OnScreen Media Summit: Nets Navigate Choice Vs. Monetization

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Despite the proliferation of content on-demand and on multiple platforms and screens, programmers remain ever vigilant to construct deals that will protect the monetization value of expensive content.

That was the takeaway at the programming executive roundtable at the B&C/Multichannel News annual OnScreen Media Summit today. MCN editor in chief Mark Robichaux moderated.

Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks, said authentication is just a new terms for an old idea.

"For us it's always a matter of when technology catches up with our product," Blank said. "We want customers running after our product. I liken authentication to when we introduced on-demand a decade ago."

Showtime yesterday announced Showtime Anytime, a subscriber-authentication based broadband video-streaming service that will be available to Comcast customers later this year.

ESPN3.com, the sports giants' ISP-accessed broadband platform for live event streaming, also continues to gain momentum.

"We've had this philosophy at the network about the best available screen," explained Sean Bratches, executive VP of sales and marketing at ESPN. "At night, it may be your 40-inch TV set. When you're at the office it might be your computer screen. When you're on the train it may be your mobile device."

But all of those screens, added Bratches, "support the core linear business. It seems to make sense in terms of how the consumer is ingesting content. It's an opportunity for us to take our brand and move it into new markets in smart ways."

Bratches admitted that the vast array of business models for multi-platform content presents programmers with "a double edged sword."

"We've seen pretty strong growth in terms of television consumption overall while at the same time we're seeing significant growth of content online," Bratches said.

Josh Sapan, president and CEO of Rainbow Media, whose networks include AMC where hit shows Mad Med and Breaking Bad are only available on demand and not for free on the Internet, sounded a contrary note.

"In general, we think that [free] corrupts the proposition of value," Sapan said. "It very simply and fundamentally suggests that you don't need to pay for it. Our logic suggests that it is an invitation to follow that sort of treacherous path that the print industry or the music [industry] has followed. So we think it's not wise for the money that's there and it's not a smart system."

Lauren Zalaznick, president of Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks at NBC Universal, noted that consumers are "addicted to choice."

Even if content providers make authentication a barrier of entry on online and on mobile platforms, consumers' expectations are driving many difficult choices, she said.

"It's more choices in more places for more consumers," Zalaznick said. "The basic philosophy for us is advantage the consumer first and foremost while at the same time never disadvantaging our dual revenue stream and the monetization mandate that big businesses with high profit margins demand. Whether it's my own kids or the millennials, they are addicted to choice and you cannot take the choice away.

"I draw the line at the 'always saying never' philosophy which we're getting into," she said. "They're addicted to choice. Whether or not they're addicted to free, we'll see."