TV Execs: Don't Be Distracted by 'TV Everywhere'

DENVER -- CTAM Summit -- With consumers continuing to rely on the TV for the vast majority of their viewing, programmers and distributors moving to put content online through efforts such as "TV Everywhere" shouldn't lose focus on their core business, top executives said here Tuesday.

"I think TV Everywhere is important, but let's not lose sight of what's important -- if not more important -- which is the TV screen," Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) EVP and chief strategy officer Peter Stern told attendees here at the closing CTAM Summit session.

Stern backed up his argument with data from surveys that have found 84 percent of online video viewing occurs within the home, and that 79 percent of consumers that watch video online say that say they would rather watch the content on a TV than a PC.

"That represents a failure on the part of our industry but an opportunity to address in meeting our customers' needs in [delivering] what they want, when they want it in the home," Stern said.

He and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) executive vice president of content acquisition Matt Bond hyped cable's video-on-demand (VoD) platform as a superior platform for delivering video than online platforms.

Comcast's TV Everywhere product, called On Demand Online (for now), is being tested in the homes of about 10,000 subscribers who can access programs from about 25 cable networks through the MSO's Fancast portal. Bond said Comcast will launch On Demand Online nationally by the end of the year, but he described the expanded rollout as a "beta" intro of the product. (See Comcast Web TV Trial: 10,000 Being Served .)

"We have 25 networks. We're going to dramatically improve the content options over time. We now have a couple of thousand content choices. We will expand that into the many thousands over time," Bond added.

Stern said Time Warner Cable has been running a TV Everywhere trial with "300 testers," giving them access to content from corporate siblings TBS and TNT. He said the nation's second-largest cable MSO will soon expand its TV Everywhere test to 6,000 customers.

While Time Warner has mostly received positive feedback from customers in the trial, it has also received phone calls from customers who had trouble registering for access to the content, and calls from customers who had "streaming issues," Stern said.

Hulu CEO to cable: Let's partner
Hulu LLC CEO Jason Kilar joined Bond, Stern, and executives from Turner Broadcasting System Inc., ESPN, and Dow Jones on the stage. He told the audience of cable marketers and technology vendors that Hulu would like to work with the industry on its TV Everywhere efforts.

"We'd love to be a part of that. We can help, and I think we can be part of the solution," he added.

Turner vice chairman Andy Heller said cable networks can protect their core business by giving consumers options to view content that they have paid for online.

"I think it's a model that will work well. I think the consumers are very happy with what we're doing today. That's an important point. The cable industry, in my opinion, doesn't do a great job of defending itself and/or promoting itself as the best entertainment value in America by a factor of 10. It costs more to take a family to a ball game than to have cable television," Heller added.

Although ESPN has been more aggressive than most programmers about distributing content on Web and mobile platforms, Disney and ESPN Networks executive vice president David Preshlack said he expects TV will remain ESPN's bread and butter. "At the end of the day, it's been our core business. It's our core business today, and it will probably be our core business going forward," he added.

Panelists said the cable industry can learn lessons from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and its distribution of video content on the Web and on mobile platforms through the iTunes Store.

"I think Apple has taught us many things, not the least of which is the consumer isn't necessarily desirous of being a thief," Heller said. "If you give them a better product -- they are more than willing to pay for what they get. I think at times we lose sight of that," Heller said.

Kilar said about 40 percent of the TV shows and movies viewed by Web surfers on Hulu is content that isn't available on broadcast and pay TV. He said it's not clear how video consumption will change in the future.

"Nobody knows the future. If anybody tells you what the future is going to be, don't believe them. Ultimately it's the consumers that decide that, not prognosticators," Kilar said.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to TelcoTV 2009, the telecom industry's premier event for the exploration of a comprehensive entertainment convergence strategy, to be staged in Orlando, Fla., November 10-12. For more information, or to register, click here.

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