ESPN’s Rollins: Dish Streaming Won’t Hurt Cable #TCA15

Cable execs defend OTT efforts in TV Everywhere discussion

ESPN’s inclusion in Dish’s Sling TV is not a threat to the cable bundle model, executives from several cable networks, ESPN included, said Wednesday during a panel focusing on TV Everywhere at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour.

“We’re very excited to kind of see our innovative efforts come to fruition with Dish to provide a value service to an underserved market, these broadband customers that don’t have a multichannel video subscription, which is roughly about 12 million broadband homes,” said James Rollins, VP of digital video distribution, affiliate sales and marketing at Disney and ESPN Media Networks. “So really we see this as being kind of supplemental. It’s going to be additive in a way to serve a market that has been underserved, to be that bridge into higher terms of service."

Dish announced the details of its new over-the-top streaming product Monday. Among the channels featured in the $20-a-month package is ESPN, the most expensive cable network for MVPDs to carry.

“No, we still firmly see the value of traditional multichannel video service,” Rollins said when asked whether viewers who are paying for cable in order to have ESPN might defect to Dish’s lower-cost offering. He pointed out that Dish’s package is itself a bundle of multiple networks.

“That premise about whether someone’s really holding on to cable for one network, I would question whether that’s really true,” said Erik Flannigan, executive VP of multiplatform strategy and development for Viacom Entertainment Group, adding that over-the-top efforts are targeting “what is probably a younger demo, probably a less affluent demo.”

The Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, which presented the panel, offered statistics identifying current customer awareness of TV Everywhere, which allows MVPD customers to access network programming via their mobile devices in and away from their homes, at 54%, and stating that the industry goal is to raise that to 67% by the end of the year. Current usage, according to the industry group, is at 49%. CTAM’s goal is to raise that to 55% by year’s end.

But the difficulty customers experience in authenticating their MVPD service via TV Everywhere apps remains a major hurdle for greater adoption.

“That’s clearly an issue,” Flannigan said. “I’m someone who feels like there is a lot of friction in that experience still. You will see data that says that people who are using the services basically feel like they’re easy to log into. But that doesn’t tend to ask the people who aren’t doing it.” Flannigan predicted that part of that process will become smoother soon. “If they’re at home, they’re on their own Wi-Fi, and we know they’re getting their broadband from the same provider, why aren’t you just logging them in [automatically]? That capability I think is actually fairly close at hand.”

Mark Garner, senior VP of distribution for A+E Networks, fielded a question asking what the biggest misconception about TV Everywhere is. “I would say that the most misconstrued things is that TV Everywhere is an added thing that you have to pay for,” he said. “That’s one of the messaging points that we’re trying to get across very clearly to consumers, is that it’s part of your subscription.

Garner also spoke about the lack of adequate measurement of over-the-top viewing. “The measurement abilities lag behind technology right now in such a way that are harmful, quite frankly, to this business.” Brad Dancer, senior VP of program planning and research for National Geographic Channel, added, “It is lagging to the point that it is becoming frustrating,” but said that he expects improvement “in the next 12 months or less.”