft’s XBox. The company also is developing apps so pay TV subscribers can
Needham & Co analyst Laura Martin is known for her smart and bold industry forecasts, and her latest is sure to draw a lot of interest. She says that TV Everywhere — where pay TV providers give subscribers the freedom to watch cable TV shows on mobile devices on demand — soon will generate more revenue than will Web-based platforms including YouTube and Hulu. Indeed, she says that it will be “one of the primary drivers of valuation growth for today’s TV ecosystem over the next five years.” About $10B of the additional dollars will come from advertisers and go to content owners led by Time Warner and Disney. Advertisers will pay for TV Everywhere viewers, she says, because people using mobile devices can’t zip past commercials as easily as they can at home with a DVR. Martin figures that sponsors would pay an additional $5.6B a year if just 10% of TV watching shifts from DVRs to TV Everywhere. On top of that, advertisers will
Everyone thinks of TV Everywhere as a mobile service, enabling pay TV subscribers to stream shows to Internet devices. But Time Warner CFO John Martin told the Citigroup Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference that the initiative may have its biggest impact in the living room. TV Everywhere will create “an enormous amount of on-demand programming, and that could radically change the way people with Web-connected TV sets access their favorite shows. Time Warner has been promoting just such a shift based on the theory that it will help TV’s most popular channels and programs. It has signed TV Everywhere deals for its Turner channels — including TBS, TNT, and CNN — and for its HBO GO application. “HBO GO is now available to virtually everyone and Turner isn’t far behind,” Martin says. He adds that “a lot of progress is going to be made over the next 12 months” as viewers figure out what they can do with TV Everywhere. “This is all happening quickly. … We’re on the cusp of seeing the television viewing experience get dramatically better.”
There are still bumps along the way. Time Warner saw a slowdown in scatter market ad sales in 4Q; expectations of mid-single-digit growth ”may be aspirational.” But Martin is “cautiously optimistic” about the current quarter based on low cancellations, and ads for NBA games selling at “very attractive rates.” Home video sales also were weak at year end with 4Q results that “look more challenged” than 3Q. Time Warner expects help from the UltraViolet initiative, which makes it possible for DVD buyers to also access movies remotely. The company bought a website, Flixster, to serve as a gateway for consumers. ”The product is not where we want it to be, but someone has to take a leadership position,” Martin says.
The Time Warner chief says that in four years he expects to see a doubling of his overseas business that now generates about $2.5B a year in revenue and $500M in operating profit. Most of the increase will come as the company’s pay TV networks and shows become more broadly distributed, generating higher ratings and ad sales. “The value of American-produced content is going up pretty fast around the world,” he told the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference. But he also raised the possibility of using the Internet to go around some conventional TV carriers. For example, in some parts of South America “multichannel (TV) subscriptions are only 10% of the market (and) there’s no reason the telephone company can’t sell HBO, TNT or CNN.” There’s no guarantee the strategy will work everywhere: Some broadband providers “say any content coming over my plant that I don’t think is good isn’t coming over my plant,” Bewkes says.