TV Everywhere: What We Know — And What’s Missing

Sometime this July, 5,000 Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) customers across the U.S. will get the first taste of TV Everywhere — and the first broadband access to select programming from 10-15 programmers, including many who have resisted putting full episodes online until now. As expected Time Warner (NYSE: TWX), whose CEO Jeff Bewkes is chief evangelist for the TV Everywhere concept, will be represented by TNT and TBS. We’ve confirmed that AETN is on board, as is Scripps Networks (NYSE: SNI), and, in a move that will strike some as unusual, we also have reason to believe that CBS (NYSE: CBS) will be involved, although the network would not confirm that. Rainbow Networks is in, according to AllThingsD. Not taking part as of now: Viacom (NYSE: VIA).

One of the key elements for any programmer involved in the trial: Comcast wants programming that has not yet been online for what it calls On Demand Online. It’s one way of showing that TV Everywhere is not about moving already-available programming behind a subscription wall; it’s about expanding the amount of cable programming available to broadband subscribers. Even so, this is primarily a technical trial for Comcast, which needs to test the authentication technology it is building with subsidiary ThePlatform and others within the company. (Update: I should have added that Comcast hopes to roll it out nationally on Q4.)

But Bewkes and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts did not want to focus on details during Wednesday’s lengthy press conference to introduce what really is a very small experiment. (For perspective, Comcast has 24.1 million cable customers, 15.3 million broadband subs, and 6.8 million Comcast Digital Voice customers.) Bewkes even closed by asking reporters to write about the forest, not the trees. True, the most notable aspect of any of this right now is that an industry that often makes “deliberate speed” look fast has moved from concept to trial — and from competition to a form of cooperation — so quickly. To keep that momentum, the partners need programmers and, most important at this point, other multichannel operators to sign on. A few areas to watch:

Expanding VOD: Messrs. Bewkes and Roberts mentioned the importance of expanding VOD to broadband but at it’s most basic, TV Everywhere is about expanding VOD. Period. “We want to be able to have all our shows on demand,” Roberts said, mentioning that Comcast is up to 10,000 shows on demand now. But he knows better than most how hard that goal will be to accomplish. Even when programmers are willing, they don’t always have the rights to distribute a show through VOD. Making that work will take time.

When I first wrote about Comcast On Demand back in May 2002, the operator was planning a launch with 750 hours of VOD content and 750 hours of subscription VOD (premium channels like HBO). It had two programming partners — NBC and its own Comcast Sports Net — with hopes that 10 would take part in that first major effort. One issue that became a sticking point: Comcasts didn’t want to pay more to get the VOD rights. It has taken Comcast all of this time to get to 10,000 shows. In the meantime, consumer interest in VOD as a form of time shifting or alternate DVR has grown.

Mobile: The press conference talk centered adding broadband, although each of the execs has included mobile in the past. When I asked about mobile, Bewkes said it was included in broadband and Roberts agreed that an mobile handset would be authenticated for broadband access the same as a laptop. For some reason, Bewkes also thinks this requires having a carrier as part of the trial. Roberts, whose company has a major investment in Clearwire (NSDQ: CLWR), added: “Our company