Will TV Everywhere cause the pay-TV business to freeze up?

Interesting panel discussion on the state of the pay TV business yesterday during the Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit in LA. The panel had a good mix of networks (Discovery, A&E, MTV, Univision) and MVPDs (DirecTV, A&T U-Verse), and given the palpable tension between the two at times, it’s a wonder any business gets done at all between them.

In fact, business may not be getting done, at least not as robustly as it probably needs to. At one point, A&E EVP of distribution Lori Conkling pleaded with both sides to come out of their respective corners and start doing some deals.

“When you’re doing a 10-year TV Everywhere [licensing] deal with [a MVPD] there is a certain amount of risk there, because no one really knows where the business will be in 10 years, or what kind of devices might become widely adopted three to five years from now,” Conkling said. “Five years ago, who had heard of an iPad? But if everyone just stays in their corner and does nothing because of the risk, no deals are going to get done. Everyone is going to have to accept a little bit of risk to get deals done.”

According to MTV Networks SVP for strategy, content distribution and marketing Melody Tan, TV Everywhere itself may be contributing to the problem.

“Figuring out what windows or devices are part of your pay-TV subscription is becoming a real challenge [for consumers],” Tan said. “Consumers used to understand and accept that when content went to non-pay TV windows or came in a different format, like DVD, or it went to iTunes, that was a separate transaction. There wasn’t this sense you have now that, I have a pay-TV subscription so the content ought to be free to me in these other windows.”

Tough to do deals when you don’t know what people are willing to pay for.