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Papers, Please: Get Ready to Prove You Paid for That Video

If 2008 was all about getting premium content online (thank you, Hulu!), 2009 is shaping up to be the year you pay for it, and Comcast-owned video portal Fancast is among those pushing for so-called authentication.

Unlike rival premium content sites, Facast does not consider itself a repository for all things video. “Hulu has an online video audience,” said Karin Gilford, senior vice president of Fancast and online entertainment for Comcast Interactive Media. “What Fancast is getting is people who watch television.” Currently, Fancast offers 10,000 full episodes on its site, and according to Gilford, 50 percent of people who click to watch one watch the whole thing. The average viewer spends 86 minutes a month on Fancast, which adds up to roughly two 44-minute (hour-long in TV terms) shows or four 22-minute sitcoms. But the salad days of watching all of those shows for free are coming to an end.

Multiservice operators (e.g. cable companies) pay networks big fees to carry programming, and as such are unhappy that networks are turning around and putting that content online for free. The result? Cable and media companies like Comcast and Time Warner are developing plans that require viewers to prove they have a subscription to an MSO before they can watch video online. Comcast is calling its plan “On Demand Online” and Time Warner’s is dubbed “TV Everywhere.”

The obvious downside, and what will rankle those on the free-lovin’ world wide web, is any kind of barrier that keeps them from their shows. The upside, as the cable and media companies like to assure us, is that they will be able to provide more content online that isn’t currently available.

Gilford described she and her team as “laser-focused” on bringing authentication to the market, with plans to make it available in the second half of this year. Just don’t ask what authentication will look like, because at this point, details are scant. A cable operator like Comcast that provides your video and broadband will already be able to tell when you’re accessing online video from home and unlock content based on your subscription level (i.e. if you subscribe to pay channels like HBO or Showtime, you’ll be able to access that content online as well). If you’re at work or traveling, more information will be required — exactly what kind of info is unknown.

Not everyone is so gung-ho over authentication. As Will Richmond over at VideoNuze points out, it will be incredibly complicated — and the cable companies aren’t exactly known for customer satisfaction. Disney CEO Bob Iger is skeptical as well, saying during a recent speech (via Multichannel News) that, “[P]reventing people from watching any shows online, unless they subscribe to some multichannel service could be viewed as both anti-consumer, and anti-technology, and would be something we would find difficult to embrace.”

The folks at Fancast are undeterred, however. Gilford stopped by the NewTeeVee offices the other day to present a short video interview about authentication and to chat about what comes next, which includes adapting the site into a two-screen experience in an attempt to capitalize on users watching TV with their laptops on.

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21 Responses to “Papers, Please: Get Ready to Prove You Paid for That Video”

  1. Mercury


    You have have to understand where these incumbent operators are coming from, namely, they are the ones who are actually funding the substantive cost of production, with the web-video rights seen more as extra cherries.

    However, the reason why online piracy has taken so much hold, though still not the norm for the mainstream, is because of the cost and convenience.

    The way that it could work is if they offer something a leap apart from what is available for free, in terms of UI, speed, quality, personalisation, content longevity/archive, etc., but many people simply aren’t subscribers to legacy services, and they’re not going to go to the effort of signing up to something when what they can already access is adequate enough to meet their media needs.

    In the UK, BskyB’s been offering such services under their “Sky player” brand for some years now, and really, it’s not a reason or even treated as a collar to remain with the service, simple an extra convenience, rather than a dogmatic fantasy that alternatives aren’t available.

    On the other hand, Sky’s competitor, the former NTL, now Virgin Media, has signed up the web-based BBC iPlayer and moved it through its cable network onto consumers televisions, and been highly effective in appeal as a service advantage over its rival.

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

  2. So, what if I want to access videos I’ve paid for from somewhere other than my home?.. It’s too early to say whether Comcast will be able to pull this off. But it’s likely the cable company will end up with fewer and unhappier clients if it first tries to offer access to cable programming online and then limits and/or complicates access. Video wants to be free. Letting your customers view and share video content on various devices and across multiple platforms is the key to success.

  3. Comcast come up with a new business model? Don’t hold your breath.

    First they take Cartoon Network and move it to the next pricing level, so if you want to keep your kids quiet for an hour you have to pay another $26 a month to get a digital box so they can track your habits and sell the data — and now this.

    It’s like Genuine Windows Authentication for your cable. How stupid.

    Wow. I feel so sorry for Comcast . If they didn’t have a finger in the Dish/DirectTV pie, I’d switch.

  4. timekeeper

    Don’t forget the other part of Brand’s observation: “Information wants to be expensive”. While I agree that they are clinging on to an old model, at least they are doing something.

    The record companies took years to do something. My favorite example of analysis paralysis is the Post Office not giving away free email accounts because they saw email as a threat to their business.

    You have to give them some props for at least trying something to stay relevant. The consumer always has the final vote – and they vote with their dollars.

  5. They are just never going to pull it off. When will they learn this content just wants to be free?! These executives are clinging on to a business model based upon times of the TV reign. That’s behind us. Authentication? Give me a break; we will never have the infrastructure to be able to do it.

    This crowd needs to wake-up and find another way to make money. They need to stop looking at past models and start being more creative and innovative and come up with something new!