TV Everywhere Already Exists…and it Has 1 Billion Users to Prove It

TV_EverywhereThe promise of TV Everywhere is being realized, but not where you would expect it. Towards the end of March Magine announced the launch of an internet-based, cable-like offering which allows subscribers to watch television shows live or on-demand across any device without the need of a set-top box. The caveat: it’s only available in the company’s home country of Sweden.

So what about the rest of us?

With a popular slate of original programming including Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, HBO has always been considered the catalyst for unlocking TV Everywhere in the U.S. This, despite fact that the only way fans can watch these shows is by first subscribing to pay television from cable or satellite service providers before signing up for HBO at an additional monthly fee. The hope has been that HBO would eventually go direct-to-consumer with its HBO GO service (like Netflix does with its streaming service), but with pay TV partners funding the marketing for HBO’s content across their platforms, the un-bundling of HBO GO into a stand-alone service won’t happen anytime soon.

With traditional media companies not in any hurry to upset these profitable distribution arrangements, a true TV Everywhere experience will need to come from outside of this framework. Fortunately there’s a company that’s been building the digital media alternative that just celebrated its 8th birthday and hit 1 billion monthly users. Yes, YouTube, the skateboarding-dog-showing, Gangnam-Style-popularizing, space-jump-live-streaming video website is consumers’ best bet for delivering TV Everywhere.

Here’s why.

Even though YouTube has become the destination for video content on the web, its evolution has followed that of traditional television in many ways. When commercial television launched in the late 1930s in the U.S., music and variety comedy were the most popular types of content. Over time, additional programming made it to the airwaves and remained free to watch, as long as you had a television with antennas, since all the content was ad-supported. Towards the end of the 1940s the first cable channels, which required consumers to pay a subscription fee to access the content, were introduced.

Now replace the word ‘antenna’ with ‘internet’ and you end up with YouTube instead of broadcast companies. And just like broadcast television, you get to watch all of the most popular content (music and funny videos) for free because they are also ad-supported. Having checked-off additional content categories since then (such as live events and movies), YouTube launched a $100 million fund to invest in 100 channels of original online programming towards the end of 2011 and followed that up with an announcement of additional funding for 30% to 40% of the most promising channels late last year to continue improving the overall content quality of YouTube. With the company now starting to talk about allowing subscription services for video producers on the site, YouTube’s content experience has nearly completed the same evolution as traditional television- and in about the same amount of time.

That’s not to say that producers of traditional media are standing by watching this happen from the sidelines. Ricky Gervais, comedian and The Office creator, announced in March that he has signed up to provide exclusive content to YouTube. This news came on the heels of Alien and Blade Runner producer Ridley Scott partnering with YouTube-hit Machinima to produce 12 short films earlier in the month. Even old media execs see the value of YouTube, investing in services like Fullscreen that help video producers manage their presence on YouTube.

YouTube_Firefox_TabletAs important as YouTube’s ability to aggregate and curate all of this content has been to its success, providing users with any-screen access by way of PC and mobile websites as well as a variety of mobile and television applications has been equally critical. This has resulted in 25% of YouTube’s global audience watching videos via mobile devices, and a remarkable 50% of Gen C visitors. These users are connected to the video platform by more than just devices though as the social engagement around sharing video links and comments truly makes YouTube the second largest social network in the world and the largest social television experience- giving the company a unique advantage in building a TV Everywhere service.

While the bite-sized entertainment offered up by YouTube might be prefect for Gen C consumers, it still doesn’t replicate the current programming available through pay television. Fortunately for YouTube, Google has started to build out the actual infrastructure necessary to bridge this gap. Google Fiber, which promises internet connection speeds up to 100 times faster than today’s broadband as well as high-definition television, recently announced the second and third cities to deploy its service as well as adding premium subscriptions from HBO and Cinemax to its channel line-up. By combining traditional media content with digital video from YouTube, Google can create the ultimate TV Everywhere experience for any audience in a Google Fiber city going forward (which could cost an estimated $11 billion to build out if Google wants to compete with other providers on a nationwide basis- well within the possibility considering Google’s capital structure).

Regardless of whether its YouTube or even Google TV (because of its ability to incorporate media-specific apps into its framework) that drives adoption, most consumers will finally get what content they want (as well as when and where they want it) either directly from Google’s combined efforts or indirectly from market rivals being pressured into providing more competitive offerings. Until then, 1 billion YouTube users will have plenty of content to keep them entertained.

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The 6 Letters Holding Back TV Everywhere

TV Everywhere– the ability to watch any televised program at any time on any device- isn’t a matter of ‘if’ anymore but rather a question of ‘when’ once you consider the evolving viewing habits of US consumers and the changing dynamics of the pay television business. The ‘when’ for TV Everywhere becoming a mainstream consumer experience though will largely be determined by the letters F, G, L, N, P and R. Let me explain.

GRP: The metric used to allocate more than $60 billion in television advertising spend each year is known as Gross Ratings Points (GRPs). This figure estimates the size of the audience reached for a particular commercial during each television program over the life of the ad campaign. Unfortunately traditional online metrics like unique visitors, clicks and video starts don’t capture online audiences in a manner that can be translated into a GRP equivalent so broadcasters haven’t been able to take the credit they deserve, in the form of greater ad dollars, for delivering audiences to advertisers through their own websites and mobile apps or those provided by aggregators like Hulu. The thinking goes that if broadcasters could get compensated appropriately for aggregating consumers for advertisers, regardless of the screen through which the content is being watched, more television programming would be made available outside of the traditional TV model in hopes of capturing the broadest audience possible for ratings and advertising purposes.

The first major attempt at addressing the disparity between television and online audience measurement was introduced last week by Nielsen. Dubbed Nielsen Cross-Platform Campaign Ratings, the multi-screen ad measurement service leverages Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings (OCR) with their established proprietary National People Meter TV panel to provide unduplicated and incremental GRP measurement. Nielsen’s OCR has gained momentum in recent weeks having been adopted by 15 online ad platforms as well as by the CW Network to guarantee online audiences to advertisers for the recently started television season.

Regardless of whether it’s Nielsen, comScore’s vGRP, or something else, bridging the audience measurement gap across viewing screens is an important step in bringing the discrepancy between digital ‘dimes’ and analog ‘dollars’ in advertising. This effort shouldn’t siphon money away from traditional television but instead reallocate ad spending in media to reflect the actual time being spent with media across different mediums, which will benefit the internet and mobile. The result will be an increase in advertising dollars for video across all platforms and the availability of more content to support this additional spend, which can most easily be made available to consumers via TV Everywhere.

NFL: Major League Baseball (MLB) has it. The NBA has it. Even the NHL, when they decide to get back to playing, will have it. The NFL? Not so much. What I’m talking about it the ability to watch any game live, in HD quality video across any number of connected devices. The NFL only offers its subscribers the ability to buy access to replays of games only after they have been televised.

With only 1/5th the number of regular season games versus both the NBA and NHL and 1/10th that of MLB, it is much easier for the NFL to package the sale of television rights at a national level for all of their games than it is for these other professional leagues (which rely on regional sports networks and local television stations to broadcast the majority of the regular season). Football’s reining popularity combined with the scarcity of game content versus alternative sports options has enabled the NFL to command $7 billion per year in total broadcast licensing fees from CBS, DirecTV, ESPN, Fox, NBC and Verizon Wireless to broadcast each and every NFL game (in comparison MLB generates about $1.5 billion in national broadcast revenues from a combination of ESPN, Fox and Turner). In the following chart you can see exactly why the NFL commands such a premium:

As you can see, the NFL is the only television program that can concurrently deliver an audience of tens of millions to broadcasters who in turn sell this reach to advertisers for more than $4 million for a 30 second sport during the Super Bowl.

Timing

The current agreements the NFL has in place with these 6 broadcast, cable, satellite and mobile providers run through the 2021 season so it could take another decade before the most popular content on television make a full foray across viewing screens (through the licensing of full content rights, including digital). NBC’s simultaneous live broadcast of last year’s Super Bowl on TV and the internet was a starting point, but without an economic model that can simultaneously grow revenues for the League while providing fans with additional access to content, the NFL has no reason to upset the current revenue apple-cart. When the time comes, expect GRP to play an important role in enabling this.

The issues surrounding TV Everywhere aren’t limited to just these two issues of audience measurement and content accessibility, but most other items, like user and device authentication, can be solved with improvements in technology. It’s the negotiations that will take place between content owners, distributors and advertisers that will eventually determine what user experience audiences are left with, which might not necessarily in the best interest of the consumer. If these three parties can find common ground with evolving consumer consumption needs though, not only will TV Everywhere become a reality, but the groundwork will be in place for the next evolution in television: unbundled, on-demand and IP-based program delivery.