CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith used those metaphors during the lively panel session our magazine and Broadcasting & Cable sponsored last week on — pick a term — TV Everywhere, subscriber authentication, on-demand online.
Cable operators usually want new applications be fully ready to go at launch. Sure, they'll use test markets — as Time Warner Cable did with HBO On Demand in Columbia, S.C. — to work the bugs out. But it seems to me (correct me if I'm wrong) that the typical impulse is to get everything fixed before a service is deployed en masse. Or, to use another metaphor, get the out-of-town previews done before taking the show to Broadway.
That's the film-distribution way, Smith said. Mass simultaneous deployment of a perfected product on a specified date.
That's also the wrong approach for TV Everywhere, he said.
Better to think about it like building a house. A work in progress that grows steadily until it's completed.
Work out the technology through experimentation. Get different approaches out quickly, in beta tests. Let it spread quickly.
Because it needs to happen fast — and, paradoxically, it has to be done right. It can't be cumbersome, involving different proprietary media players that have to be downloaded, and it can't be too time-consuming to register different members of the household that can only watch certain shows.
Tom Eagan, the longtime media analyst who's at Collins Stewart these days, had a different analogy during our Aug. 12 Webinar on the topic (archived and available for free at Multichannel.com).
Cable networks get the concept: support the vital license-fee revenue stream by working with multichannel distributors to ensure that speedy, free online access to hit shows goes to paying customers, not the public at large.
It's the broadcast networks that need to be persuaded to go along, Eagan said. They don't have license fees to protect.
Why did the analog-to-digital broadcast-TV conversion seemingly go so smoothly, then? Both sides benefited: multichannel providers picked up subscribers and broadcasters improved their transmission quality, Eagan said.
Why else? Because the transition happened on a certain date. (OK, the date was pushed back a bit, but the point is still valid.)
I don't think that would work with TV Everywhere. It's too hard to pick a date. At our live panel at the Paley Center, the experts variously predicted 2010, 2011, 2012 and even 2014.
A sense of urgency is needed, though, everyone seems to agree. Wait too long and consumers will find other ways of gaining online access to their favorite shows elsewhere, illegally, as they already can do.
TV piracy rates have come down, Smith said, as legal methods — be they iTunes downloads or Hulu streams — that are easy to use have been introduced.
Piracy rates will be the barometer of how well TV everywhere succeeds, and how fast it happens, he said.
Take the growing consensus around the topic. Come up with consumer-friendly solutions. And get them out there, trying out different ones for size.
Build that house. And build it soon.