DENVER (AdAge.com) -- Since Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes made headlines in March by unveiling plans for an industry-wide initiative called TV Everywhere, a variety of labels have been attached to it -- "a Hulu for cable," "online authentication," among them. But two panels at the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Summit in Denver this week, entitled "Audience Measurement 4.0" and "Multi-Screen Access: Challenges & Opportunities," shed some light on what TV Everywhere is, isn't and needs to be in the next eight months before the initiative misses its chance to make computers the ultimate DVR for consumers.
Here are eight key points to keep in mind.
What is TV Everywhere?
In short, it's an attempt to make broadcast and cable programming available online, on-demand and free with a cable subscription. All you need is to verify, or authenticate, your cable-TV subscription with a username and password -- and have a broadband subscription to go with it. It would essentially make full-length episodes of shows like Bravo's "Top Chef," AMC's "Mad Men" and Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" and others available online the same way viewers can already watch NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox and select USA and Syfy shows online within days if not hours of their initial premieres.
What it isn't
A Hulu for cable. Although TV Everywhere will be ad-supported, it won't have the same four-to-five ads-per-show model that Hulu currently sports. Instead, shows viewed through TV Everywhere will have a TV-like ad load that disables fast-forwarding -- a quid pro quo for being able to watch shows like TNT's "The Closer" on-demand in an environment that preserves their revenue model. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar told Ad Age that Hulu is broadly supportive of TV Everywhere and other authentication efforts, but with a number of caveats. "It has to work for consumers and have a strong user experience," he said, noting that 40% of Hulu's content is not available in cable homes. "We're open to content that's worthy of consumption."
Who's distributing it
Not Hulu yet, although the site, jointly owned by NBC Universal, News Corp. and Walt Disney, made waves last week when it indicated a paid model would be imminent in 2010 -- rumors that Mr. Kilar declined to address. "We are capitalists. That's why we're Hulu.com and not Hulu.org," he said. "We're very proud of the path we're on now in terms of monetizing content. With our business model ... the revenue needed to support that is anything but free."
None of the top non-cable streaming video sites -- YouTube, Yahoo, MSN -- have signed on. But Comcast and Time Warner Cable have both launched early trials, including a summer test in 15,000 Comcast households that included 17 cable networks. It's been estimated that 30 million to 40 million cable households will be ready for authentication by summer 2010. Less officially, DirecTV announced it would roll out a subscriber trial using the same authentication principles as TV Everywhere for its 18 million-strong subscriber base, but it was quick to dissociate itself from its cable competitors. Additionally, Time Warner appointed Turner programming vet Andrew Heller to serve as its in-house TV Everywhere coordinator to act as a conduit between programmers and distributors.
Who's programming it
Turner, Rainbow Media, Comcast Entertainment and Scripps Networks are the first cable network groups to sign on for the early trials. More recently, CBS has joined the coalition, and it's not for nothing that the Eye Network is the only broadcaster that has opted not to invest in Hulu's free-to-consumers, ad-supported model.
"We believe in the TV Everywhere model as the best solution, from the consumer's point of view," said David Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS Corporation. "We've done a lot of extensive research and we know the distribution of content on the internet and mobile [devices] helps generate trial for programs that do migrate to TV and create a higher level of engagement for programming that benefits both the content provider and the advertisers."
What's the ad model
A TV-length commercial ad load disables fast-forwarding, due to increased frustration among programmers who are selling top-tier TV shows with a third of their on-air ads online. Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, said a typical on-air episode of "The Closer" runs 18 ads, which is why it makes little to no revenue sense for the network to run the same episode online with a third of the same commercials against it. "If I can get 4.5 times my TV CPM online [the cost to advertisers to reach 1,000 viewers], I'd be happy and wouldn't need to do anything," he said. "But nobody's getting four times TV CPMs online. Nobody at Hulu's getting twice the TV CPMs. If people who already watch the show see it with a full commercial load, it's still a chance to catch up on shows they miss."
Who's measuring it
That remains to be seen, but it should be Nielsen, said Turner's Mr. Wakshlag. "The truth is Nielsen started talking about integrated measurement two years ago, and I think they've got 10 months" before Turner backs out of TV Everywhere. The company has already pulled its programming from ad-supported streaming sites because of the aforementioned CPM disconnect. "My next TV season is this summer, I've got three nights of top-flight dramas on TNT coming out this summer -- same thing's happening on TBS and TruTV. I want these impressions counted next summer," he said. "If it's going to take 18 months, there's no reason to put my content out there at all because I'm not going to go around my partners at Time Warner or Comcast -- why should I put it up there if I'm going around their content distribution system?"
Why marketers prefer TV Everywhere's online video to set-top boxes
Todd Stewart, VP-corporate ad sales for Bright House Networks, one of the top six cable operators, said the lack of widely available set-top box data from DVRs has been misrepresented as cable companies sitting on a goldmine of data. "It is very technically hard to collect, process and actually store data in a system that is trustworthy enough to build a currency on. If we had a subtle channel lineup switch and we don't catch that -- like if currency is being bought and sold on 'The Closer' but 'The Closer' isn't on that channel lineup -- the data might not be tied to that. We need to keep up with the evolution without having to go through a full revolution."
The user experience
Mr. Heller, Time Warner's TV Everywhere coordinator, said the industry can take a lot of cues from how Hulu and Apple have made TV content available to consumers, and at different price points. "I don't think consumers are saying they want [content] for free. They're saying, I want to receive it differently, and as long as you give me those options and alternatives, I'll take it. We're also willing to watch the commercials. We've seen a lot of examples from the Cox VOD test, Time Warner's Start Over, that says they are willing to do those things if you give them a reason to do it."
Mr. Kilar, meanwhile, emphasized the trust Hulu has built with its consumers through user-friendly ad models and easy access to premium content. "We feel very good about our place in the industry. I feel like we're earning the right to talk to consumers," he said.