Sports Industry Leads Charge to TV Everywhere

The buzz surrounding the second-screen experience is nothing new. With each new device and operating platform, content creators rush to build a mobile experience for their network, team, or event. If you can think it, there’s probably an app for that.

Coming to the fore more recently is TV Everywhere. Viewers want more than a second-screen experience to complement the first screen, they want the flexibility to watch programming anywhere, at any time, on any device. Judging by the success of the London Olympics streaming efforts, it appears that sports will, as it has many times before, serve as the catalyst.

“Sports has always been the drive for changing — networks, the landscape of media,” said NBA Commissioner David Stern, speaking in the opening panel at SportsBusiness Journal’s Sports and Media & Technology 2012. “Years and years ago, it was almost conventional wisdom that there was only enough sports for 2½ over-the-air networks.”

That conventional wisdom eventually gave way to new over-the-air networks like Fox Sports, satellite television, and niche cable programmers, not to mention a certain powerhouse in Bristol, CT. Sports programming has become integral to the television landscape. The question is, what’s next?

“You’re not giving up audiences by moving into what’s happening next,” said John Skipper, president of ESPN/co-chairman of Disney Media Networks. “You actually lose audiences by trying to hold on to what happened before and trying to maintain it.”

The 2012 Olympic Games proved the viability of TV Everywhere. Nearly 20.4 million hours of video were streamed on 9.9 million authenticated devices throughout the 17 days. Much of the Olympics’ multiplatform success can be attributed to the authentication process.

“What I learned from the experience we went through in London, and certainly the year leading into London, was that the multichannel-distribution industry has the technical capacity to make the authentication/validation process fairly seamless to the consumer,” said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, during the day’s second panel. “To me, that’s the biggest hurdle. You’re going to lose people every time you require them to put in some form of personal information, no matter what it is. When the industry gets to the point where that information is [either] not necessary or minimized, people are going to blow through the gates.”

The problem is, argued panelists in both sessions, the industry has to market TV Everywhere services better. Consumers need to be informed that TV Everywhere services, like those offered during the London Olympics, are intended to be added value — and not additional cost — for cable subscribers.

“We launched On Demand 10 years ago, and we had to convince people to push the On Demand button because they thought they were going to get charged,” said Matthew Strauss, SVP, digital and emerging platforms, Comcast Cable. “It took us 10 years to really move the industry to a point where now we have 400 million video views On Demand every month and we’ve got 75% of our subscribers using On Demand on a regular basis. We don’t even talk about On Demand any more because it’s become so integrated into the way we watch TV.”

He stressed that, as new mobile devices hit the marketplace, these will act as the catalyst to getting TV “truly everywhere.” TV Everywhere thus provides added value to technology users without detracting from the added value to cable providers.

“TV Everywhere will make [cable] an even a better value,” stressed David Levy, president, sales and distribution, Turner Broadcasting System. “[The industry] has got to come up with opportunities to make sure [subscribers] don’t cut the cord. They’re buying all these different devices — 25% of the country now own a tablet, 94% own a phone, and 70% of those have video capabilities on those phones — and, if you allow those devices to have this content and you have to authenticate to get it, that’s giving huge added value to all these technologies.”

As the numbers from the London Olympics show, fears of cannibalization proved unfounded. Fans who streamed live content throughout the day continued to watch primetime coverage over the air. ESPN3 VP Damon Phillips argued that a TV Everywhere strategy does not take fans away from a screen but, rather, delivers content to every screen so that consumers can select the best screen for them.

“There’s more content than ever before,” he said. “There are more devices than people playing this type of media. There’s more infrastructure in place to be able to stream this type of media and what this causes is more consumer demand. And this idea of more is just going to increase.”

As in any second-screen discussion, the question of monetization came up. However, the panelists continued to stress the added-value approach.

“Our belief has been that the customers who are getting video from us paid for that content, and, since they paid for that content, they should have the ability to access it wherever they want, whenever they want,” said Strauss. “On Demand gives us the opportunity to make it available whenever they want; TV Everywhere gives us the possibility to make it available wherever they want.”

In both panels, a timetable for widespread deployment of TV Everywhere was discussed, with estimates ranging from less than a year to more than five years. Despite this uncertainty, each panelist affirmed that TV Everywhere is the future, not only for sports but for the industry as a whole.

“As you look out over the next six to 12 months, I would suspect that most of those remaining programmers without a TV Everywhere agreement will have rolled out services of their own,” said Jeremy Legg, SVP, business development and multiplatform distribution, Turner Broadcasting System. “Everyone is going to be on the playing field in the relatively near future. Some people will be on the 10-yard line, some will be on the 50-yard line, but, at that point, once everyone is playing, you’re going to be in a position where you can begin to actually market this to consumers in a more consistent way.”

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