Programmers’ Gain Flexibility To Facilitate TV Everywhere

Marty Roberts, VP, marketing, thePlatform

Marty Roberts, VP, marketing, thePlatform

November 20, 2009 – In a step that could accelerate market embrace of TV Everywhere, thePlatform has begun to offer programmers site-specific authentication and other capabilities aimed at facilitating their participation in the new service model.

After extensive testing of extensions that support the complex subscriber authentication and related functions that allow programmers to offer subscription content directly from their portals, thePlatform is making those capabilities commercially available to all content distributors, whether or not they are customers of the company's core Web publishing system. "Everybody has been talking about enabling access to subscription programming through service providers' Web sites, but we also need to focus on how we enable this type of playback on programmers' Web sites," says Marty Roberts, vice president of marketing at thePlatfrom.

Decoupling support for TV Everywhere functionalities from other aspects of its Web publishing services should help drive wider participation on the part of programmers. "Many [programming] customers use home-grown systems to publish their free content or they use systems from our competitors," Roberts says. "But when it comes to this premium content, they need much more sophisticated capabilities around authentication and discovery. We've talked with many content suppliers who might keep their home grown systems and use thePlatfom for TV Everywhere."

Providing the full range of authentication capabilities is difficult because every programmer has different relationships with each service provider, resulting in different channel positioning, placements of content in different tiers and different types of on-demand and time-shift agreements. To determine whether a user is entitled to view a particular piece of content the programmer's authentication system must be able to instantly access all this information as it pertains to that particular subscriber.

As described by Roberts thePlatform's new Authentication Adapter service acts as a proxy that can authenticate consumers across multiple service provider billing systems by managing the complex cross referencing and interfaces required by those systems. Within milliseconds, Roberts says, thePlaform's system can verify alignment between the video, the TV service provider's channel lineup and the consumer's subscription package; ensure that media rights associated with individual shows – such as airdates, geographic restrictions, and other business polices – are enforced, and re-verify that the consumer is still an active customer of the TV service provider.

Another key functionality for program suppliers has to do with how they want to expose availability of content for TV Everywhere access. Options include constraining the search results to only those videos the consumer is allowed to watch; providing full search results with an up-sell opportunity to subscribe to a premium subscription package; or offering a pay-per-view option for that online show.

These options reflect different strategies taking shape among program supplier, Roberts says. "In our conversations with customers we've seen two schools of thought," he explains.  "One is to present the entire library that's available and to flag those shows the consumer doesn't have access to in order to promote an up-sell. We can support that.

"The second school of thought," he continues, "is to let marketers worry about up-sells and just show those programs that a given customer has access to. In both cases we have a very clean way of navigating to that content, displaying and allowing the user to click through and get access."

At this early stage with relatively few service providers set to offer TV Everywhere many programmers want to avoid setting expectations that frequently can't be met, so hiding all the content a consumer is not entitled to makes a lot of sense. "That's exactly why we have personalized content discovery," Roberts says. "One customer whose service provider is offering TV Everywhere can see a whole bunch of content, while the next one who comes in may not be subscribing to a TV Everywhere provider, so that customer doesn't see the premium content."

In general, while programmers have the option to make their programming available on their own portals via the new authentication and discovery tools, they are restricted by their licensing agreements with service providers from offering premium content to subscribers whose service providers haven't entered into a TV Everywhere agreement with that programmer. This suggests that some TV Everywhere initiatives that are positioned by vendors to be programmer centric are not going to lead very far without buy-in on the part of service providers. 

"There are very strict provisions tied to licensing agreements between programmers and service providers that set limits on where content can be published," Roberts says. "I don't think anyone wants to jump ahead into TV Everywhere without their pay TV partners being there. The business practicality is you don't undercut your partner.

"There are two requirements that have to be met to enable playback of premium content on the programmer's Web site," Roberts adds. "Most important, programmers have to sign an agreement with each service provider. Once there's an agreement in place you have to determine how you want to enable the authentication and playback, with the additional wrinkle of determining what the content discovery process is. Programmers couldn't just turn this on tomorrow without those business relationships in place."

But moving the market ahead to where TV Everywhere is sufficiently pervasive to impact consumer behavior and really make a difference remains a big challenge, given both sides have to come to the table. Many service providers are taking a wait-and-see attitude, preferring to focus on business models that promote time-shifted programming to the TV before opening up the process to the PC.

"It's really up to each pay TV service provider to set their own timelines for when they turn on their own authentication systems," Roberts says. "If network PVR or a heavy volume of time-shifted programming access is your priority, it makes sense you'd wait awhile. The good news is we're partnering along the way with programmers as they engage with those service providers who do want to move quickly into TV Everywhere, which means those programmers will be ready to expand authentication to more service providers' customers as those providers come on line."

Notwithstanding all the noise surrounding TV Everywhere, it's understood the scaling of the service to where consumers are accustomed to using it routinely will take time. "Everybody has their own timeline on this and will move when they're ready," Roberts says.

"We're spending a lot of time doing a lot of education with people on this," he adds. "We're talking with programmers directly to help them understand how to launch this on a service-provider-by-service-provider basis. But the most important thing is we're at the table helping with conversations on both sides to spell out what's technically doable to make sure the business models match those capabilities."