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Video services

Monetizing Multi-Screen Mania

Nearly two years after Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) unveiled their TV Everywhere partnership, the momentum behind multi-screen video is still building, albeit in ways totally unexpected back in June 2009.

In North America alone, more than a dozen cable, satellite, telco, and content providers are now offering or testing multiplatform video services. Numerous other network operators are exploring the idea, as we have found in informal polls of video providers during several Light Reading Webinars over the past year and a half.

But the biggest, boldest TV Everywhere initiatives so far haven't centered on the PC, laptop, gaming console, or smartphone, as most observers expected. Instead, they've mainly focused on the tablet computer -- a device that two years ago existed only in Steve Jobs' imagination.

In just the last two months, Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Time Warner Cable have both launched live TV feeds for the iPad, despite protests and threatened lawsuits over content licensing rights from such major cable programmers as Viacom, Fox Cable Networks and Discovery Communications. At the same time, Comcast is gearing up to stream live TV channels to iPads and other tablets later this year.

It's not hard to see why. As everyone knows, the iPad has been a runaway success, selling nearly 15 million devices in its first nine months on the market and spawning a new multi-billion dollar category in the consumer electronics business. In fact, the iPad is so hot that Comcast CTO Tony Werner recently predicted tablets will soon become "the second-biggest video platform" in homes that have them, if they haven't already.

More broadly, such multi-screen video initiatives as iPad apps represent the first line of defense for cable operators and other pay TV providers against the looming threat of mass cord-cutting. As was made clear again during the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Canadian Summit in Toronto last month, such major over-the-top (OTT) video providers as Netflix, Hulu and now Amazon are working hard to lure away millions of pay TV subscribers with free and low-priced video offerings.

But TV Everywhere can be much more than a defensive move for cable operators. It can also offer hefty financial and strategic value, boosting existing revenues and generating new revenue streams without driving away current or potential customers.

How? For starters, MSOs can use multi-screen video to increase subscriber loyalty and upsell new products and services. For instance, Comcast is now using new iPad applications for its Xfinity TV service to help customers find, watch and buy video content.

Cable operators can also leverage multi-screen video technology to craft more personalized and even à la carte services for subscribers. For example, they can package TV shows, movies, and videos for PC, tablet, and/or smartphone consumption. If Hulu, Amazon and Netflix can do it, there's no reason why MSOs can't do it as well.

Third, cable providers can develop integrated advertising campaigns around their multi-platform offerings. With more precise tracking of viewers on all media platforms, they can create more targeted commercials and charge higher ad rates.

What's more, MSOs can impose special mobility fees, even nominal ones, on top of their current monthly subscription charges. Several research studies show that sizable numbers of consumers would be willing to pay some type of additional fee for multi-screen access to prime video programming.

Finally, video providers can raise their overall subscription fees to cover their enhanced screen reach. Such higher, all-you-can-eat fees would line up very neatly with the pay TV industry's historic pattern.

In other words, TV Everywhere need not be a loss-leader for cable operators and other video providers. Instead, multi-screen video can be a bold new offensive strategy in the OTT world.

We will explore these topics and more at Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies: Making the IPTV Migration, a Light Reading Live! event slated for Tuesday, April 26 at the Westin Times Square Hotel in New York. Besides looking at the opportunities for multi-screen video, this one-day conference will explore the cable IPTV transition, as well as the prospects for OTT video, cable multimedia gateways, and content delivery networks (CDNs).

To register for the Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies event, please click here. We hope to see you in the Big Apple on April 26!

- Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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