Comcast acquisition of TWC – Smack-down for OTT but accelerator for TVE

13 02 2014

Please note that this post expresses my own personal opinion and not that of my current employer.

If the announced acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast is allowed to proceed as proposed it is likely to have a significant impact on the burgeoning Over the Top (OTT) and TV Everywhere (TVE) services. The acquisition would result in the largest video provider in the U.S. becoming significantly larger. The combined operator would have approximately 30 million subscribers – 50% more than their next closest rival DIRECTV who has approximately 20 million subscribers.

The good news is that Comcast has been at the industry forefront in pushing forward with TVE deployments. Comcast has embraced the opportunities that broadband video presents in enabling their customers to get more value from the services they provide primarily through their X1 Platform, Streampix and Cloud DVR. Being an industry insider for many years, I have also been impressed with Comcast’s involvement in the online video industry. Whereas many traditional media companies have shied away from direct involvement, Comcast has been an active participant in industry events, hiring people who are respected in the industry and they have also acquired admired companies in the online video space – namely thePlatform. Comcast understands where the market is going and has the expertise to capitalize on it. The combined company will enable more efficiencies in investing and deploying more services to meet the anytime, anywhere demands of today’s video consumers.
The impact on OTT may not be as positive. It goes without saying that MSOs don’t want the content companies going direct to the consumer with OTT offerings. One of the early programmers to learn this lesson was Starz who pulled their OTT video offering Vongo back in 2008 that I suspect was a result of MSO pressure. Comcast’s leverage with content providers will be greatly enhanced if this acquisition proceeds. With a more dominant position in the marketplace, Comcast will be in a better position to negotiate exclusivity and prevent networks offering their programming outside MSO offerings. As an example, if HBO was considering the viability of going direct to consumers, I would think that the new Comcast makes the likelihood of this move less likely as Comcast will control their largest customer base along with much of the marketing to this base. Steve Donohue, the editor of Fierce Cable, offers a contrary opinion and writes that this acquisition could accelerate the launch of virtual multichannel video programming distributors as a result of programmers concerns about being “squeezed” by Comcast. Eventually that may be the case but for the foreseeable future the reality of OTT pennies versus Comcast $Billions, I believe, will result in increased caution with OTT moves.
I also think it is less likely that Comcast will embrace competing OTT services such as Netflix and Hulu by improving the quality of access they get to their networks. I have no doubt that Netflix will be elevated as a competitive threat to the new Comcast’s future share of the consumer video wallet and therefore Netflix’s Open Connect has even less opportunity for significant market penetration.
One of the benefits for consumers that may come from the increased leverage that Comcast will have with programmers is with respect to packaging. The new Comcast may now have enough leverage to unbundle some channels out of the main package offerings the MSO makes available to their subscribers with the result being that consumers have more choice… but don’t hold your breath on this happening any time soon.
Please note that this blog represents my own personal viewpoint and in no way represents the opinion or position of my past or present employer.

I welcome comments.


Live Network TV Accelerating Their Own Demise?

25 10 2012

The Verizon FiOS Innovation Index: Borderless Lifestyle Survey released today shows that approximately 90% of consumers still prefer watching shows on their TV but headlines the section “All Consumers Still Love Watching Live TV”.  I’d like to understand what consumers like about live TV.  Yesterday I was channel surfing and stopped on Bravo to check up on the latest cast of the Real House Wives of Beverly Hills.  It happened to be a commercial break and I literally could not sit through, it seemed to go on for 15 minutes.  Last night I recorded the latest episode of Law and Order and watched it latter in the evening. It took me less than 35 minutes to watch after fast forwarding through the commercials/promos.  How many times do they have to push in your face that Chicago Fire follows?

Except for sports, live TV programming is becoming unwatchable.  Networks are are cramming their shows full of promotions for other programming and commercials and in the process abusing their audience and driving them to the use of DVRs and other on-demand sources.

In the long run the impact is going to be a decrease in the effectiveness of live television as an advertising medium.  Nielsen may count DVR viewership of a program in its data but it’s hard to justify that an ad viewed in fast forward is as effective as a live TV view.  Live TV needs to reinvent its ad model and quickly if it wants to continue to capture a large share of advertising dollars. Creative use of product placement, social media tie-ins with advertisers, and high impact sponsorships are are all options that networks should be aggressively exploring.

I tend to view broadcast networks as one of the greatest spectator stadiums ever invented.  There has never been a more successful venue for building successful entertainment properties – the NFL, Cheers, 60 Minutes, Jeopardy, Survivor, American Idol etc. have all been built on the back of the audiences that network audiences deliver.  If networks are going to continue these successes they need to find a more effective way to monetize or they will drive the audiences away for their advertisers in droves.

Ooyala Video Index Report – Where’s the meat?

20 09 2012

Ooyala released their Video Index Report today via Barrons unfortunately there is very little data in the Barrons release and even less on the Ooyala site.  This is disappointing considering that Ooyala generates their report from “the anonymized viewing habits of nearly 200 million unique viewers in more than 130 countries every month…”, they have the ability to assemble critical insights into online video viewing habits.

The lead statistic is that the viewing of video on tablets grew 47% in a single quarter. An impressive statistic on its own but what percent of overall video viewing does this represent and a 47% increase off what base?  It should also be noted that Ooyala is not likely to capture data from some of the most highly trafficked video portals including Google properties which according to the latest comScore data has approximately 3 times the unique views as its nearest rival.

The Ooyala report states that more than 60% of video viewing online is long-form content.  This is a surprisingly high number considering the enormous share YouTube has of online video viewing.  It may have been more interesting for Ooyala to include a trend number in this release so that this number would have more context.

Ooyala is well positioned to generate some great statistical insights on where the online video space is heading but I hope that in future they’ll give us more data so that there is meaningful support for the headlines.

Romney sensitive about our sensitive planet?

31 08 2012

I liked Romney’s speech except for this statement “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.” Smells to me like short term pandering rather that putting what’s best for the planet (and therefore our Grandchildren) first. I hope he is sensitive to the needs of our sensitive planet.

Binge-watching, too much of a good thing?

27 08 2012

I was reading a GiGaom article by Liz Shanon Miller about Why Arrested Development on Netflix could change everything and it got me thinking about the subject of binge-watching and whether it was good or not for the future of quality in-home entertainment.  The advent of the DVR and the availability of DVDs of television entertainment have enabled a new phenomenon that has been sweeping the country for the past ten years – binge-watching.  My household has certainly been guilty of it.  First my eldest son turned my wife and I onto Dexter via the first season DVD.  This progressed from a series one binge into a Dexter addiction that continues to this day.  Next was Mad Men which again was fueled by a DVD buying spree.  There’s something comforting knowing that Elisabeth Moss is ready and available in a little plastic case by your bedside.  My wife is currently on a Game of Thrones binge, enabled by the DVR.  Initially she dismissed Game of Thrones as one of the weird show that I like to watch but subsequently changed her mind when our elder son started reading the books and including it on his must-see-tv schedule.

Now Netflix is feeding this binge behavior not only with previously aired content but with their own funded fair.  So the question is whether binge-watching is good for the future of quality television entertainment or will it lead to its demise?  I have mixed thoughts.  On the one hand it gives quality episodic television a chance to be discovered and to build a fan base.  Shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad may not have made it past their third season without the growing fan base that binge-watching fueled.  For pay-tv networks like Showtime and HBO binge-watching must be a goldmine.  Not only do they profit from DVD sales but also from the increased likelihood that someone will subscribe to their network for future series.  Binge-viewing could be significantly helping drive the financial success of quality drama programming on pay-tv channels and that is why we are seeing more of it on these network – note STARZ aggressive participation in recent years.

What about on free-to-air or basic cable channels, is binge-watching likely to have the same results?  I think it is unlikely given a number of factors.  The first is that these networks’ brands aren’t as consistent in what they represent as the pay-tv channels and therefore there’s not as much incremental benefit to the network.  Breaking Bad may be a quality dramatic series but is unlikely to make me tune into other AMC shows.  Also binge-watching is often fed by a DVR and basic cable channels are fueled by advertising dollars.  Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad had this to say about binge-watching on a recent (Monday, August 20, 2012) KCRW interview (note that this quote is referenced in the Liz Shanon Milller article):

It’s wonderful, but I do see the worry — this is a business, it’s show business and if there’s no money to be made, then this wonderful job I have and other jobs like it are going to dry up. So we should all be interested in how they monetize this stuff. It’s wonderful when people binge-watch the show — I say have at it — but I do see the companies, not just ours, the various companies concerned that if you’re binge-watching on a DVR, you’re skipping all the commercials. And if the guys who buy the commercials realize that all their commercials are being skipped, they’re going to stop buying commercials.

So binge-watching may help build your fan base but if those fans are not being impacted by the advertising then future ad dollars will not be funding more quality programming.  Maybe we are heading down a path of all quality dramatic programming migrating to a pay wall.

Online video ads – a “banner” year?

15 08 2012

This could be the year that that online video advertising gains mainstream credibility.  Having been adopted by YouTube, pre-roll video ads appear to be establishing themselves as a standard ad unit and consumers are becoming accustomed to a pre-roll being the price you pay for content that’s been recommended.  According to TubeMogul CPMs for pre-roll video ads are continuing to increase even as  inventory increases. For top tier publishers rates for spots sold in real-time  generated a CPM of $10.19, up from $9.93 in the first half of the year.

The fact that online video ad rates are continuing to increase while inventory is increasing is a good indication that online video advertising is getting the attention of mainstream media budgets.  Great news for the online video business!

Thanks to Ryan Lawler at TechCrunch for his coverage of this data.

Marketing is Dead?

14 08 2012

Blogging is distracting me from the view

An alarmist headline on a blog posting designed to attract readers or a statement based in fact? “Marketing is Dead” is the headline on a HBR blog posting by Bill Lee of Lee Consulting Group and although he raises some good points, marketing is far from dead and I believe it may be entering a golden era.

Marketers over the past decade have faced challenges on many fronts especially from declining audience engagement in their advertising messages.  Engagement in is being decimated by proliferation of cable channels, the advent of the DVR and the competition for engagement presented by Internet platforms and devices.  These well established trends are here to stay and will continue to gain momentum as the consumer increasingly engages on platforms other than the television.   Generally, consumers are now not turning on the TV to get their information about  the products and services that they desire, want or need but they are engaging online with trusted sites, friends, apps, games and trusted opinion leaders.  At no time in history has there been a bigger opportunity for Marketers who really understand the value there product or services offers to build a relationship with an audience and lead them to purchase.

Online and social channels offer the opportunity to tell your brand and sales story and leverage influencers and community marketing like never before.  Marketers now have the opportunity to get powerful video messaging directly to well-defined audiences in an environment where the prospect is receptive and actively shopping.  And it’s now just 30 second brand or promotional video.  Digital channels give us the opportunity to tell a story about our brand and customize video messages to the interests of the prospect.

 I’m more inclined to think that “Sales is Dead” as opposed to marketing.  Consumers are doing their buying research online,  the hidden sales cycle by Abeerdeen Group illustrates this phenomena. Buy the time consumers engage with a sales person they know the product that fits their needs and the price they expect to pay.  This significantly reduces the value of a sales person.  Marketing should have the overall vision to attract and nurture a prospect through the sales cycle and to rally the right resources to engage audience s through social channels. 

The next 20 years should be the golden era of marketing if marketers rise to the challenge of utilizing the power of these new platforms to truly engage with audiences and lead them through the purchase funnel with customized communications designed to entice them.  Digital marketing, unlike more traditional forms, has the ability to be quantifiable.  I have no doubt that Marketers who leverage these digital channels to generate consistently positive and accountable ROI will elevate the marketing function and establish a new golden era for the role.