TV Everywhere: Going Nowhere?

Almost every month, pay TV providers and content owners around the world launch or expand their TV Everywhere (TVE) efforts with near metronomic regularity. Just in the past several weeks, Discovery Communications launched its own app/channel, ESPN rolled out a TV Everywhere app for Latin America and Russia’s MTS revealed its TVE service for mobile devices and PCs.

Yet for all the activity, a new report from Adobe raises questions about how TVE efforts are faring. In its Digital Index Q3 Digital Video Report, Adobe noted how TVE is growing modestly, with “active viewership” up 8 percent year-over-year in terms of unique households. Penetration among pay TV households is at 12-14 percent after roughly five years of effort. Other surveys suggest that the majority of pay TV households don’t even know TVE exists. There seems to be little sense of urgency among pay TV providers to promote TVE.

No surprise, then, that while Adobe’s media company clients racked up 134 billion online video views in the third quarter, they registered only 3.6 billion TVE “authentications,” or logins.

It’s not as if TV households are unable to access TVE apps. Between smart TVs, media players like Apple TV, smartphones and tablets, consumers have no shortage of access devices. What has hobbled TVE is fragmented access to content. Different rules govern how content can be accessed out of the home so that cable, satellite and IPTV services can’t seamlessly duplicate their channels beyond the set-top box, let alone provide access to content that is no longer on the air but still of interest to viewers.

Meanwhile, content owners such as HBO, CBS, Fox and Discovery, have created their own TVE apps that allow authenticated users access to content—sidestepping pay TV provider apps. For consumers to reconstruct a full cable TV lineup on their smart TVs, media players or mobile devices means accumulating numerous apps and bouncing between them—not necessarily an efficient way to channel surf.

Despite these hurdles, offering authenticated access to content on numerous devices is an important strategy for pay TV providers hoping to retain customers. Indeed, of all the things that keep Netflix executives up at night, it’s the growth of TVE that apparently scares them the most.

“We’ve always been most scared of TV Everywhere as the most fundamental threat,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings recently told Bloomberg News. “You get all this incredible content that the ecosystem presents on demand for your same $80 a month. Yet the inability of that ecosystem to execute on that, for a variety of reasons, has been troubling.”

Most of this inability has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with licensing—difficulties which will almost certainly be overcome if more consumers cut the cord, or never plug one in in the first place.