Making 'Everywhere' Easy


Time Warner Cable is working with two major programming partners on its “TV Everywhere” initiative to make sure the Internet-video service is easy to use and scalable, said Peter Stern, the operator's executive vice president and chief strategy officer.

Stern, speaking on a panel here at The Cable Show '09, said the MSO is already working closely with two programmers — Turner Broadcasting System and another he did not identify — that will involve authenticating consumers “in a very straightforward way, so they can get access to content.”

“To be honest, we're still working it out, in terms of the user experience,” Stern said.

The concept, which is also being tested by Comcast and Cox Communications, is to reinforce the cable-TV subscription model by providing that programming to paying customers over their Internet devices.

Stern pointed out that 90% of Time Warner Cable's broadband customers are already paying for multichannel video.

“Those people are already entitled to watch this programming,” he said. “The big risk we have is, if we don't offer this programming to them the way they want it, they'll turn to piracy.”

Alternatively, if that programming is provided to them for free over the Internet, the risk is they'll cancel their subscription service — with such “cord-cutters” obtaining their media online.

Some basic principles Time Warner Cable is following in developing TV Everywhere are that consumers should “have choice in terms of the sites they can have access on,” he said. “That will be dictated by programmers, not the cable operators.”

Stern continued, “Not to say we'll not have content on the [Time Warner Cable] Road Runner site, but we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought we were the only site consumers should be able to access.”

In an experiment in San Diego a few years ago, the MSO offered a lineup of some 75 channels to subscribers' PCs.

Stern said the San Diego IP-video trial, which recreated the “set-top” experience on the PC, wasn't the right approach, and that a searchable guide would be the right interface for TV Everywhere.

Comcast, for its part, is developing a service it's calling On-Demand Online as an extension of its current Internet video portal, Fancast, said Comcast Interactive Capital president Sam Schwartz, who also spoke on the panel. Comcast has said it expects to offer the service later this year.

“We're looking to create a model that's friendly to cable, works for consumers … so if you're paying for it in your living room, you can also watch it online,” Schwartz said.

Stern emphasized that the authentication process for TV Everywhere must be very easy for customers and programmers. The user-ID and password capabilities for TV Everywhere must be integrated, so users can log in once, and access multiple programmers' services.

The system must also “deliver authorizations quickly — consumers don't want to have to wait for several seconds, let alone minutes, to watch the content, so we need to be sure we can build a scalable system … across millions of requests happening on a regular basis,” Stern said.

Stern said Time Warner Cable has “embraced” the Liberty Alliance standards for creating and establishing user IDs. “We think we can create a scalable solution, without needing a common database across the MSOs,” he said. “The plan is to do this bilaterally, using open standards.”

The MSO thinks around five TV Everywhere user accounts per subscriber is the right amount, meaning that the service could be accessed from five PCs or devices. Said Stern: “There will always be some level of cable theft. There certainly is in the current cable model we have today.”

Scripps Networks executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing Lynne Costantini said her company was fully behind the “TV Everywhere” concept. She echoed Stern's comments that the service needs to have an intuitive interface and that programmers need to have tools in place to measure views.

However, Costantini said, “I'm skeptical about how this scales … and how quickly we can make this work.” Later in the session, Stern said to her: “We have a prototype we'd love to show you.”

Another concern voiced by Costantini was how Internet viewership would be measured and reported for advertising purposes. Stern said the details of how that data is squared with Nielsen ratings would be solved in due time.

“The nice thing about TV Everywhere, as opposed to the over-the-top content from the programmers, is that we're now finding ways to work together to maximize the value for all players in the ecosystem,” Stern said.

The panel, “Online, On Demand & On TV: Understanding the New Field of Television,” was moderated by IBB Consulting Group managing partner Imran Shah.