Cisco: Set-Top Data Could Boost 'TV Everywhere'

NEW YORK -- With programmers looking to distribute content to consumers on the Web and mobile platforms through projects like "TV Everywhere," Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) says it’s looking to drive the sector by measuring how consumers are digesting video through set-top boxes and other devices.

“We can actually help the broadcasters as well as the content producers and advertising agencies understand how long [viewers] actually watch the program, and things like how loud is the volume, when did you switch over [to another program],” Cisco director of service provider video marketing Murali Nemani said here Wednesday at the Future of Television conference.

Cisco, which acquired cable box maker Scientific-Atlanta in 2005 for nearly $7 billion, is focused on studying how viewers are consuming content on TV, the Web, and mobile platforms in order to allow content suppliers and distributors to reach viewers more effectively wherever they are, Nemani said. (See Cisco to Acquire Scientific-Atlanta.)

“I think there is that movement from what’s happening specifically with television, but [we should be] extending that intelligence model about that from the television to different devices, to different distribution mechanisms, and still be able to complete that picture of what and how that content should be positioned with the right advertising and the right approach,” he added.

Projects like TV Everywhere can help improve the “fragmented experience” viewers face today when they access content on multiple devices and platforms, including cable video on demand (VoD), online programming delivered to a PC, and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) content streamed directly to the TV through a Roku Inc. set-top, Nemani said.

NBCU: The Web offers more ad control
While some programmers have previously expressed concerns that the proliferation of online video would hurt ratings at TV networks, NBC Universal president of digital distribution Jean-Briac Perette said one big benefit of the Web is it gives networks more control when it comes to advertising. While viewers with a DVR can skip commercials, programmers can disable that functionality online, he noted.

“On the online platform we at least control the fast-forward. We control the ad flow. We control the [ad] formats, and we control the information relating to the consumer watching that piece of video. All four of those provide a path to much better monetization than, frankly, the other time-shifting options that are out there today,” Perette said.

Perette said NBC, which is a part owner of Hulu LLC , is looking at several ways to monetize content on the Web, including rental models and purchase models, in addition to advertising.

While Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) has resisted distributing its long-form programming on the Web, the programming giant is participating in the TV Everywhere tech trials being run in the homes of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) subscribers.

“You’re going to be hard pressed to find anybody in the industry that says they don’t support TV Everywhere,” said Discovery executive vice president and COO of digital media and commerce Kelly Day. (See Time Warner, Comcast Team Up for TV Everywhere and Comcast Web TV Trial: 10,000 Being Served .)

One of the biggest challenges with TV Everywhere is finding an authentication system that allows programmers like Discovery to allow subscribers from eight different cable MSOs to access programming on multiple Websites. The industry needs a standard approach to authenticating subscribers and allowing them to register to view programming on the Web.

“It will be dead in the water unless you really get it right,” Day said.

In the meantime, companies such as thePlatform Inc. are trying to address this issue by assembling systems of their own that are capable of handling subscriber authentication and content entitlement for centralized video hubs as well as sites run by the individual programmers. (See thePlatform Plugs In 'TV Everywhere'.)

The looming threat of 'cord-cutting'
Some Internet-savvy viewers have begun to drop their pay-TV subscriptions, and some cable companies have expressed concern that the proliferation of Web programming could drive more cord cutting.

Rainbow Media Holdings SVP of broadband Dave Evans said the industry should be concerned that some younger viewers will never become pay-TV subscribers. “My biggest fear would be not so much people cutting the cord, but the younger generation coming up and never buying into it,” Evans added.

Another factor that could impact cord cutting is the number of WiFi-enabled widescreen TVs that Vizio and other consumer electronics manufacturers are distributing this holiday season, coupled with the vast amount of free TV content on sites like TVShack.net, Perette said.

“That’s only going to become more easily doable with these WiFi-connected sets,” Perette said, but pointed out that efforts like TV Everywhere could dissuade subscribers from cutting the cord on cable.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News

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