It's going on four years since Comcast and Time Warner proposed TV Everywhere, the initiative that calls for TV programming to be available on all kinds of devices -- so long as the viewer is a paying subscriber to a video distributor. And since that time cable executives have been hailing it a savior for the industry amid new kinds of competition.
But with 5 million zero-TV households nationally, according to Nielsen numbers, and the threat of Netflix and its ilk only growing, industry executives are now lamenting that the effort still hasn't taken hold with consumers.
"I'm embarrassed," said David Levy, president of sales, distribution and sports at Turner Broadcasting System, during a panel about TV at the 4A's conference in New Orleans. "Turner has been at the forefront of TV Everywhere from the start... and the challenge is this: It's an awful consumer experience. You have some media companies in -- some that are on this panel -- some that are not."
Various networks are enabling TV Everywhere for subscribers of different cable and satellite operators at different times, Mr. Levy said. "The media companies are negotiating with the operators when the deals are up," he explained. "And they are up at different times."
But consumers don't care about the logistics of the deal-making, he said. "From a consumer experience it's awful."
The panel, which was moderated by Ad Age Editor Abbey Klaassen, also included Jo Ann Ross, president of network sales at CBS; Linda Yaccarino, president ad sales at NBCUniversal and Jeff Lucas, head of sales, music and entertainment at Viacom.
Ms. Yaccarino argued that "most of the barriers are technology barriers" because subscription authentication is difficult for consumers. She added that another problem is too many cooks in the kitchen, with so many stakeholders that rights discussions become thorny.
But Mr. Levy said the bigger challenge to adoption was a lack of sufficient content. "We wanted to keep the ecosystem, which is subscription- and advertising-healthy, so we could produce great content and have great ratings," he said. "But it has not been adapted very well. The operators aren't pushing it well and the reason they're not is because there's not enough content to push"
Said Mr. Lucas: "You're right. It should be a lot better. But we are pushing the technology itself."
"We need to keep on it," he added.
Mr. Levy said he is trying to stay optimistic, partly because there is no choice but for the various stakeholders to work together on the initiative. "I think it's at an inflection point right now and I think it's going to get better. It's going to be essential that TV Everywhere works."
TV Everywhere was the subject that prompted the most debate during the panel discussion, which covered other topics such as measurement, the upfronts, and where each network is seeing growth.
But the last few minutes of the chat were reserved for a rapid-fire Q&A session with a more lighthearted tone that showed off the personalities of the panelists.
WHAT THEY WISH THEY COULD SNAP THEIR FINGERS AND MAKE DISAPPEAR
Mr. Lucas: Nielsen online campaign ratings
Mr. Levy: Competitors, siloed planning
Ms. Ross: There's nothing she wants to disappear -- but she would like the ability to see the future
Ms. Yaccarino: Not to have her daughter go to college and leave her with her husband and cats
WHAT SHOWS THEY MOST LIKE THAT ARE NOT ON THEIR NETWORKS
Ms. Ross: "Downton Abbey"
Ms. Yaccarino: "The Good Wife," "Toddlers & Tiaras"
Mr. Lucas: "The Walking Dead"
Mr. Levy: "Breaking Bad"
WHOSE JOB THEY WOULD WANT IN THE INDUSTRY
Mr. Levy: "Les Moonves, purely for the money"
Mr. Lucas: David Levy
Ms. Ross: "David -- he gets to fly private"
Ms. Yaccarino: Speaking as "a little frustrated fashionista," Style Media President Salaam Coleman Smith
THEIR FAVORITE ADS THESE DAYS
Mr. Levy: Volkswagen spots
Ms. Yaccarino: Geico's pig ads and AT&T's spots with little kids
Ms. Ross: Jeep's Super Bowl spot voiced by Oprah Winfrey, Budweiser's Super Bowl spot with the Clydesdales and Geico's pig ads
Mr. Lucas: "I love them all"