Panel: Keep TV Everywhere Simple

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A panel of top technology executives mapped out their strategies for TV Everywhere -- the cable industry's subscription online initiative -- at a conference here Wednesday, noting that to make the concept a reality, distributors will have to make the ultimate product simple to use, pack it with compelling content and offer it at a reasonable price.

The technology for TV Everywhere, which would enable cable, satellite and telco customers to access the same programming available through their home subscriptions on their PCs, has been around for years. But one of the roadblocks has been how to monetize the service.

At a Multichannel News/B&C "TV Everywhere & Anywhere" breakfast panel here March 24, Avail-TVN chief technology officer Mike Kazmier said that his company is banking that the prevailing model will be a hybrid of three that are already in use: an operator-centric model like Comcast's Fancast online video service, which is controlled entirely by the service provider; a programmer-centric model that is specific to a particular network or event, like Home Box Office's HBO Go, where the content provider controls the front end; and a subscriber-centric model, like the Sling Box, where the customer is in control.

Irdeto vice president Americas Jan Steenkamp said that while the basic technology has been in place for TV Everywhere for awhile, there are still some challenges, mainly creating standards that will ensure a uniform user interface and that the technology will work with all devices. But Steenkamp said that the goal of full TV Everywhere deployment is not one that will be reached quickly.

"I actually think TV Everywhere is a long-term marathon that is going to affect the media landscape for the next 20 years and will change the way people consume media," Steenkamp said.

EchoStar Technologies national accounts executive Margit Tritt said her company's Slingbox technology is one way that distributors can offer TV Everywhere functionality. She added that EchoStar is working with several pay TV providers to integrate the Sling technology into set-top boxes.

Tritt acknowledged that viewers watching TV programming on non-TV devices is still in the early stages. But she added that could change dramatically once distributors embrace the technology fully, using digital video recorders as an example.

"Once pay TV operators started bringing that [DVR] service internally and making it single payer and easy to solve, subscribers knew who to call if there was a problem, then it took off."

SeaChange International vice president in-home products Simone Sassoli said that technology is not the only obstacle to deploying TV Everywhere. Programming rights remain a roadblock.

"I want my service package that I have with my service provider available in other places. That's a simple proposition," Sassoli said, adding that the difficulty in obtaining content rights is what limits access. Tritt added that customers are willing to pay for a TV Everywhere type service. According to EchoStar research, customers are willing to pay between $5 and $15 per month for a TV Everywhere service, around the same as most distributors charge for DVR service.

"People are willing to pay," Tritt said.

Despite the challenges, Steenkamp said that the success of TV Everywhere will come down to whether one distributor will take the lead.

"What we need is someone to take this whole thing and come up with something that is sensible across the entire consumer base," Steenkamp said.

The panel was moderated by Multichannel News technology editor Todd Spangler.

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