The pay television industry has been trying to make it possible for cable and satellite subscribers to watch TV on their, tablets, phones, and laptops, but the process has been less than smooth.
Called "TV Everywhere," the effort is an industrywide partnership, designed to create common standards and stop each company from having to solve every problem -- such as log-in and rights issues -- on its own.
Consumers and investors got an inside look at the topic at last week's 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, when moderator George Winslow, a Broadcasting & Cable magazine contributing editor, led the "Where Is TV Everywhere Taking Us" panel. The panel featured DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) Director of Video Product Management Jimshade Chaudhari, Disney (NYSE:DIS) and ABC Chief Product Officer Albert Cheng, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Senior Director for TV Everywhere Content and Product Strategy Vito Forlenza, and TBS Head of Technology Strategy Jeremy Legg.
The speakers were refreshingly candid in telling the audience where they thought TV Everywhere has succeeded and where work remains to be done.
It's not easy to use yet
Among the problems facing TV Everywhere, the biggest might be that it is not that easy to use and the experience can be confusing for customers.
DISH, Chaudhari explained, has invested heavily in the concept, and in making TV Everywhere easy to use, but he said problems remain for many players in the industry. "When people hear the term TV Everywhere, they expect to get access to their content -- the content that they want to watch on all of their devices at any [time]," he said. "We promised that as an industry and we underdeliver a lot."
While in Chaudhari's opinion DISH's offering does not have this problem, he acknowledged that TV Everywhere often comes with a lot of fine print about what content is accessible. He also said that log-ins can be an issue, and customers don't always know how to access the various TV Everywhere platforms.
"The key is removing the friction process," he added. "Authentication is still a problem."
The entire panel agreed that TV Everywhere can be too hard for consumers to use, and that improving the process is key.
"The challenge now is the consumers. The consumer got lost in the early days of TV Everywhere," Legg said. "The next layer of challenges is as a consumer how do you navigate to find your show?"
It's getting better
Still, a number of technical hurdles have been solved -- as has another major trouble. In the early days of TV Everywhere, one of the primary challenges was sorting out whether the various broadcasters had the right to stream the content at all. This has largely been solved as content deals are now written to reflect the new reality.
"The rights structure for how we acquire, how we produce content is pretty much established at this point," Legg said. "...You see that reflected in the amount of on-demand content that we're all putting out there and in the fact that most of the networks are being streamed and you can't do that if you don't have the rights."
Monetization is improving
The industry also faces technical and revenue challenges in advertising on streaming content, as opposed to live content. On the technical side, the industry has largely solved problems in replacing the ads that ran with the initial program and dynamically adding new advertisements into the streams. On the revenue side, Cheng said progress is being made in the ability to target digital ads to raise revenue on TV Everywhere products.
"The mobile space seems to have a difficulty in figuring out how to drive advertising," he said, referring to non-TV Everywhere mobile efforts. "For TV Everywhere, mobile is not hard for us to monetize, we monetize every screen that we have."
ABC, Cheng said, has maximized its ability to insert the right ads into on-demand content, and it has been working to do the same on live content as the amount of live programming being offered through TV Everywhere grows.
"Every ad you see on Watch ABC is actually in real time dynamically inserted with a whole new ad, and it's dependent on where you are in the country," he said.
The future of TV Everywhere
Forlenza articulated the general sentiment of the panel when he explained how Comcast's TV Everywhere product has evolved. Its ultimate goal is offering infinite access to all content from any device.
"Admittedly, we're still working on that," he said.
Not being all the way there, though, does not mean no progress has been made. Comcast now offers the top 100 shows on its TV Everywhere service that can be watched anywhere on every device. This has greatly expanded its audience on the platform, he said.
That's a look at where TV Everywhere stands today. It's not where it needs to be, nor does it work as well as the industry would like, but it is moving forward and drawing closer to being a way for cable and satellite customers to watch any content from any location on any device.