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What’s Holding Us Back From True TV Everywhere?

The cable industry must move from a place of reaction to one of action.

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The ability to watch TV programming at any time and on any device goes by many names: “TV Everywhere,” “Video Anywhere” and, for industry insiders, “multiscreen TV.”

Whatever you choose to call it, we’re all familiar with the equation: An explosion of mobile devices + more and more content = lots of people watching lots of content all over the place. Adding to this phenomenon is the widespread popularity of online video services like Netflix and Hulu, which have helped train consumers to watch mainstream TV content on things other than their TV sets.

This evolution is far from over. Although there are plenty of consumers logging in to watch the latest episode of “Saturday Night Live” from their Xboxes, and streaming last night’s Braves game on their phones, the mainstreaming of this behavior can and should be happening even faster. With device penetration and TV watching (278 minutes per day, according to eMarketer) at all-time highs, there is little to hold the movement back. A few changes from content owners and service providers are all that’s needed to open the floodgates. Here’s my take on what those changes are:

Consumer education

This may seem like a no-brainer and, indeed, it’s one of the simplest barriers to overcome. Even with all of the technical investments programmers and operators have poured into TV Everywhere initiatives, many cable subscribers simply don’t know that they have access to online or VOD services. In addition to better marketing around these services, technicians should be trained to give new customers an overview during installations or repairs.

The user experience

Watching TV is an inherently lean-back experience, and yet, too many on-demand and multiscreen options require technical prowess or the patience to sift through endless programming options. The bottom line is that viewers are willing to lean forward a little for these kinds of services, but not much. It’s incumbent upon operators and programmers to keep the barrier to entry low, and access as frictionless as possible. Improving the user interface is essential, as well, particularly when it comes to discovery tools that make it easy to find new content.

Consistent access to content

From a consumer perspective, the current content landscape often appears fragmented and indecipherable. Sometimes shows appear instantly on on-demand platforms and sometimes they take months to show up. Content appears and then disappears for no discernible reason. Some seasons of your favorite show are available, and some are not. The need here is simple: In order to keep viewers coming back for more, it’s essential that the content they want is available when and where they want it. This requires a significant shift in the way the industry does business. Instead of complex content agreements that keep viewing rights siloed across different screens, we need to move toward multiscreen agreements that bring predictability to the windowing process.

Evolving viewer behavior

It’s no secret that OTT (over-the-top content) companies like Netflix and Hulu have wrought some chaos in the cable industry by changing consumers’ expectations and viewing habits. Ultimately, however, the industry needs to embrace this change and start experimenting with new ways to map to new patterns of behavior. For example, in a recent column, MediaPost contributor P.J. Bednarski suggested that CBS should let viewers binge on six episodes of its new show “Hostages” online before the show officially aired — this would create buzz around the show and ultimately drive both multiscreen and linear viewing.

Similarly, consumer appetite for nonlinear content is at an all-time high. As VideoNuze’s Will Richmond points out when describing his experience as a “Breaking Bad” fan, social media has had the effect of driving interest in shows that have already been on the air for one or more seasons. Today, most viewers go to Netflix to binge on shows, instead of on their VOD services, which typically house just the last few episodes. This is a major miss for the industry, and an easy way to drive multiscreen viewing.

Technical Infrastructure Investment

Making large libraries of video content available across every screen, platform and device is a daunting task for programmers and service providers. There are immense logistical and technical challenges involved with pushing out content in multiple formats in a timely way and in line with consumer expectations. Ultimately, this requires investments in both in-house technology and from third-party vendors that enable programmers and operators to easily scale their operations and roll out to new devices in the future. The key is to start putting resources into this now, and ensuring that the infrastructure is ready to handle future changes in consumer behavior, new device rollouts, etc. The TV Everywhere landscape is moving incredibly fast, and it’s impossible to predict what things will look like more than a few years out. The ability to easily adapt to these changes will be the hallmark of all successful companies.

Investment in TV Everywhere takes a long-term view that puts a premium on keeping current customers happy, particularly younger members of a household for whom multiscreen viewing is second nature. A recent report from Needham Insights predicts that TV Everywhere initiatives might ultimately save the industry $4.2 billion for each year that they elongate would-be cord cutters’ subscriptions. That’s right: $4.2 billion. These kinds of figures put into perspective how important is it to address these issues now, and to ensure that cable subscribers aren’t tempted to go elsewhere to meet their multiscreen needs. In order for TV Everywhere to be successful, it’s imperative that the cable industry moves from a place of reaction to one of action. Together, we need to address, enable and encourage changing consumer behavior, rather than passively accepting it.

Braxton Jarratt is CEO of Clearleap, an Atlanta-based startup that powers the OTT/TV Everywhere experience for cable operators and content owners like Scripps, Charter and HBO. Follow him @BraxtonJarratt.

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