Complex Rights Issues Remain For TV Everywhere Players: Panelists

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New York -- TV Everywhere is becoming, well, increasingly everywhere.
However, the movement has not come without complexities and some pitfalls to hear a trio of executives -- ESPN vice president sales and marketing Sean Bratches, Melinda Witmer, Time Warner Cable executive vice president and chief video and content officer Melinda Witer and MLBAM executive vice president of content -- tell during a panel session at the Sports Media & Technology 2011 conference here on Nov. 9.
Although ESPN aspires to reach sports fans whenever and wherever they are, Bratches said the worldwide leader's cross-platform approach is nontheless rooted in its long-standing relationships with cable operators and other distributors.
"This is an opportunity for us to really take our brand and let it travel with fans," he said. At the same time, "we don't want to put content everywhere at the expense of the business model that allows us to remunerate leagues for rights. We want to do it in a very pragmatic, cadenced way that we think supports all of the ecosystems and not be derelict in how we approach the marketplace."
Noted MLBAM's Mann: "You have to be where the customers are. They expect to get content. If they don't get content on the device they happen to be holding or the device that they prefer, then they might consume something else. So you want to be on as many devices as you can and in as many locations as you can, because if you don't make content available, you run the risk of becoming less relevant."
But Witmer said  there is consumer confusion tied to TV Everywhere inside and outside of the home and what content is available on what devices: "Where the term has become overused and confused is that it's come to mean content on every possible IP-enabled device or environment, anywhere that that might be, and I think that the confusion has become particularly stark in the home."
She also noted that viewers expect to see everything, everywhere, something that at this juncture that can't be supported by the intricacies of rights and rights-holders.

"As the buyer, the confusion is when I go and buy networks, I run the risk that I bought the network, but they don't actually have the rights to let my consumer use the product," she said. "Do we just pay for the rights that are going to be there next week? It's hard to plan financially."
Bratches said the sports programmer has been teeing up its TV Everywhere push, which has manifested on various platforms and its Watch ESPN app, over the past decade. Asked during the Sports Business Journal-Sports Business Daily event when was the last time, ESPN finalized a contract that didn't encompass multiplatform rights pact, he said: "Over a decade, at least. It's not the way we think. Sports fans don't just watch ESPN on television, they don't just consume it on a tablet, they don't just go onto ESPN.com and pull up scores or mobile or they don't just read the magazine. We buy rights cross-platform. We market cross-platform. We license content cross-platform. We sell cross-platform. Because that's how the sports fan consumes content."
But not all rights are included. Bratches said while ESPN can step to the TV Everywhere plate with some MLB games and content, "it's not as clean as we like. But we hope to and anticipate resolving that in our next discussions with our partners at baseball."
Dinn fired responded in kind: "Our responsibility is to make sure we evaluate deals based on what's best for our business, and also what's best for the fans. One is not more important than the other. We're duty-bound to defend our rights and optimize our rights in the smartest way that we know how."
Witmer said that MLBAM's ability to sell various digital packages directly to fans at lower prices has hurt cable's performance with the out-of-market Extra Innings pay-per-view package.
"Today across the cable industry the Extra Innings packages is performing below expectations, from where we were when we originally did that deal," she said.

Extra Innings defections aside, Witmer also pointed to a couple of key cable categories -- premium networks and adult -- that have sustained losses as content became available via digital platforms and the Internet.
"There are categories of programming that have taken significant hits, and there is some cautionary tale in that," she said. "We need to make sure consumers perceive that there is great value."

Looking ahead, Witmer is also keeping a watchful eye on IP-based delivery. "There are very few smart TVs deployed today," but that number will be increasing considerably. She said "we don't know what will happen" when big-screen TVs offer content from Hulu, alongside those of the broadcast networks. "This is going to be evolving rapidly."

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