The recent Cable Show in the U.S. provided some great insight into current trends in video and Pay-TV services, whether new devices, new user interfaces, new advertising strategies or perhaps most importantly to consumers – new ways to consume video services.

New cloud-based User Interfaces offered a peek at the near-future with better navigation and recommendation, ease of use and more personalized services; while new gateways and set-top boxes demonstrated the convergence of current services and the emergence of new ones. 

But the topic that garnered the most attention continues to be TV Everywhere and the reality check that it is not in fact … Everywhere.

The first problem identified is simply the meaning of TV Everywhere. Whenever I speak to any company - operators, vendors, application providers, etc. - about video services, I ask them to provide a definition of TV Everywhere and if they see a difference between TV Everywhere and Multi-Screen/Multi-Platform TV - both terms that are generically used to denote watching a service somewhere other than in front of the TV and typically on a different device.

Not surprisingly, the view on what these terms mean varies widely - too widely, in fact.   Does it relate to location of the service (in-home vs. out of the home) or the type of content - linear or on-demand? Or both?  It is these varying degrees of the definition that further complicate a consumers understanding and hence adoption of these services.   At present,  to few viewers know what TV Everywhere is, what it offers, or how to access it.  

TV Everywhere SHOULD mean that a user can completely replicate their Pay-TV programming across multiple devices in any location. And to the best of my knowledge, the only service that truly offers this capability is Slingbox - so perhaps DISH has been justified in its multiple attempts to trademark "TV Everywhere" and now calls its service TV Anywhere.

Based on the current offerings available on the market, I have classified them into 2 categories:

  1. TV Everywhere - the ability to watch any program, on any device, in any location.
  2. Multi-Screen - the ability to watch programs on multiple devices (platform types), but typically restricted to a single location. In essence, multi-screen viewing is a sub-set of the broader TV Everywhere category.
Services such as HBO Go, Max Go, SHO-Go, CNN, and Sky Go would be considered TV Everywhere. Users are able to connect to these services, via any type of broadband connection (fixed or mobile) in any location - as long as they are in the country of origin, of course.

Additionally, many Pay-TV operators offer a TV Everywhere app such as U-Verse TV, Cox TV Connect, TWC TV, and Xfinity TV – but the content that is available varies considerably – from simple video-on-demand to a limited number of live channels – with most services falling into the multi-screen category - allowing users to watch a selected set of channels on multiple devices, but with the confines of their in-home network.

Challenges with TV Everywhere

Beside the fact that the term has such a varied meaning, there are multiple other challenges which are keeping TV Everywhere from being just that - Everywhere.  These include authentication capabilities, security and piracy concerns, content rights/restrictions and let’s not forget that pesky little detail known as the business model.

One major obstacle to TV Everywhere is authentication – made even more frustrating by the need to authenticate each app and each device separately.  For example, I must authenticate my access to my Cox TV Connect app to access 90 channels of live TV – but if I want to watch something from HBO, Cinemax or Showtime – I have to access each of those apps separately – same goes for many networks such as ABC, NBC, etc.  At this stage – it is easier to just watch the content on-demand on my TV – which remains the primary consumption device for video according to Nielsen’s’ 1Q2013 Cross Platform Report.

One solution is to implement auto-authentication in the home and/or cross-domain authentication which eliminate the need for multiple log-ins.  Other options are to use social media apps such as Facebook as a log-in option.

Content rights have also proved challenging as operators must negotiate for TV-Everywhere rights for each channel they want to offer and what types of devices they want to support.  Thankfully, many of the content providers understand the value of getting “more eyeballs” to their networks – unfortunately, they need a better way to track viewers on mobile devices as they don’t want to drive audiences to platforms where they won’t be measured and hence monetized.  Although companies such as Nielsen are working towards this – solutions will not likely be available until 2014 – meaning TV Everywhere will continue to be hampered by these obstacles.

Pay-TV Operators Have Their Heads in a Cloud

One technology that is proving its worth to the Pay-TV market is cloud computing.  In the case of authentication – solutions such as Synacor’s Cloud ID and ClearLeap’s ClearPlay enable customers to login using their social network accounts such as Facebook, Twitter or Google to enable TV Everywhere Authorization.

In addition to improving the authentication process, the cloud is also helping operators quickly to offer a ubiquitous look and feel to the user interface across multiple platforms as well as accelerate service innovation to customers across a range of devices.  In some cases, operators are using cloud technology to eliminate the need for a set-top box by simply using an app on a Smart TV.

It is also being used for content collaboration, post-production and digital distribution. Finally, it will also play a key role with respect to data analytics providing a wealth of information on how customer use and interact with their television services, which will be key to providing customers with a truly personalized experience.

Show Us the Money

The ability to monetize TV Everywhere remains a bit of a mystery for most operators – choosing instead to offer these services at no cost – typically as a way to retain customers.  However, we are starting to witness early attempts at monetization.  Sky is now offering Sky Go Extra for £5 (approximately $7.85) per month, which offers download-to-go (with 30 day storage) and the ability to view content on four devices rather than two.  Comcast is also offering this feature, albeit on a more limited basis – offering the ability to download programs from Showtime, Starz, Encore and Movieplex to watch off-line – at no additional charge at present.

Personally, the download-to-go may be the best application for TV Everywhere – with the exception of major live events such as the Olympics, World Cup and big news events.

I regularly pay Apple iTunes to download a movie or TV show to watch on an airplane and might be willing to pay a monthly fee or a pay-per-view fee to my Pay-TV operator – assuming I can get access to the same level of content at a similar price point.

TV Everywhere Demonstrates its Potential

There is no doubt that Pay-TV operators are seeing some early benefits from TV Everywhere services with many operators stating that the success of the service will be based average usage levels, peak viewing audiences and customer engagement.  And the 2012 Summer Olympics proved this point - with Comcast providing some interesting statistics related to its coverage:

  • Xfinity customers watched the Olympics on multiple devices: on average, our customers verified 2.4 devices on which to view streaming Olympics content.
  • 68% of streaming video (live and On Demand) was viewed on the PC, while 32% of streaming video (live and On Demand) was viewed on smartphones and tablets combined, with higher viewing on these devices generally on the weekends.
Future success will be based on giving consumer choice of consumption devices; providing consistency in the user experience across screens; offer  relevant and high speed discovery and search; make it smarter and personalized; and finally and perhaps most important – make it easy to use.

TV may not be Everywhere yet, but it’s getting there quickly.