When it comes to the unfortunately named “TV Everywhere” concept, most consumers apparently are puzzled. As my colleague Wayne Friedman reported the other day, a survey by video search firm RAMP found that a pathetic 4% of TV service subscribers even know their own login and authentication information needed to access whatever assets their provider offers online or via devices. Not that it would do most of them any good -- since 82% of those asked don't even know that “TV Everywhere” means. Although the number remains low, RAMP does say that a higher share of people recognize the concept of “TV Everywhere” when it is described without the nomenclature. Still, their poll suggests just how much the industry is wringing its hands over services that few consumers know, let alone crave.
It is easy enough to pile on to MSOs and their halting embrace of cross-platform services. Logging in to your own TV “account” is a bother even to those of us who have the information. A lot of these systems lose the information too easily and force you to resubmit too often. And the nature of the access and content available is just too uneven to make a strong case for jumping through the hoops to begin with. I have no idea why HBO is fine with authenticating me and my Dish account on any platform but ESPN/Disney is not. And as the multiple comments to the report of that survey attest, frustration with authentication and rights limitations are common, even among those who want it to work.
All that said, however, I have to stand up for the minority position. When TV Everywhere works, I think it has the potential to change the way we treat the medium. I have had the Dish system with its Hopper for more than six months, and its iPad and iPhone apps permanently altered my habits.
Knowing that I have full access to my satellite box, its live and recorded functionality at all times and places turns prime time into podcasting. At the front end, it is now second nature to grab one of the Dish Anywhere apps on a device to schedule a recording. It allows me to respond immediately to an online or on-air show promo. My DVR is now piled high with saved content, so that we have many alternatives to a ho-hum prime-time schedule. We now miss less good TV and are able to push out mediocre programming with stuff we enjoy more.
I am also able to push a wider range of programming to more available media consumption spots in my day. My smartphone and tablets are now truly portable TVs and I use them that way. My wife dislikes edgy and violent content. But now I can push that material out of the prime-time zone that she and I share to solo viewing times like my daily stair climber aerobics. When there is a breaking news event, I can access my live TV stream on a companion screen while I continue working.
To be sure, this works because Dish is among the most advanced -- even daring -- of service providers. Their app suite is getting better with each update, and the company just announced even more TV Everywhere functionality at CES.
I would argue that “TV Everywhere” does not really cover what ubiquitous access to your TV service means. As the technologies penetrate habits, TV content itself becomes malleable. I don’t tune in to shows so much as subscribe to them and then push the content into different and appropriate viewing opportunities. It is not a matter of watching more content or even “what I want when I want it.” The end result is consuming more good content and having less patience with mediocrity. The DVR did part of that job, but cross-device access makes the content even more flexible. What we are seeing is the final untethering of media from specific technologies, times and places. We become able to make content decisions across multiple axes now -- content type matched against a range of different contexts and times.
Perhaps there is a conceptual difference here between the “TV Everywhere” and “Everywhere TV.” The former chauvinistically presumes that the technology just ports the same old prime-time experience anywhere. The latter acknowledges that a new flexibility in the conditions of consumption may actually expand and elevate our expectations of the content.