Piracy. Abuse. Theft. Sharing. The common practice of giving a friend, relative or stranger login credentials so they can watch pay TV without paying has been characterized in several ways. Cable operators and some networks have made varying degrees of public comments, classifying the challenge as everything from a nuisance to a serious problem. Analyst firm Parks Associates projects that “password sharing” will soon be a $10 billion problem for operators.
Over-the-top and TV everywhere service uptake is booming, in part because operators and networks have enabled sign-in across many different devices and connected TVs. But being able to use many screens at once with a video subscription has contributed to the rampant password sharing plaguing the industry. A better strategy is needed fast as stakeholders seek to grow their OTT businesses while attempting to thwart viewing abuse that will soon have a major impact on already slimming margins.
The solution? Turn consumer devices into unique passwords that can’t be so easily shared and empower operators to monitor how many devices are being used with a video subscription.
Threading the Needle
Sending password sharing into decline will require a precise, multi-pronged approach that addresses the trends driving the practice while avoiding draconian security measures that will alienate subscribers. And what is it that consumers really want? High on the list are portability, value and simplicity.
Let’s talk cost and value first. Yes, there’s a stigma around cable TV being increasingly expensive, but the customized digital bundles from virtual multichannel video programming distributors and direct-to-consumer offerings from networks are starting to provide strong options for everyone, including the budget conscious. Even the major MVPDs are introducing these offerings, such as Comcast’s Xfinity Instant TV announced last year.
Password sharing is easier today because logging in to TV everywhere has gotten a lot more convenient than in its cumbersome early days. This simplicity shouldn’t change — in fact, it has to get even easier to bring more viewers into the fold. Overcoming this technical hurdle means giving service providers tools to monitor and enforce their viewing terms of service without hurting the subscriber experience.
Watching content anywhere with ease is getting better but it must continue to improve. Today, some TV everywhere services are the easiest to log into because they rely on home-based authentication, or the subscriber being connected to their service provider’s own broadband network for authentication. But subscribers need a solution that makes it easy for them to log in from any network. There continue to be rights issues to address on this front, but more flexibility is being introduced every day.
Focus On the Device, Not the Password
The industry’s eye is currently on the password ball, but it’s time to look for answers beyond login credentials, and find something more personal than even a password. It must be something that we can’t just give away — namely our devices. For instance, a subscriber could register a phone, tablet, PC and connected TV as devices authorized to access their pay TV service. Then they can manage all those devices online to easily spot any unauthorized usage.
Operators and networks also get greater control and visibility. If they’ve already authorized a device, they can keep the subscriber automatically logged in — forever if they choose. Because this approach is device-centric, operators can automatically authenticate content on any network, not just their own broadband service. This is critical to supporting out-of-home viewing because it requires visibility into how content is being accessed at all times. They can also monitor the number of concurrent devices accessing services to spot abuse or ensure usage is in line with contracts. In time, operators would gain an understanding of subscriber behavior and viewing patterns to further help detect and reduce fraud.
Sharing a password is easy; sharing a device … not so much. These are some of the fundamental strategies Synacor recently discussed when it met with the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing and members of NCTA–The Internet & Television Association to discuss the issue. Pairing powerful content protection with a better viewing experience lets operators combat abuse while making it easier for TV fans to watch the content they love anywhere they go.
The right approach for any operator or network that is considering how to overcome password abuse while making service login even easier comes down to business goals and consumer demands. Is deeper engagement with TV everywhere services desired? What is a reasonable sign-in frequency? A better return on investment? Is there a desire to let users watch on the devices of their choice?
It may come as a surprise that a device-centric approach to login could be the answer.
John Kavanagh is vice president, product management, at Synacor, a technology and services company.