Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit denied Fox’s appeal of the District Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction against Dish and its SlingHopper app, ruling that the app did not appear to be causing “imminent danger” to the Fox network. The battle itself, over technology that’s (a) already out of the bag and (b) gives consumers access to the content they’ve already paid for (albeit on an alternate device) is just one sign of why TV Everywhere is still pretty much TV Nowhere in the US right now.
IN HOME VS OUT-OF-HOME
One of the key sticking points seems to be confusion over the desirability of out-of-home viewing. Other than live sports, watching TV while away from home is not a pressing desire for most consumers, i.e. no one is jonesing to head down to Starbucks to watch Game of Thrones on an iPad mini when they can watch it on the 55 inch monitor in their living room.
In-home, however, is another story. That’s where kids are watching Netflix and YouTube on their iPads and could probably be convinced to watch network television if their MVPD actually provided them an easy way to do so. And not just live TV: you con’t compete against the likes of Netflix unless you have VOD and DVR access too. Which is currently tricky (if not impossible) to implement because of all the rights issues. If I were a TV network, I’d rethink that, especially for in-home use on the same WiFi network. You’ve got a generation for whom a screen is just a screen and for whom distinguishing between a TV and an iPad just doesn’t make sense. It’s also a generation that’s gotten accustomed to watching TV on their own schedule, which is something linear-only TVE can’t solve.
THE NIELSEN PROBLEM
While all of the major US MVPDs have launched TV Everywhere apps, few have done much to promote them. That’s because until Nielsen’s long-awaited (as in since February 2013) ratings system for TV Everywhere apps is still in beta. FIOS recently rolled out an update to its MyFIOS app that includes Nielsen ratings, but that seems more like a test than a global rollout. Until that happens, none of the MVPDs want to risk alienating the networks by touting something that cuts out ad revenue.
There are, of course, many other ways to measure digital ad delivery, but everyone seems fixated on Nielsen and their watermarking-based system does seem far more accurate than their diary-based system, so there is still hope.
THE ADVERTISING PROBLEM
Rights and reporting issues aside, no one seems to have quite figured out how to handle advertising on TV Everywhere.
On my Verizon FIOS TVE system, ad breaks on ESPN are great big holes: literally black screen with a supertitle to the effect that “Commercial Break Now” and total silence. It’s a user experience all but designed to make the user flee the TV Everywhere app for another provider (e.g. Netflix.) The gap appears both out of home and in home. The reason, as best as I can ascertain, is that the networks don’t want to give the advertisers inventory on the TV Everywhere app if they’re not paying extra for it (and then there’s the difficulty of every MVPD having a slightly different TVE app, which makes measurement an issue) while at the same time, their ad sales teams are not trying to sell that additional inventory as TVE-only ads— the technology exists to insert the ads if there were buyers, but buyers don't seem to be lining up to participate.
As this post by my friend Rich Greenfield aptly points out, even MVPDs that do sell TVE-only ads have problems, as they have such limited inventory the same ads runs over and over.
Neither scenario leads to a positive user experience— in fact the resulting experience is so decidedly amateurish it’s bound to permanently turn users off to any MVPD TVE experience.
Should the MVPDs be able to solve all of the aforementioned problems— and they are not insurmountable— TV Everywhere should be a huge boon to consumers and provide a way for all the current players in the industry to stay afloat. A system that allows for in-home access to DVR and/or VOD, downloading for off-line viewing, as well as a range of dynamically inserted and better targeted advertising seems to be just what the doctor ordered.
Whether the industry can get out of its own way long enough to make that happen is another story.