February 1, 2010 – Brightcove has taken a content-centric approach to TV Everywhere by positioning itself to support stakeholders on the assumption that TVE is a big step toward what eventually will be a video entertainment market dominated by ad-supported Web-based programming.
"We think TV Everywhere is one piece of a broader story," says Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of marketing at Brightcove. "It's an intermediate, very important step programmers are taking to preserve business models and revenue streams as they move toward bringing content online as their end goal."
As the market becomes seeded with Web-to-TV enabling devices, including Internet-connected HDTV sets, the TV market scale for online content will be sufficient to support an advertising-based transition away from traditional distribution models, Whatcott suggests. "Eventually, as brands get built online, there will be more opportunity for people to offer content directly to consumers," he says.
This vision marks a departure from how far cable and telco interests have been willing to go in articulating their views of TVE, which they see as a subscription service enhancement that adds convenience but doesn't threaten their gatekeeper roles. "Comcast has high initial visibility on TV Everywhere," Whatcott says, "but they're not the only player in the industry taking action, and not everything is filtered through the Comcast lens. There's a diverse group of organizations with diverse interests and agendas that fall under the TV Everywhere umbrella.
"There's a huge library of video premium long-form content out there that's traditionally been available only through cable TV or broadcast but now is making its way to online," he continues. "This is happening through paid TV aggregators like Amazon and Netflix, Web video syndicators like Hulu, Yahoo! and YouTube, and direct-to-consumer destinations operated by programmers and studios, where they're starting to deliver their own content directly to consumers or through MVPD (multichannel video program distributor) portals.
"Those are all the different channels that content has now, and TV Everywhere has a role to play across all of them. A lot of talk today is about direct-to-consumer being tied to MVPD subscribers, but the same principles apply to other channels as well. So we believe TV Everywhere will become one model through which content is available globally."
Brightcove's official entry into TVE comes after many months of discussions with all stakeholders, including service providers, programmers and the other entities the firm views as part of the TVE ecosystem. Notwithstanding an early push into TVE by Comcast with its branded Xfinity service and announced trials on the part of Time Warner Cable and Verizon, this year will be primarily one of experimentation, Whatcott says.
"TV Everywhere is still in its infancy with a lot of technical issues, business issues and consumer usage issues still to be resolved," he notes. "We're very hopeful there's going to be great progress in 2010 and that 2011 will be when the dramatic expansion to where a large share of content goes online happens."
Brightcove's TV Everywhere Solution Pack (TVE-SP) combines the recently released Brightcove 4 platform (see December issue, p. 16) with value-added components and services to provide "TV programmers with everything needed to operate rich, branded and authenticated TV Everywhere-compatible catch-up TV services," according to the firm's press release. To facilitate user authentication and authorization the company has partnered with Ping Identity, a supplier of widely used software based on the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML).
"TV Everywhere represents a significant and exciting new opportunity for TV programmers to expand the volume of premium video content available to consumers on the Web," says Brightcove chairman and CEO Jeremy Allaire. "Brightcove's TVE solution and partnership with Ping Identity provides a powerful onramp to rapidly launch TV Everywhere initiatives and a platform for a wide-range of additional functions critical to the success of online video strategies, from branded destination sites, to syndication and social network distribution, to mobile and connected-TV delivery."
The Ping Identity SAML 2.0-based platform supports integration of TVE with existing service provider subscriber authorization systems and all the complexity that goes with supporting TVE from the programmer portal side, Whatcott notes. "The system has to first authenticate the user as a legitimate cable subscriber and then determine what that user is authorized to access," he says. "With multiple service providers and programmers with a wide range of rights and restrictions associated with specific content it gets very complex, and the whole process has to be done very fast."
The TVE-SP platform provides programmers tools to manage content rights and viewer entitlements for online video content, including content scheduling and release windows, geo-restrictions and custom packaging metadata, he adds. Metadata customization gives programmers flexibility to set release windows and online scheduling on a per-content segment basis and to determine how each content segment is exposed through other parties' Web sites, including encryption requirements and the ability to lock TV experiences to specific Web sites.
Flexible approaches to providing and branding high-quality online video viewing experiences are another key requirement of TVE, Whatcott says. He notes the platform supports customizable player and viewer experiences for various ranges of video quality, integrated sharing and discovery features, multi-bit-rate streaming and industry standard video formats, including Flash and H.264.
All this is complicated by the fact that there are different TVE models in play, including those where the service providers are branding and managing all content under the brand names of their own portals, instances where programmers are bringing in their own branded experiences as microsites on service provider portals and cases where TVE-branded content is positioned on programmer portals. "And there are the hybrid models where combinations of these approaches are taken," he adds.
One unresolved point in many interactions between service providers and programmers concerns who pays for bandwidth in instances where the programming is accessed through the service provider's portal. "Programmers are more than willing to provide content to MPVDs to run on their portals, but they want the MPVD to pick up the bandwidth expense when the content is accessed through their portals," Whatcott explains.
"It will take awhile to sort out such questions in negotiations," he says. "But it's clear our platform will need to support the full range of options so that content can be delivered on any CDN (content delivery network) that's required for a particular viewing session, including CDNs they own or use or ones that we provide."
For TVE to morph in the all-TV online direction Brightcove foresees will require an approach to advertising that leverages the Web environment to support dynamic insertions of targeted and interactive advertising that isn't necessarily part of the linear program feed. "The assumption now is that the TV Everywhere programming will carry the same ads that run with the initial airing," Whatcott says.
But Brightcove is also hearing from people who want to move away from "brute force" approaches to bringing linear programming ads online. "They want to get the tracking and interactive capabilities of the online world but at full placement loads with a TV-like experience," he says. "In the online world, where video advertising is largely run in pre- and post rolls, replicating the TV strategy so that all the ad pods play in the commercial breaks takes work, and that's something we can support."
While initial steps among service providers pursuing TVE at this stage have not emphasized monetization through advertising, the call for such support is coming from service providers as well as programmers, Whatcott says. "Primarily the requirements for advertising are coming from programmers with a lot of skin in the game," he says, "and these may be driving MCVDs to reflect those requirements so that when it gets to the monetization question, they can tell the programmers they provide that support."
When it comes to support for advertising in online video, Brightcove's service team has long played an advisory role to help customers develop strategies that leverage the Web advertising tools that are out there to maximum advantage, he notes. "We help them make the most of the advertising capabilities by advising them on how to use our metadata to define specific deliverables and to map those objectives onto Brightcove so that you when you set up with FreeWheel, DoubleClick or Auditude the ad frequency and targeting rules are followed."
One sign that the fast-evolving advertising scenario in TVE is moving in this direction is Turner Broadcasting's new deal with FreeWheel Media, as reported in Ad Age. FreeWheel's platform will allow Turner to insert video ads in existing sites such as CNN.com, NASCAR.com and NBA.com but also will be used in conjunction with TVE applications such as Time Warner and Verizon are testing with some of Turner's cable networks.
Regardless of how dynamic online ad placement in TVE works out, one of the key requirements at the outset will be an extension of TV viewing measurement capabilities that provide programmers credit for viewing that's done in on-demand environments, including TVE. "Players like Nielsen are improving ways to measure audiences as one contiguous group as opposed to having a Chinese Wall between the living room and the PC," Whatcott says.
Beyond that, though, the pre-integration of the TVE-SP platform with Neilsen's latest tools provides programmers with "amazing stuff around characterizing demographics and the composition of online audiences," he adds. "The ability to map audiences to traditional DMAs and tell you what audience you're reaching in online exposures allows you to make the connection from the offline to the online world. That's very attractive to advertisers."
For programmers TVE is an interim "cake-and-eat-it-too" strategy on the way to connecting directly to the TV viewer from the Web, Whatcott says. "They can put more content online and in front of more people without endangering their bread-and-butter subscription revenue stream," he says. "But it allows them to build brands and open more options to do more down the road."
If TVE is the second act in the transition to a dominant Web-based TV market, the connected TV is the third act, he adds. Brightcove has been in discussions with major consumer electronics manufacturers in their search for support for getting content from the Web onto their TV sets. "There will be several different movements in that third act," he says.
Indeed, with regard to all the negotiations and business models under consideration, much remains unsettled. Or, as Whatcott puts it, "There's a lot of hockey to be played."