Independent Show: Small Ops-Programmers Air Streaming Concerns

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What at first seemed to be a subdued programming panel at the Independent Show here on Wednesday heated up when the topic of online streaming of shows and initiatives like authentication came up, with some doubting the business models around both and others opting to take a wait and see attitude toward the issue.

Showtime Networks executive vice president of affiliate sales Tom Christie drew cheers from the crowd when he said the online streaming of shows, so called over-the-top programming, has no business model.

"Over the top is crazy," Christie said at the conference. "It reminds me of the dot-com boom. It doesn't make sense for us."

Showtime, a premium network, only makes episodes of its original programming available on line for promotional purposes, Christie said.
Disney and ESPN Networks affiliate U.S. sales and marketing executive vice president David Preschlack said that his company's online strategy depends on the property -- at its ABC broadcast network, online streaming has been beneficial in allowing viewers to catch up on shows and has been a valuable tool. Disney Channel has allowed some content fro streaming in different windows, while at ESPN, non online video content is offered for free.
"We manage the distribution of our content online very carefully," Preschlak said, before adding that the media giant will take a wait-and-see attitude regarding other online initiatives like authentication.

That stance was echoed by Christie, who added that having programmers come up with the solution would be a monumental task.

"Who's going to build the mousetrap?" Christie asked. "...We're not opposed to customers being able to access Showtime on their PC. But we're not in the business of building that technology center. It's a mind-boggling achievement. That's up to the cable operators."

Preschlack also tried to address the mini-controversy surrounding ESPN's broadband product, ESPN 360, which some operators have criticized for being included in carriage deals. ESPN has insisted that if an operator carries the broadband service, it be made available to every subscriber, not just those that want it.

Preschlack said that ESPN began its broadband initiative in 2001 with ESPN Broadband amid a similar competitive climate - streaming of content was still an issue. At that time, many small operators were backers of ESPN Broadband and many are behind the ESPN 360 product.

Preschlack said so far about 70% of high-speed Internet subscribers have access to ESPN 360, and that usage of the service is good -- the average time spent watching a live sporting event on the service is about 70 minutes.

Moreover, the product represents an ad opportunity for operators as well.
"You talk about ways we can build the business together, this is one of those ways," Preschlack said. "...For people that don't like the product, the model, how it looks or ow it fits with their customer, they don't have to buy it."

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