Long reads


DTVE Channels 2011: Access all areas

As viewers become accustomed to watching video on multiple devices, channel operators must ensure their content can be viewed on as many platforms as possible.

The popularity of tablets and smartphones has given new impetus to multi-device distribution of content. Many broadcasters have developed an online presence, struck video-on-demand deals with existing or new distributors and are looking to take advantage of the proliferation of smartphones and tablets to extend awareness of their brands. However, few currently view over-the-top distribution, whether via the web or smartphones – or even video-on-demand on cable and IPTV services – as a strong revenue-earning opportunity for now. And most are looking to develop on new platforms in partnership with existing pay TV distributors.

“What makes this business interesting is that every country is different,” says MGM Networks International president Bruce Tuchman. Whether to go off-net and strike deals with over-the-top providers is something that should be weighed against the strength of the existing distribution model in a particular market. “Our goal is to extend the business and get it to as many people as possible. We are creating assets and driving increasing revenues, but you have to be very conscious of your existing pay platforms if you are in business with them,” says Tuchman. He sees relatively little evidence that OTT players offer a better opportunity than existing distributors in any of the markets in which it is present, but he points out that a number of years ago industry executives were having similar conversations about IPTV, and before that the conversation was about the prospects for DTH players going up against established cable operators.

In terms of extending the availability of content (and the channel brand) to new devices such as iPads and smartphones, Tuchman says that “it’s important for us to know what’s going on with these devices – it’s the subject of a lot of intense analysis right now – but it’s still early days. These are not huge revenue opportunities – but they might be in the future.”

For the most part, MGM Networks’ involvement so far is focused on the ‘TV Everywhere’ services being trialled or rolled out by cable operators and others. Tuchman says that the company looks at extending rights to these on a case-by-case basis. “Security and authentication is important. Everyone is focused on the same things. If any of these technologies are to be deployed they have to be deployed in a secure and sensible manner,” he says.

According to Paul Robinson, global CEO and founder of children’s channel KidsCo, the company is seeing an increasing demand from operators for VOD content. It has around five VOD deals in place “and that is growing” says Robinson. “The non linear elements is absolutely becoming more significant. It’s not a significant part of the revenue but it is an important part of the overall consumer offer.”

Far from achieving additional revenue from non-linear platforms, there is a risk that such activity could actually prove costly. Rights need to be negotiated with the content owners and then channel operators have to be able to physically deliver that content in the correct format for each operator’s VOD platform. KidsCo benefits from operating a completely tapeless workflow – it delivers everything digitally. But, says Robinson, the multitude of formats in the digital video world means transcoding costs can be significant. “One of the challenges of digital media is that there are so many different standards, and transcoding costs can be prohibitive, particularly for smaller platforms. We try and move towards a common standard and we want to work with platforms that want to do that as well.”

 

We will have a pure Euronews app which will be the same for iPad, iPhone and Android devices.

Michael Peters, Euronews

 

Transcoding issues aside, Robinson is adamant that its pay TV partners are best placed to deliver non-linear services.  “In  a world where there is so much choice and clutter, there is value in having a platform provider locally in the market who provides internet, telephony and TV,” he says. “Our role is to support that relationship and provide the platform with content and a service that will enhance their customer experience. I don’t think creating our own [online] platform is on the agenda at the moment.

Robinson also sees value in creating apps as a way of boosting brand recognition. It has already created an iPad app for the Korean market in partnership with operator CJ Hellovision. The channel expects to forge similar partnerships in Europe but Robinson points out that rather than developing bespoke apps for each market, it will localise common apps.

“We want to develop apps that can help to localise the brand but are also transferable to other platforms. For example, the fact that TiVo is deployed in the UK and Spain will allow you to create an app that works on both platforms. You don’t want to create a bespoke app for each market,” he says.

Marketing tool

For most channel suppliers, non-linear digital initiatives are still essentially seen as marketing tools extending brand awareness and driving interest back to the linear channel. This certainly applies to social media. “Social networking is a very strong tool for our marketing and PR efforts,” says Jesús Perezagua, president, Fox International Channels Europe and Africa. “It’s an important part of all our promotional plans and it allows us to reach and connect with our viewers – and for viewers to connect with our brands – in a uniquely personal and immediate way. We will continue to experiment with new ways to build this direct connection between viewers and our channels.”

Social media also has a role in the marketing of adult content, despite the fact that viewers are often looking for discretion. European adult content aggregator Marc Dorcel has embraced social media. “In the adult industry, we cannot use traditional communication means, such as TV campaigns. Therefore we have to follow different paths and be creative,” says managing director Gregory Dorcel.

The fact that adult content users generally wish to remain anonymous means the web has actually become a core marketing tool for Marc Dorcel. “We work hard on creating a relationship with the users. Our products are not traditional and our audience often wishes to remain anonymous, so the web and social networks allow this and offers a real mode of expression for them and for us,” says Dorcel.

Last year, for example, the company launched a “crowd funding” project, calling on the web community to help fund the production of an adult movie, with contributors being offered the chance to make key decisions in the production process. “It allowed thousands of web users to co-produce an adult movie,” says Dorcel.

For all the major channel providers, maintaining relationships with existing pay TV distributors remains paramount, however. There is little appetite to go over-the-top independently of existing affiliate relationships.

“I think we are primarily in the business of supplying quality video channels to longstanding video distribution partners,” says Sean Cohan, senior vice-president, A+E Networks International. “We’ve got to be thoughtful about managing potential conflicts and making sure all of these work in mutually beneficial ways. You want to learn about what works on the web and you want to promote your brand to existing and new consumers. It’s a mix of appealing to old and new viewers and serving your cause on your linear channels. We need existing platform partners to be successful. We also recognise there are alternative providers out there and we may work with them but we need to be cognisant of the core linear offering.”

Gaining revenues from multiplatform and non-linear distribution is still in its very early stages. Nevertheless, Dean Possenniskie, managing director, Europe at A+E Networks, says that the company’s experience on the Sky Anytime service in the UK shows that there is potential to build premium advertising inventory as well as promote the brand. “We are beginning to see premium advertising rates and viewers on our Anytime offering,” says Possenniskie. “We tend to put shows in there that are franchises in themselves and build the brand that way – such as Ice Road Truckers or Pawn Stars. We’ve seen our viewership increase but it’s been accompanied by substantial growth in viewing on our linear channels as well.”

For Sony Entertainment Network, which focuses on the South-Asian market internationally, the case for and against the OTT model is not quite so cut and dry. “I don’t think that it is a simple one or the other in our market. It is important to form partnerships and carriage deals with existing pay TV providers as they would have access to the largest customer base and be able to offer the full service that subscribers would expect,” says Neeraj Arora, executive vice-president and head of international business, Sony Entertainment Network. “However, I also see the relevance of developing a bespoke in-house service to reach our target demographics where they are possibly not as highly represented in the UK and western Europe.”

In Spain, Eduardo Zulueta, managing director of Chello Multicanal, reports that the Liberty Global-owned channel provider, having had considerable success in developing its brand online and then as smartphone apps (particularly for its popular Canal Cocina cooking channel), is now looking to launch an iPad app in October. “The Cocina smartphone app is by far the most successful thing we have done,” says Zulueta. “In terms of OTT, we are working hand in glove with the distribution platforms and we believe in TV everywhere initiatives. We are doing everything we can to support that so that our linear channel and on-demand content is available to our subscribers on all the screens they might want.” However, he says, Multicanal’s research shows that its viewers still prefer to watch the linear channel.

In the news

News, where reach is paramount and the web has already long been seen as a substitute for linear TV, is clearly a genre that lends itself to multi-device distribution. France 24 claims to have been the first TV channel to offer live broadcasting on the iPhone, having launched a free streaming service in three languages in March 2009. It now offers apps on iPads, Android and WP7 devices as well as on Philips connected TVs. The move into the multiscreen space has been a natural one, according to Frank Melloul, France 24’s head of strategy, development and public affairs, who says it is in keeping with the lifestyles of the channel’s viewers: “We cater for a demanding audience that is constantly on the move and who needs to stay informed of all the latest news and business developments wherever they are in the world,” he says.

The services are certainly proving popular, with over two million France 24 smartphone apps having been downloaded by February 2011. Moving forward, the broadcaster is planning to better integrate its apps across different devices. “We expect the upcoming release of an application based on smartphones, tablets and connected TVs that offers a multi- and cross-screen experience,” says Melloul.

For Casey Harwood, senior vice-president, Turner Europe, a key recent trend has been the emergence of user-generated content as an important element in the newsgathering mix and as a way to bring channels closer to their viewers. Turner’s CNN has developed its iReport platform to solicit user-generated content. The next likely innovation, he believes, will be location-based mobile apps, delivering location-specific feeds to mobile users. “We are looking at the whole travel vertical and what that means for us with regards to where we can add value,” says Harwood.

On the multi-device front more generally, Harwood says that Turner, in common with other pay TV channel providers, will look at ‘TV Everywhere’ initiatives in partnership with existing distribution partners. “If we feel the need to augment that it’s something we will do but always in tandem with the pay TV provider,” he says. However, in less developed pay TV markets, he says the company could look to do more – but only in a way that boosts its linear channels.

Another news broadcaster, pan-European channel provider Euronews, is planning to launch a unified Euronews application for iOS and Android devices, as well as an app specifically designed for people on the move. The pan-European news broadcaster has already delivered apps related to specific content – specifically its No Comment TV YouTube channel and a Euronews Live app – but this will be the first time it has launched a universal app providing access to all its content.

“We are working on two apps,” says CEO Michael Peters. “We will have a pure Euronews app which will be the same for iPad, iPhone and Android devices. We are also working on an app just for the iPhone – Euronews Express – for people in a hurry.”

Euronews is also working with Google to run a series of live interviews of major figures who will relate questions posted by citizens on the internet. The first in the series will be with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso. For Peters, the key to multi-device distribution is to provide content that matches the context in which it is viewed.