Michael Grebb

The fact that Discovery Comm felt compelled to put out a statement this week clarifying that it’s not planning an OTT streaming service tells you everything you need to know about the colossal confusion surrounding authenticated online video. It all started with a relatively innocuous Reuters article on Tues in which Discovery founder John Hendricks, who is out promoting his book A Curious Discovery, talked about the idea of putting some old Discovery content online for paying MVPD subs. By the time the article got regurgitated, cited, retweeted, commented upon and generally sent through the Internet’s version of the old parlor game “Telephone,” the idea of authenticated access had morphed into reports that Discovery was planning to go around MVPDs and offer full-blown OTT content.

For those of us who know how the industry works, the idea that Discovery—which has actually resisted putting much of its content online up until now—would jeopardize billions in license fees by scheming to go over the top any time soon… well, it’s just ridiculous. But the Internet’s still the Wild West when it comes to reportage. Much of it amounts to a cut-and-paste menagerie of questionably sourced commentary and reporting on what others reported. And it’s easy for this crowdsourced chaos to birth new versions of the truth. That’s kind of what happened here. Discovery had no choice but to send out a clarifying statement—although it’s always hard to put these genies back in their bottles once the zeitgeist becomes so contaminated.
The larger issue is that most people are completely confused over the term “TV Everywhere.” And who could blame them? After all, the term itself seems to indicate that TV is available everywhere to everyone on some kind of a-la-carte, pay-as-you-go model or simply on a free, ad-supported basis. But that’s obviously not true. When people in the industry use the term, they mean authenticated content only available to those who pay for it through a traditional cable, telco or satellite provider. And even then, consumers certainly can’t get “everything” and certainly not “everywhere.” So not only are consumers confused about authentication vs. OTT—but even the ones who get the distinction are often confused by the fact that not all the content is available even within an authenticated environment.
As online competitors like Netflix and Google gain strength, the TV industry must redouble efforts to work out those complex and difficult TVE deals. Yes, all sides are fighting over terms, who gets the ad revenue, distributor portals vs. individual network apps and a plethora of other touchy issues. And all sides have legitimate points of view. But consumers are confused. And they’re getting antsy. Even after they understand the difference between TVE and OTT, they still don’t get why they still can’t access everything they want. And explaining that to customers is the much larger challenge. It would be much easier for everyone to just work out those business deals so the final and simple message could be: “If you subscribe, you get it all, everywhere, any time you want.” Until consumers hear that, confusion will continue to reign.
(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX. You can follow him on Twitter at @michaelgrebb).

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