TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while Hulu.com, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of Hulu.com is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.




Online TV: mind the gap(s)

8 09 2007

Warner Bros. has finally relented to pressure from Walt Disney Co.’s ABC network and granted on-demand streaming rights for shows it produces for the latter, the strongest suggestion yet that the nets are sensitive to consumer feedback over why some shows are offered for online catch-up, while others aren’t.

Under the terms of the two-year deal, ABC will stream Warner-made shows via ABC.com and keep all ad revenue during the first year. In year two, Warner retains all revenue and gets to offer the same shows on a download-to-own basis, for on-demand streaming and as DVD box sets. Is it just me thinking that ABC ended up with the better side of the deal?

Since its launch in September 2006, the player has streamed all or part of 134 million episodes, ABC data shows. ABC was the first U.S. broadcast network to offer its prime time shows for free on the ad-supported player.

The most interesting part of the deal, however, is that in year two, all of the shows offered by Warners will continue to be branded in ABC’s colours, with viewers given pointers back to ABC’s site.





Pyro.TV brings online video to Facebook

29 08 2007

Online video aggregator and rich media publisher Vibe Solutions has integrated its Pyro.TV portal with Facebook, offering the social network’s 24 million users access to a range of video content from networks such as ABC, NBC, Comedy Central and CNN.

Facebook users can embed a version of the Pyro.TV player in their profile and customise channel line-ups.

The development follows last month’s announcement that Pyro.TV had partnered with video search engine Blinkx.

In related Facebook news, online measurement firm Hitwise reveals that the social network is now the 10th most-visited site in the U.K. and is ranked 20th when it comes to diverting onward traffic to retail sites.





U.S. network TV pilots leaked online

31 07 2007

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Pilot episodes of fall season series from NBC, ABC, Fox and the CW have leaked onto the file-sharing networks, according to this report in TV Week.

NBC’s The Bionic Woman, ABC’s Pushing Daisies, The CW’s Reaper and Fox’s The Terminator spin-off The Sarah Connors Chronicles are among series which have shown up in the search engines of p2p file-sharing services such as TorrentSpy, The Pirate Bay and Mininova.





ABC.com launches HD streaming video

29 07 2007

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US network ABC rolled out the Beta of its high-definition online video streaming service last Tuesday, offering four episodes from a selection of its most popular prime time shows. Each episode features pre-roll, non-skippable commercials.

A minimum connection speed of 2 megabits per second is needed, as well as a downloadable player provided by Move Networks ; though access is geo-IP restricted to those in the U.S.

The Beta launch of the ABC HD channel follows the announcement of the service last May, with the offer to be beefed up in September.

ABC.com has more than doubled its user base during the last year, with ComScore Media Metrix reporting 14.6 million unique viewers in May 2007.





3 Out of 4 U.S. Internet Users Streamed Video Online in May

18 07 2007

ComScore’s latest data, released yesterday, states that 74.3% of US internet users watched streamed video online, during May, with each user watching an average of 158 minutes of content; over a third of these (35%) via YouTube.

Numbers are aggregated across Google sites, collectively accounting for 49.2% streaming video market share, followed by Fox (40%), Yahoo (26.6%), TimeWarner (22.3%) , Microsoft (18.5%) and Viacom (14.7%). Both ABC and Disney — curiously split out in a study which otherwise aggregates across the network sites — languishing at < 10%.





Online viewing on the rise, but TV still in rude health; study

18 07 2007

Just a day after New Paradigm’s bleak assessment that 16 to 29s would rather have the internet than TV, Nielsen and the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (detect vested interest?) have hit back with their study, which assert that while 63% of 129 million broadband users in the US watched online video during March (a 16% increase from September 2006), it’s “incremental new viewing”, not a substitute for TV viewing. But there’s more: 33% of those surveyed increased their TV viewing time vs. 13% who spent less time in front of the TV.

Other insights include ABC as leader of the pack when it comes to the network TV portals, while the Yahoo! movie site was the frontrunner in the film category.

Sample and methodology: 2,200 online interviews.





Xbox Live Marketplace: content update

11 07 2007

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Disney is to offer movies on a download-to-rent basis via Microsoft’s Xbox Live Marketplace service (see also), including titles from its Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures and Miramax Films studios.

“We’re always looking for more ways to let people experience our films,” said Dan Cohen, executive vice president of pay television and interactive media for Disney-ABC Domestic Television, in the announcement. “With the millions of Xbox 360 consoles in living rooms today with a direct, high-speed Internet connection, Xbox LIVE really has become a terrific device for the delivery of digital entertainment content.”

Microsoft has revealed that in the seven months since the service launched, nearly 10 million movies and TV shows have been downloaded via the service, which now features 2,350 hours of “premium entertainment content” from  15 partners.

The VOD service is currently exclusive to the US market, Xbox users in Europe and Canada can expect it to be introduced by the end of this year.





Web metrics just got a little more serious

10 07 2007

No more handbags between comScore Nielsen/NetRatings when it comes to online measurement, at least as far as the US Interactive Advertising Bureau is concerned. Why? You can’t realistically monetise it until metrics are standardised.

As an indication of how complex the whole area can be, here are some of the different metrics being applied by the US networks, when it comes to the performance of online video properties (full report available from TV Week here, assuming it doesn’t become premium content after 24 hours):

“Turner Broadcasting last week said it intends to report how many episodes of its TNT and TBS series are watched online, rather than how many streams, or segments, of a show get played.

Last month, NBC spurred networks to re-examine how they count Web viewers when it announced it had delivered more than 300 million streams of video on NBC.com since last October.”

“The industry would benefit from standardization in terms of reporting because it’s harder to move forward when there is confusion,” pithily put by Tracey Scheppach, senior VP and video innovation director at media-buying agency Starcom USA [which represents clients advertising on at least four of the major network online offers].

So the piece continues: “If you report streams, you end up being able to game the system, meaning I can create gains or losses at will, simply by cutting a show into more pieces,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting.

That’s why Turner has decided to switch from reporting streams to episodes. Earlier this year, Turner reported TBS’ “My Boys” had delivered 2.7 million streams online. But each episode was broken into three streams, providing an unclear picture of how many episodes consumers were watching. [Echoes of MSN’s Live Earth stats to date, anyone?]

“I want to give more information rather than less, and at least give information they can compare to other networks or to episodes on our Web sites,” Mr. Wakshlag said.

The lack of standards so far is keeping the Web from fulfilling its potential as a medium that lets advertisers know exactly who is seeing their commercials — and acting on them.

Quite, hmmm…

ABC reports episode starts, while NBC reports streams. Fox releases aggregated streaming figures for Fox Interactive Media, which includes Fox’s full-length episodes and MySpace videos as well. CBS doesn’t release data on consumption of its online video.

NBC prefers to report streams to give a sense of the volume of people clicking in to its sites, said Vivi Zigler, executive VP of NBC Digital Entertainment and New Media… ABC initially reported streams viewed of its full-length episodes on ABC.com last summer and then quickly switched to include counts of episodes and streams. Since last fall, ABC.com has delivered more than 120 million episode starts and more than 500 million streams.

“When we first did streams it was just a mad rush to figure out what the data was,” said Albert Cheng, executive VP of digital media with the Disney-ABC Television Group. “But streams are segments of a video. So we decided it’s probably a lot more accurate to call it episode starts.”

Roll on standardisation…