Dish Network Goes Over-The-Top With Blockbuster; Social TV, Slower TV

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September 26, 2011 – 12:03 am

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Not A Netflix Killer – Yet

The announcement of Dish Network's Blockbuster Movie Pass streaming video service was met with some degree of disappointment in the tech world on Friday for failing to meet expectations of a "Netflix killer." Clearly, this is a ploy by Dish to make the most of its $325 million acquisition of Blockbuster, which it rescued from bankruptcy, by using it to help gain and retain subscribers to its satellite service.

Did anyone really expect that Dish was going to help put itself out of business with yet another over-the-top service? Sure, Netflix's mounting subscriber discontent over the bifurcated DVD/streaming pricing structure and confusing name change for its legacy mail rental service had left many hoping for a new alternative.

But as NewTeeVee's Ryan Lawler, who covered the company's Friday press conference (at least the webcast announcement's available as a free, standalone video here), notes, Dish integrating Blockbuster's DVD-by-mail and streaming services with Dish's more traditional pay TV services. Dish subscribers with IP-connected set-top boxes will be able to stream movies and TV shows from the Blockbuster MoviePass service along with their on-demand offerings. They'll also be able to manage their Blockbuster DVD queue from DishOnline site.

And as paidContent's David Kaplan adds, the offering includes 3,000 movies streamed to the TV, 4,000 streamed to the PC, 20-plus streaming movie channels and 100,000 movies, TV shows and games by mail.

That may sound like a lot of content. But consider Netflix's 20,000 titles available for instant streaming, and even Amazon offers about 9,000 through its Amazon Prime Instant Video service.

Definitely doesn't sound like a Netflix or an Amazon Prime "killer," right? But consider that as more satellite and cable operators offer more "authenticated viewing." Will Netflix, though its current setbacks are eminently surmountable at this point, and Amazon be able to compete with natural advantages of existing pay services? That remains to be seen. Dish has been carefully hedging its bets about heading off challenges from OTT services by integrating the Slingbox last year.

So what Dish and Blockbuster are bringing to market is not a Netflix killer. But check again six months from now.

Privacy Rules

Even positive news about Netflix has a way of turning a little sour these days. Among the flurry of media integration announcements around Facebook's F8 developer conference was the word that Netflix would have an embedded player on the social network. Essentially, you can watch the movie without even leaving Facebook.

But only if you're in Canada or 43 other countries that are not the United States.

In his F8 appearance, Netflix CEO and Facebook board member Reed Hastings explained that the 23-year-old Video Privacy Protection Act imposes strict fines on any company that shares someone's video rental history without receiving that person's consent. In an official blog post by Michael Drobac, director of Government Relations at Netflix, the company pleaded with its U.S. audience to help it get the bill overturned.

Viewing data raises all sorts of privacy concerns, writes Techcrunch's Erick Schonfeld. "But if Facebook manages the privacy issues correctly, and lets you share only the viewing habits you want to share, this kind of social TV could create an entirely new way to find shows and movies to watch," he adds. "Already it is becoming common for people to broadcast what they are watching through various apps. Now on Facebook when you see those status updates you should be able to watch as well. If only the laws in the U.S. permitted it."

Nielsen Matters

One of the main reasons advertisers don't spend more money on internet advertising is the lack of a standard measurement. Once there's a standard measurement that allows for apples-to-apples comparisons between website's audience numbers, the spending will flow even higher.

But this week, Mediapost's Joe Mandese wrote about some possible troubles in Nielsen's TV measurement system this past week, suggesting that perhaps TV is not the perfect model, just a week after rolling out a plan to push media buyers and marketers to embrace its new Facebook panel as the "GRP" for online advertising.

The problem Nielsen identified has to do with its C3 ratings system, which counts time-shifted viewing for three days after the initial airing of a program. In February, Nielsen began employing a new method for calculating average audience estimates in its main TV ratings processing system and it has since found that the Program Viewing Frequency metric in Nielsen's NPower appears to have been delivering "incorrect data for time-shifted data streams" since Jan. 31.

Nielsen said it became aware of the problem when clients "inquired about elevated average frequency levels" for the time-shifted viewing data, indicating that the glitch may have over-inflated TV audience estimates.

According to Mediapost, Nielsen said the problem is under investigation, but some agency executives already believe it could lead to big problems with their TV audience guarantees that could result in millions of dollars in "makegoods" from television networks.

Nielsen quickly shot back, saying "recent trade media reportage" had been overblown. "Some of these trade stories suggesting the TV advertising market could be affected were wrong; the TV advertising market remains unaffected," the company said in a statement.

Basically, Nielsen argues that since the Program Viewing Frequency metric produced by NPower is not connected to buying platforms used for TV advertising, it should be distinguished from the TV commercial ratings known as "C3" which are used for that purpose.

As such, the errors will not lead to any makegoods. That may very be; but at a time when audience data from TV, computer and mobile screens are becoming a major part of what advertisers and their agencies, anything that dents Nielsen's "omnipotence" over ratings could give other data companies a chance to crack the TV market, especially as "social TV" apps and connected TVs change viewing habits dramatically.

For example, one beneficiary of Nielsen's bad news this week was ratings measurement company Rentrak. Interestingly, Dallas Mavericks owner/HD Net founder Mark Cuban upped his stake in Rentrak this past week, B&C's Mike Farrell reported. owns 972,900 shares of Rentrak, or about 8.7% of its outstanding stock. Cuban, who first started buying Rentrak shares as early as 2004, added about 207,000 shares in the company in August for about $2.4 million. According to an SEC filing, Cuban paid $9.3 million for the entire stake.

Social TV, Slower TV

Once upon a time, people watched television together, around one set. Then, TVs got cheaper, people got more affluent and cable offered something for everyone, including the ability to time-shift programs. As a result the viewing experience became atomized and everyone moved into their respective corners of the home to watch what they wanted, when they wanted.

Social TV is bringing back the old form of TV viewing as a communal act. AdAge's Simon Dumenco has produced a nice overview of the social TV landscape and what the import of this model means for media companies.

Among the most interesting points he makes is that "Social TV has slowed down time-shifting for some of TV's biggest shows. According to a TVGuide.com survey its 10,000-person TV-fan panel last year, 20 percent said they are watching more live TV specifically to avoid "social spoilers."

There's a lot of excitement about the data gleaned from people "checking in" to TV shows via apps like GetGlue or Yahoo's IntoNow. But don't expect to instantly predict a hit, Bluefin Labs VP-Marketing and Business Development Tom Thai tells Dumenco. Tracking "buzz" online is a great indicator, but to get the whole story around viewer interest, a deeper dive on is imperative.

That said, even the narrow things learned from online chatter can be of tremendous value. For one thing, understanding what types of people are talking about a show can help determine what kinds advertisers should be spending more – or less – based on chatter. "If you're a CMO for an automaker vs. wireless carrier vs. laundry detergent, your audiences and needs will be different," Thai says. "The key next step is marrying social-TV data about the shows with data about specific brands."

But Wait. There's More!


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September 26, 2011 – 12:03 am

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