Web Content, Interactive TV Dominate Panel

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Boston -- The migration of content from what was the province of cable’s video services and the impact it is having on operators, content providers, advertisers and vendors was the menu item during a breakfast session entitled “It’s All About MEdia.” at the CTAM Summit here Wednesday.

The gains made by MySpace.com, YouTube.com and Yahoo and the proliferation of user-generated video and were mentioned repeatedly throughout the session, with one attendee referring to the “consumer as competitor.”

However, the amount of people’s entertainment time spent with YouTube “is still a very small percentage,” said Joan Gillman, senior VP of interactive TV and advanced advertising at Time Warner Cable.

She noted that the people who are producing content for MySpace and YouTube “want to be discovered.” They want to make it to the “big screen,” which gets bigger as HDTV set sales continue to grow. “TV is still the place where the best video product is consumed,” she added.

Speaking of enhanced picture quality, Charter Communications executive VP and chief marketing officer Bob Quigley said the end game for the operator with the platform is that “we’re expanding as quickly as we can. But with bandwidth constraints and other advanced services in the mix, “something has to give. We don’t want to miss the beat. As long as cable is agile, we can take advantage of this consumer movement.”

Michael Snyder, senior VP of marketing communications at Comcast, said the nation’s biggest cable distributor is offering some movies in HD via its On Demand application in its home market of Philadelphia. He said the product is another example of “what we do better than the competition,” and something the operator is considering positioning from a marketing standpoint.

The discussion also drifted toward the opportunities the new platforms present to advertisers. “Look to the Internet, it’s measurable. It’s important to the ad community to have some kind of measurement, said Everstream president Charlie Lougheed, adding that telcos are measuring everything they can.

Panelists cited privacy and ethical issues as impediments to the dissemination of highly specific user data for products like VOD usage.

Gillman said that in order to extract more detailed data, Time Warner would have to ask customers to “opt in” for more specifics, but in her view the aggregate numbers are “quite compelling” all the same.

On the interactive front, Gillman said the operator and NBC Universal were finding some interesting results with polling for Bravo’s Top Chef and the peacock’s Last Comic Standing within the 3 million Time Warner homes that have access to the interactive TV functionality.

Whereas “two-screen” polling yield response rates of 1-2%, she said the ratios are much higher when polling is done with a remote control. She said an episode of Top Chef elicited a 30% response rate among those watching the show among those Time Warner homes, while the July 10 installment of comic competition series Last Comic Standing generated responses from 12% of viewers watching in ITV-enabled homes.

Andy Schuon, president and CEO of the International Music Feed service, said cable doesn’t have to cede music video traffic to Yahoo and You Tube. He said that consumers will embrace cable as a big distributor of music video, saying it was the place where the form was launched 25 years ago. “They will come back,” he said, provided cable “jumps into the game.” IMF, which Schuon said has deals with satellite providers and Verizon’s FiOS TV, is ready to roll out 100 hours of VOD product.

The panelists also agreed that cable has plenty of high-quality content; it’s just that the consumer doesn’t necessarily know it’s there.

“There’s a lot of content to filter,” said Tom Rosenstein, VP of business development at SeaChange, noting that cable operators would be well served to get their hands around what’s offered on TV and the Web and present it in a guide that would enable subscribers to customize viewing to their personal tastes.

Edward Huguez, executive VP sales and marketing of Starz Entertainment Group, said company officials had gone through Comcast’s On Demand platform and that there are “500 different buttons. It’s hard to determine value, when we don’t even know what’s on.”

Asked to weigh in on what landscape would like five years down the road, Gillman said Time Warner will be able to give consumers content when and where they want it. “Today, we have time-shifting. Five years from now we’ll have the portable piece in place,” she said.

Comcast’s Snyder envisions where the various platforms and devices won’t be differentiated in consumers’ minds and homes. “Five years out, everything will be one place, just on Comcast.”

Schoun said that cable needs to have more compelling content that will invite more consumers in. “We’re in show biz, after all,” he said, adding that he anticipates that guides will become more sophisticated and act as an index. “You’ll call up Tiger Woods and get his appearances on The Tonight Show, or Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open.”

The breakfast was sponsored by Multichannel News and sister publication Broadcasting & Cable and the session moderated by Tom Steinert-Threlkeld and Max Robbins, the respective editor-in-chiefs of the publications.