This is a surprise: Discovery has been slow to grant streaming rights to its programming, waiting to see how much extra distributors would be willing to pay — and when Nielsen would begin to measure viewing on iPads and other mobile devices. But the planets apparently aligned for a new carriage deal with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks that the companies struck before their previous one expired. The companies say this morning that subscribers will “enjoy authenticated access [that's industry jargon for TV Everywhere] to Discovery content in the near future” in a deal that I’m told runs through the end of the decade. Some of the details still need to be ironed out: Time Warner Cable SVP for Content Acquisition Andrew Rosenberg says the agreement will provide subscribers with “a robust VOD experience” as execs “look forward to continually working with Discovery to provide more expansive out of home access to their content.” Discovery CEO David Zaslav told analysts last month that TV Everywhere is “a real benefit to the cable operator” but so far there’s been “a little bit of an impasse on value.” Discovery had held back from granting rights because “our deals [with cable and satellite distributors] haven’t come up yet.” But he added that he might reach an agreement before a renewal came up saying that “if we get the right value, we’ll do it. …We’re in a very good position because people are really liking our channels. And with that kind of scale, the distributors are going to need to have us on TV Everywhere for it to be successful.”
This is a big step in Disney‘s effort to bring its TV Everywhere app to all of the markets where it owns TV stations, and to Hearst’s 13 ABC affiliates, by the beginning of the fall …
The cable initiative to stream any TV show, anytime, and anywhere remains spotty and confusing — and is progressing slowly — execs acknowledged in a panel on the subject today at the Cable Show in D.C. Thus far “it’s not a success,” says Fox Networks’ Mike Biard. NBCUniversal’s Ron Lamprecht rated the progress at no more than a 5 out of 10. There’s no turning back, though. “We see our consumers expecting that our content be everywhere,” he says. “There really isn’t any other choice. We have to be there.” But the industry faces a gauntlet of negotiations before it can hope to provide a service that will look the same across all TV networks, cable providers, and technology platforms. For example, Watch ESPN — the sports channel’s TV Everywhere service — “is almost exactly like what you see on ESPN, but there are blackouts because they don’t have the underlying rights” to all the games, Comcast Cable’s Marcien Jenckes says. Consumers also will find different shows when they use a network’s app compared with a cable company’s, and whether they’re used in or outside the home. “In a TNT application within the home you’re accessing TV Everywhere, but in an Xfinity application it could be [just the cable company's] VOD” programming, says Turner Broadcasting’s Jeremy Legg. “Explain to a consumer why they can get TNT in the home but not out of the home.”
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