LAS VEGAS — As usual at the shimmering, non-stop frat party and techno-nerd paradise that was the 2013 International CES, your video entertainment pleasures seemed awesomely infinite.
Swipe your tablet to launch any TV show your heart desires on the big screen! Immerse yourself in live soccer on a 110-inch TV in dazzling Ultra HD! Tune in to an National Football League game in HD on your 4G-enabled tablet while hurtling down the Interstate! (If you’re not in the driver’s seat, of course.)
But beneath the surface, the utopian “video everywhere” visions hyped at CES bumped into age-old business issues of content rights and advertising — while the problem with the pricey Ultra HD sets is that neither TV programming nor set-tops really won’t be available to take advantage of them anytime soon.
TARGET: SECOND-SCREEN TV
Consider two separate forays into the multiscreen universe, launched at CES last week by Cox Communications and Dish Network.
Cox heralded its forthcoming personalized, interactive app for mobile devices as an industry game-changer. The Personal Video Experience app (which will be rebranded when it launches) promises to give Cox subs a wealth of TV, video and related content customized to their tastes, in the palms of their hands, allowing subscribers to watch video and control their viewing in new ways.
“The last 50 years have been focused on the video experience from a living-room perspective,” Cox president Pat Esser said at an event co-hosted with Cisco Systems, the operator’s key technology partner on the project. “We want to make the experience you have with Cox both on the primary screen and the second screen thrilling and satisfying.”
Tablets are “inherently personal devices, and they have become highly valued viewing devices for our customers,” Esser said.
However, Cox subscribers won’t be able to get all their channels through the app — because the MSO doesn’t have rights to everything. Plus, outside the home, programming availability is subject to a separate bucket of TV Everywhere rights.
Most notably, the MSO does not provide local TV channels in most of its markets. Currently, Cox delivers 30 local TV channels in Orange County, Calif., through its Cox TV Connect service, via deals with broadcasters. Esser said those agreements would expand throughout the year.
For now, the app will provide access to 90 live TV channels (the same ones currently available through Cox TV Connect), as well as access to up to 40,000 VOD titles. The MSO is aiming for a May launch of the next-generation mobile app initially for Apple’s iPad.
By contrast, Dish, with its new Hopper with Sling, isn’t bothering with the difficult and time-consuming issue of trying to negotiate multiscreen content rights: The satellite operator is simply making it easier than ever for customers to watch live or recorded TV over the Internet, across the entire lineup.
“The TV Everywhere experience from other providers is either broken, or very confusing,” Dish vice president of product management Vivek Khemka said. The new Hopper is “DVR at home, and on the go.”
The Hopper with Sling will deliver live and recorded television anywhere on Internet-connected tablets, smartphones, PCs and Macs at no additional charge, using the new Dish Anywhere app. In addition, users can move recorded television to an iPad for viewing without an Internet connection using the Hopper Transfers app.
Dish launched the original Hopper at last year’s CES — and was met with lawsuits from the broadcasters over the satellite operator’s AutoHop commercial-skipping feature.
“Broadcasters would have you believe that consumers are breaking the law if they skip commercials,” Dish president and CEO Joe Clayton said at the company’s press conference. “I’m surprised the rest of the pay TV industry is not standing up for the rights of consumers.”
The Sling-enabled version of the Hopper will only turn up the heat on content owners’ boiling blood.
Indeed, illustrating how irate CBS is about the Hopper, the company forbade editors at its CNET tech-publishing unit to consider the new DVR for its annual “Best of CES” awards.
“The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp.,” CBS Interactive spokeswoman Rosabel Tao said in a statement. “We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product.”
Dish cried censorship, though it was happy to publicize the brouhaha. “We are saddened that CNET’s staff is being denied its editorial independence because of CBS’ heavy-handed tactics,” Clayton said in a statement. “Hopper with Sling is all about consumer choice and control over the TV experience.”
Another Web-slinger that has raised the hackles of TV broadcasters is Aereo. The Internet TV startup last week announced it raised an additional $38 million round of funding led by Barry Diller’s IAC and Highland Capital Partners.
That money will fuel Aereo’s expansion of the service, which distributes over-the-air TV channels to Internet devices, beyond New York into 22 markets by mid-2013, including Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia and Houston. But it could all come to a crashing halt if broadcast networks prevail in their copyright-infringement case, which charges Aereo with stealing their TV signals.
TVE HURDLES AHEAD
Today, most operators aren’t taking the Sling or Aereo route, opting to work collaboratively with content owners, instead of thumbing their nose at them.
And while TV Everywhere authentication deals should become virtually everywhere this year, in a familiar refrain for ad-supported networks, the industry has yet to solve key issues surrounding advertising models and measurement.
“From a general TV Everywhere perspective, there haven’t been enough networks” available via TV Everywhere to enter the public consciousness, according to Jeremy Legg, Turner Broadcasting System senior vice president, business development and multiplatform distribution, speaking on a panel at CES. “That, I think, will come this year.”
But the lack of measurement for viewing on tablets and other connected devices is also a huge concern for programmers, Tamara Franklin, senior vice president of affiliate operations and new media distribution for Scripps Networks Interactive, said.
“We don’t want to drive audiences to platforms where they won’t be measured,” she said. “It’s incumbent on us to figure out measurement. I hope this is a year of action. We have another 12 to 18 months to get our act together.”
Nielsen is working on measuring viewing across multiple devices, starting with the iPad, Scott Brown, senior vice president of client insights and strategic relations for the firm, said. But he wouldn’t provide an estimate on when that would be available to programmers and advertisers, and “I won’t even say when it will hopefully be.”
“It’s an extremely complex business,” Brown said. “There are huge issues that make pulling it together in a seamless way a daunting task.”
Nielsen has a measurement app for the iPad, but it’s available only on a distributor-by-distributor basis. The company is looking into other ways to track multiscreen viewing, including a new metering system with a microphone that would use automatic content recognition to determine what a Nielsen panel member is watching, Brown said.
By late this year or early next, Nielsen plans to expand it s cross-platform sample and capture additional information, he added.
ULTRA HD PUSHED, 3D KEPT ALIVE
With CBS’s fiat that the Dish Hopper with Sling was digitata non grata, CNET gave the best-in-show award in the TV category to Samsung Electronics’ UN85S Ultra HD TV.
Ultra HD, the “new” television technology hyped by Sony Electronics, Samsung and others, was prominently on display even though the format — also called “4K.” The technology provides four times today’s full HD 1080p — has been making an appearance at the show for the last few years.
The main thing that was new at CES was perception: TV makers seem to think they’re actually going to sell some sets this year, even without much native Ultra HD content and price tags topping $20,000 per unit. The manufacturers emphasized that Ultra HD sets would be “future-proof” by delivering upconverted regular HD.
“This will be a year when we’re all educating consumers about 4K,” Joseph Del Rio, associate product line director in Broadcom’s broadband communications group, said.
Broadcom featured its BCM7445 Ultra HD-capable chip for set-top boxes that uses the High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) video-compression standard, which is at least twice as efficient as MPEG-4 and four times as efficient as MPEG-2. The final HEVC spec is expected to be ratified by mid-2013, and Broadcom expects volume production by the middle of next year.
Hoping to jumpstart 4K, Sony announced it would launch an Ultra HD movie download service this summer and that it would begin selling a handful of Blu-ray Disc titles sourced from 4K masters.
CableLabs president and CEO Phil McKinney said the R&D consortium already has a full 4K video lab in place, so MSOs are ready for distributing Ultra HD. But by the time 4K becomes a consumer reality, he said, that video will be sent over IP.
“That reinforces the need for DOCSIS 3.1,” he said, referring to the pending CableLabs spec that provides a cable broadband a path to deliver gigabit data speeds.
Meanwhile, 3D televisions, which have been a bona-fide bummer for the industry, were back at CES, with manufacturers claiming that the format is (slowly) gaining traction. Fronting LG Electronics’ booth at the main entryway to the show floor’s central hall was the “world’s largest 3D wall” — by all appearances, exactly the same exhibit as last year.
The Consumer Electronics Association claims 3DTVs have steadily made headway, with 21% of U.S. homes now owning at least one 3D set. Unit sales of 3D-enabled TVs in 2012 were an estimated 5.6 million, representing 18% of total TV sales, up versus 8% of total TV sales in 2011, according to the CEA.
One of the neatest tricks at CES involved 3D: Samsung showed off an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) HDTV that transmits four images simultaneously — allowing two different viewers to watch two separate 3D videos. The 75-inch “Multi-View” television also can let as many as four viewers watch four separate 2D images.
The feature works using active-shutter 3D glasses. The OLED TV displays240 frames per second (two 3D images with left/right eye or four 2D images), and uses a Bluetooth- based signaling protocol to communicate with each pair of glasses.
Sony was demonstrating a similar feature, dubbed SimulView, available on its currently shipping 84-inch XBR-84X900 4K Ultra HD TV that works with select 3D games for the PlayStation3. With SimulView, which uses passive glasses, each player has his or her own full-screen view of the action.
But 3DTV content remains scarce. Three years ago at CES, Discovery, Sony and IMAX announced plans for a dedicated 3D network; so far, 3net has U.S. deals only with DirecTV and small cable operator Service Electric Cablevision. This year, 3net will definitely announce at least one additional deal, CEO Tom Cosgrove said.
“It was a difficult discussion to have [with distributors] when only 2% of the population had 3DTVs,” he said, noting that the base of 3D homes is growing. Added Cosgrove: “Our partners are in it for the long haul.”
Broadcasting & Cable contributing editor George Winslow contributed to this article.
This year’s CES featured demos of innovative multiscreen video offerings and high-end displays, but questions persist about how current and future TV content will reach all those screens.