TV Everywhere has been touted as the savior of the cable industry; a tool that will ward off threats from the likes of Netflix. Yet, three years after Comcast and Time Warner unveiled the prototype for pay-TV subscribers to watch content via devices other than the traditional living-room screen, the idea is still cloaked in mystery.
The problem is marketing -- or lack of it. While cable and satellite providers say they have been waiting for the technology and content to be built before they promote TV Everywhere, there could be another factor at work.
"I've had conversations with DirecTV, who said they are reluctant to spend money marketing a free service," said Brett Sappington, director-research at Parks Associates, a market-research and consulting firm. "They only have 30 seconds; why not use the money instead to promote a paid service that drives revenue?"
Similarly, instead of embarking on a broad marketing campaign, Verizon is promoting multiscreen services only to those who use Flex View (its VOD service) because Flex View users are more likely to take advantage of TV Everywhere, Mr. Sappington said. But those who are not Verizon subscribers, and even some who are, may not know about its TV Everywhere offerings.
"The ability to follow our FiOS customers to view their content anywhere is , and will continue to be, a major focus for us from a product rollout and marketing standpoint in 2012 and through 2013," said Heather Wilner, a spokeswoman for Verizon.
DirecTV contends that it is marketing TV Everywhere heavily to existing subscribers, but concedes its primary focus is on those products that are revenue drivers and exclusive to DirecTV, such as Sunday Ticket, according to Jon Gieselman, senior VP-marketing, advertising and public relations at DirecTV.
Dish Network has chosen not to invest in marketing its TV Everywhere service, focusing instead on brand campaigns and advertising the Hopper (a set-top box that can record prime-time broadcasts and play back recordings sans commercials), said spokesman Aaron Johnson. "Set-top boxes offer so much opportunity," he said. "TV Everywhere is just one of the many things you can do with the Hopper."
It's hard to quantify the value of TV Everywhere for multiple-system operators since there are no real incremental revenue opportunities when it comes to getting subscribers to use it.
"How do you know you've won against Netflix? It's difficult to measure, and telcos are all about measuring to determine success," Mr. Sappington said.
Only about 20% of U.S. pay-TV customers are aware they have TV Everywhere available to them, and just half of those actually use the service, according to a consumer survey released in June by Parks Associates.
The phrase "TV Everywhere" means different things to different people, depending on their cable or satellite provider. For many, "TV Everywhere" really means "TV somewhere"; those with Time Warner Cable, for example, can watch live content on a laptop, tablet or smartphone, but only from inside the home. Dish Network subscribers, on the other hand, can watch many of their favorite networks live and on demand from inside the house or remotely with a Sling media adapter.
AT&T subscribers were the best informed, with a 26% awareness, followed by Cablevision and Comcast at 24% and Verizon at 22 %. Time Warner Cable had the least awareness, with just 12%, according to the survey.
The Olympics were crucial in driving awareness, with about 7 million households using TV Everywhere during the London Games, according to Adobe.
For their part, the TV networks have been beefing up marketing of their own apps, trying to piggyback the success of the Olympics.
ESPN began running a promo in July starring announcer Mike Tirico and former NFL coach Jon Gruden explaining how cable subscribers can watch shows via laptops, tablets and other devices.
CNN is making a big push for its TV Everywhere app during the presidential debates. It is allowing viewers to stream the debates free on its home page and will provide a preview of its Watch CNN app. The home page includes promos for TV Everywhere and directions on how to "authenticate."
Authentication has been one of the biggest hurdles in TV Everywhere's growth, a problem cable execs say has to do with wording.
"Authenticate" has been the term adopted by TV Everywhere providers to let viewers know they need to prove they are a pay-TV subscriber in order to access content. "I don't think they know what the word means," said Jeremy Legg, senior VP-business development and multiplatform distribution at Turner Broadcasting. ""Verify' would be a better word, as would "authorize' or "access.'"
"Users are put off by the term "authenticate,'" said David Preschlack, exec VP-affiliate sales and marketing at Disney and ESPN Networks Group. "The word makes them think we are trying to sell them something, and they are less likely to complete the process. Words matter; it's these nuances we are still trying to figure out."