The Week In Review: TV Everywhere And Nowhere

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March 5, 2012 – 12:03 am

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TV Everywhere… And Nowhere

So far, all the talk about "TV Everywhere" is just talk. And the tone of the discussion is sounding increasingly frustrated with the slow pace, at least on the part of top media executives. In a world rife with talk about "cord-cutting" (see the piece below for a larger discussion of the hype), you’d think that the push toward allowing consumers to access their cable shows through streaming devices would be settled, but we’re still a ways off.

A few weeks ago, we reported that the expectations for TV Everywhere is that the complete rollout will occur over the next 3- to 5 years, according to Needham and Co. analyst Laura Martin. The total U.S. "TV ecosystem" is currently worth about $330 billion, Martin estimated, suggesting that TV Everywhere could increase that amount by an incremental $24-$48 billion.

The two executives this week venting about the pace were Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Time Warner chief Jeff Bewkes. Multichannel News’s Mike Farrell listened to the two executives’ separate presentations at this past week’s Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom conference.

"It's been a slow process mostly because there have been issues with technical capabilities on the part of many distributors," Dauman said, though he did highlight Viacom’s TV Everywhere arrangements Verizon FiOs and Cablevision. He expects things to start to move more quickly within the next two years or so, pinning the slowness on issues surrounding technology and marketing plans from various distributors, not content providers such as Viacom.

Bewkes also sought to point to progress on TV Everywhere -- Time Warner's Turner networks already has more than 1,000 hours of authenticated content online and its HBO Go app offers more than 1,600 hours – but he issued a call to TV networks to match the company’s efforts in that area. “We have not waited to have our affiliate agreements expire and rollover in order to make authenticated, powerful versions of our networks available to consumers," Bewkes said. "The best way to get paid for TV Everywhere' is to offer it to your viewers. Give it to your viewers today... We'd be naïve to think consumers are going to wait for this kind of, frankly to them, irrelevant sideshow."

Ultimately, it’s worth wondering what sort of value TV Everywhere will produce, Needham & Co.'s projections notwithstanding. For one thing, will cable subscribers ever be allowed to watch streaming video on their connected devices without being tethered to their home wi-fi connection, something that’s the bottom line requirement for TV Everywhere. And will TV Everywhere provide consumers with enough incentive to keep paying those expensive cable bills?

The answer right now appears to be maybe, leaning towards positive. GigaOm’s Ryan Lawler recently described himself as a TV Everywhere skeptic, but signs that Comcast arrested its subscriber losses in Q4 have him thinking that authenticated viewing might have been a factor. Given that Comcast’s subscriber numbers didn’t represent a complete reversal in its fortunes still has us feeling somewhat dubious about the potency of TV Everywhere, at least at this point.

That said, TV Everywhere does make sense in that it recognizes the basic fact of today’s viewers: they want to see content on all their screens. But with so much more available content becoming available online, it will take more than mere accessibility for cable companies to prove their worth. The bottom line is that as long as cable can provide quality content that isn’t readily available through streaming services, the business should do fine. But in the meantime, observers will continue to wonder what "fine" means, especially at a time when the hype about “cord-cutting” shows no sign of receding.

About Those Cord-Cutting, Fast-Forwarding Stats…

For the past year, the TV trade press has insatiably ran with headlines that seem to point to a great threat of cable “cord-cutting” and what that means for traditional media companies. As we’ve tried to suggest after sifting through the numbers ourselves from time-to-time, the numbers mostly suggest that consumers are generally moving from cable to satellite, or other MSOs, to take advantage of deals during a bad economy.

It does appear small, but noticeable group of young adults who tend to embrace broadband have tended to gravitate to over-the-top, but the numbers are largely underwhelming, at least right now. In any case, the latest focus on whether consumers are cutting the cord has inspired a mildly exasperated piece of analysis from Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger, who takes industry observers and researchers themselves to task for not examining these statistics more sharply.

But more than cord-cutting, Juenger is highly critical of the way time-shifted viewing is counted. Noting his previous background running audience research at TiVo, he points to an oft-cited statistic that says, on average, only 65 percent of time-shifted viewers actually fast-forward through commercials. In other words, 35 percent of viewers don’t skip ahead – though he carefully notes that just because someone doesn’t bother to fast forward past commercials doesn’t mean they’re actually watching them either.

For one thing, since Nielsen, which is the industry currency for TV ratings, only measures in increments of one minute, it doesn’t provide a picture of program-only times or commercial-only viewing. Hence, Juenger argues the picture of DVR fast-forwarding is distorted.

Using TiVo data instead, Juenger says the true percentage of time-shifted viewers who watch commercials is 25 percent lower than believed. "[It’s] more like 28 percent, not 36 percent A catastrophic difference? No. A significant difference? Yes. And frustrating that a field filled with smart, numerically inclined people would collectively make such an obvious math error."

Considering that the one of the primary things holding back cross-platform ad sales is the lack of a single audience measurement currency that advertisers, agencies and networks can agree on, perhaps the bigger problem is that there the attention given to the wide range of data already out there tends to be too selective to begin with.

Blinded By The Fragmentation

The notion of ignoring clear signs about the problems of reaching TV viewers is abundantly clear from reading Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan's post on AdAge on the inability of networks to get a better handle on audience fragmentation, even more than a decade after viewers began splitting their viewing habits.

"TV ad campaigns in the U.S. today deliver considerably less reach than they did in 1997, even though TV viewing is at an all-time high,” Morgan writes. “Fifteen years ago, a heavy national schedule with average frequency would reach 80-90 percent of its target audience in three weeks. Today, most heavy multiweek national ad campaigns are lucky to reach 60 percent of TV viewers in their target audience."

He adds that 15 years ago, TV advertisers could expect 40 percent of their campaigns' impressions to be concentrated on the 20 percent of their target audience who were the heaviest TV viewers. Citing Nielsen and Simulmedia numbers, Morgan says those 20 percent of target viewers who are heavy TV viewers now receive 60- to 80 percent of most national TV campaign impressions. In essence, ad dollars are being wasted as people receiving the targeted messages are likely tuning out since they’re increasingly being deluged.

Instead of narrowing the concentration of advertising on a shrinking base associated top-rated shows, Morgan advises looking at the margins and finding audiences in the cracks of smaller, more niche-oriented programming as a way of increasing reach and reducing the visual pile of ads consumers have tended to ignore.

But Wait. There's More!

By David Kaplan

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March 5, 2012 – 12:03 am

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