After a sluggish start, the multichannel TV industry has been aggressively working to improve user adoption of its TV Everywhere apps, with more aggressive marketing campaigns to boost awareness, greatly expanded content, and newer technologies to improve the user experience.
Many of these efforts, which are expected to pick up more speed in 2015, reflect jitters about the future of the multichannel TV industry. With rapidly growing use of video on mobile devices by younger viewers, the research company SNL Kagan is reporting that the number of homes that use over-the-top (OTT) services as their primary way of accessing video has jumped from 2.5 million in 2010 to 6.8 million in 2014.
To lure cord cutters back into the fold and keep existing subscribers happy, operators began trialing TV Everywhere (TVE) offerings in 2009, with the idea that they would eventually make all the content in the typical cable, satellite or telco multichannel bouquet available on PCs, smartphones, tablets and other digital devices.
But problems with the user experience, limited marketing and delays in negotiating programming rights significantly hampered consumer interest. “A year ago, only 20% of people were aware that they had the capabilities of TV Everywhere as part of their cable subscription,” says John Lansing, president and CEO of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM). “So we kicked off a major effort to change that.”
What’s In a Name?
As programmers and operators worked with CTAM to improve the user experience and marketing for TVE, the industry also made significant progress in expanding its offerings. “If you look across the industry, every programmer has really embraced some form of TV Everywhere,” says Matthew Strauss, senior VP/ GM of video services for Comcast Cable. “We now have about 30% penetration of our video base [of subscribers] using TV Everywhere on a monthly basis. The average viewer is spending close to 7 hours a month, which is up 45% from a year ago and is continuing to grow.”
High-profile events such as the Olympics and the World Cup have helped, but other usage has been climbing as well. “After the record numbers in June ESPN had with the World Cup, we were wishing things like that would happen more often,” says Ryan Spoon, ESPN senior VP of digital product development. “But we’ve been very pleased to see that we’ve managed to carry those people from June and July into September with football, which was another record month by a significant margin.”
Several outside studies detail similar progress. Ad technology provider FreeWheel offers in its latest Video Monetization Report that authenticated ad viewing jumped 368% in the first half of 2014 compared to 2013. Data from Adobe shows video starts of authenticated content jumped 388% in the second quarter of 2014 compared to the same period a year earlier. “Both awareness and usage are increasing,” says Kelash Kumar, group product manager, Adobe Primetime.
But much more work remains to be done, particularly in the area of authentication. Josh Cogswell, senior VP of multiplatform product at Viacom, says they hope to see widespread adoption of a system that would allow subscribers to view TV Everywhere content inside their homes without having to log in.
“It is so easy to sign into Netflix and Amazon,” he says. “The industry is really doing itself a disservice if we can’t make it just easy to sign into your cable or satellite provider.”
Strauss also stresses the industry must focus on finding ways to use TVE offerings to improve the overall pay-TV experience. “TV Everywhere is actually acting as a catalyst for programmers to reinvent how viewers experience their networks with interactivity and other features,” such as better targeted ads, Strauss says.
Such efforts are evident at networks including CNN, ESPN and Showtime.
“CNN was founded on the TV initially and with the CNN Go app [on streaming devices] we’ve been able to reimagine what the CNN experience might look like for television and news,” says Alex Wellen, chief product officer, CNN. By combining the CNN live feed with stories and material providing context, he believes, “we’ve created something altogether different that is worth authenticating for.”
Showtime has also put increased focus on authenticated apps for the TV, having launched its Showtime Anytime app on Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Xbox 360 so far this year, reports Julia Veale, SVP of business and product development and management for Showtime Anytime, who adds that they will soon be on Xbox One. Showtime has also been experimenting with adding additional features and content for the authenticated apps on smart TVs.
Tamara Franklin, executive VP of digital at Scripps Networks Interactive, adds that “you have to give people a reason to want to authenticate. So we’ve been working to be a lot smarter about putting teaser content in front of the pay-wall to pull people through.”
Operators have also been deploying set-top boxes that offer consumers access to all or much of the pay-TV content on multiple devices.
Dish was an early mover on those efforts with the Hopper with Sling Box that provides subscribers access to the entire pay-TV lineup of live channels, a large amount of video-ondemand content and the users’ DVR recordings in and outside the home on multiple devices. “We think it is a huge competitive advantage because consumers expect to be able to access all the content when they hear the term TV Everywhere,” says Jimshade Chaudhari, director of product management at Dish.
Operators including Comcast are deploying cloud TV systems that give consumers access to many channels and large arrays of on-demand content in the home. “We now have in-home streaming available in 75% of our homes,” and have introduced cloud DVRs that make recordings available on multiple devices, says Strauss.
GW Shaw, VP of U-verse and video product marketing at AT&T, notes that its U-verse video customers now have access to more than 200 live networks inside the home and 100-plus outside, as well as VOD content.
TVE BEST PRACTICES
The industry’s efforts to improve TV Everywhere have been coordinated through organizations such as the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM). In the first phase of its efforts in 2014, a committee of programmers and operators worked with CTAM to develop standardized terminology, industry-wide marketing materials and recommendations for simplifying the sign-in and authentication process, explains Anne Cowan, senior VP of communications and marketing at CTAM.
By year-end, Cowan expects CTAM members will have adopted about 75% of the recommendations, with more to follow in 2015 as apps are upgraded.
In 2015, Cowan says CTAM will be working to improve the authentication process for kids, families and Hispanics. The goal is to boost overall awareness to 65% and usage to 55%.
PLANS FOR TV EVERYWHERE IN 2015
To further boost usage, programmers and operators hope to make major progress in 2015 in these five areas:
AUTHENTICATION. Operators are close to widely deploying systems so users won’t have to sign in to access content while they are in the home; they are also working on systems so users would only have to log in once to access a programmer’s entire family of networks.
LIVE TV. Operators have been negotiating more deals to offer live streams of networks, with AT&T U-Verse now offering over 200 inside the home and over 100 outside the home.
STANDARDIZING THE EXPERIENCE. CTAM’s recommendations for simplifying terminology and improving the user experience are being widely adopted.
MORE MARKETING. Now that operators have reached a critical mass of content, marketing efforts are significantly expanding.
NEXT-GENERATION TV. Streaming networks over TV Everywhere apps gives programmers an opportunity to reinvent the viewing experience.