Back in the olden days of over-the-top TV (all of four or five years ago), the concept of TV Everywhere (TVE) was led by the pay-TV operators. The goal was to embrace the Web, and the new-fangled “over-the-top” world of Netflix and others, but in a cautious and manageable way. Give the consumers more device choices, such as tablets and laptops, but keep them firmly in the pay-TV camp. Consumers could launch operator TVE apps and, where licensing agreements permitted, view the same channels they watched via a set-top box.
Of course, licensing issues often didn’t permit; and where they did, there were still physical limitations that resulted in TVE-in-the-house. This coupled with usability issues, resulted in modest consumer interest.
Operator apps continued to improve and expand, particularly as content licenses renewed with a digital world in mind. Concurrently, the channels launched their own apps, rather than limiting themselves to a set-top box in the metaphorical cloud. Consumer appetite for apps, and for different devices, is now driving this strategy more rapidly. Take for example, Xbox, which offers a plethora of individual channels to download ranging from HBOGO to The Weather Channel. Consumers can download just the channels they watch, creating their own virtual customized set-top box to get precisely the content they desire.
The Connected Intelligence Connected TV User Experience report finds that 70 percent of prospective connected TV users cite the availability of broadcast and cable channels as ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ to a successful connected TV solution.
While pay-TV operators continue to harness licenses for TVE distribution, many networks are also going at it on their own, launching independent apps such as Watch Disney Channel, although a cable operator allegiance is still required. Full access to the channels require a current TV subscription from a pay-TV operator, like Verizon FiOS or AT&T’s U-verse; and the content is not “free” so much as an extension of the cabled-world. That’s the good news for the pay-TV providers. The not-so-good news could be what happens next. With individual channel app availability, the consumer relationship swings to one between the channel and the consumer, with the cable company seen (at best) as more of a conduit.
In many ways it’s not surprising that viewers are migrating to network apps. By tailoring the programming experience, individual network apps can offer viewers an environment beyond that which is delivered through a cable operators’ aggregation of live streaming broadcast channels. Network apps may provide libraries that contain all seasons of a TV show on-demand, watch list capabilities, and even exclusive episodes. Possibly, the single best feature is that networks can offer viewers access to apps both at home and on-the-go. This is not to say operators’ TV watch apps are relegated to the home, but it is taking time, a lot of time, to negotiate licenses to stream each network’s content outside of the home. For the most part, networks are not looking to sell direct to viewers as there are significant advantages to having operators manage the billing relationship and customer service needs. But networks are generating apps for their core shows and often for their channels too. Networks with strong content libraries, top rated shows, and well-developed apps are positioned to enhance brand equity and increase their audience reach. Content remains king in the new world of TV Everywhere.