February 7, 2012
By Kaylee Hultgren
The recent deal between Disney and Comcast shows TV Everywhere is making some progress in the industry—at least for the big MSOs. But if you’re the little guy, you’re probably not first in line to score a seat at the table.
According to Bob Gessner, President of Massillon Cable TV, entering the TVE arena has been the primary obstacle—not securing content rights, as one might expect. “Participation is the only concern right now,” he said. Whereas in the past, to land distribution networks would call, write email and visit (“you couldn't chase them away with a stick”), when it comes to TVE content, programmers don’t have the resources—or the time—to get smaller ops on board as quickly as they’d like.
For obvious financial reasons and economies of scale, networks go to the larger distributors first. One programmer, which preferred to be unnamed due to ongoing negotiations, said that though TVE should be available to ops regardless of size, “the reality of the technical implementation between operator and programmer is that scale is required in order for this to be a cost effective endeavor.” However, the challenge is not “insurmountable,” and this programmer supports using a third-party solution to get there. “Our understanding is that these conversations are happening, and we are encouraged by this.”
Massillon Cable hopes to be that bridge by becoming a third-party technology contractor. Its solution is to create a system to aggregate smaller ops onto a single platform, so that minimal resources are needed for each company requiring a database. The goal is to assist small operators. “We already have this database of customers. Rather than building another database for the next company, let them park their data on our server,” said Gessner. He hopes this will decrease costs and lead times.
Patrick Knorr, former COO of Sunflower Broadband and now a consultant for integration and authentication platform Synacor, agrees that scalability is an impediment to TVE implementation and is working on solving it as well. He has been working for Synacor since late last year on its “TV Everywhere for Everyone” initiative to scale down the process for smaller operators in the most efficient way while keeping it affordable. “Helping bring the technology to small operators represents a huge opportunity for everyone… it’s a business opportunity for [Synacor], as well as a business opportunity for content providers,” he said.
Both Knorr and Gessner see the NCTC as playing an important role with TVE through negotiating master agreements. According to Knorr, “if you put all the resources necessary, the cost to deliver the solution becomes too high for operators to tap into it. That’s where the NCTC plays an important role: helping find that economy of scale, so the networks don’t have to make that level of investment to deliver services to the smaller operators.” Gessner sees the NCTC as a system to ensure greater speed and access to TVE. In addition, the organization gives the whole operation some clout. “By working with them, it elevates the stature of the whole concept,” he said. He forsees the coop eventually charging members for the service.
Some ops, such as Suddenlink, are taking matters into their own hands. The company has made infrastructure investments and worked with Synacor to launch its own service, Suddenlink2Go. But SVP and Chief Technology Officer Terry Cordova recognizes the challenges. “A lack of industry standards around several of the key elements of TVE delivery—such as digital rights management and content-delivery methods from programmers—could make it difficult for smaller operators to begin implementation.”
For those ops waiting on the sidelines for an easier way to enter the TVE world, technical solutions are in the works. According to Cordova, “I suspect some companies are waiting to see what solutions work best for other companies before jumping into TV Everywhere.” Nonetheless, he sees proactive investment as a better model, to stay ahead. “Those waiting may need to still make decisions about investing in the technology to deliver content themselves or to outsource that capability.”
And once the technical issues are resolved? Then there are content rights to be negotiated. Easy as pie, right?