Long before we get to TV Everywhere, it looks as if we will have to lurch our way through "Some-TV-Somewhere-For-Some-Of-You-Sometime." Case in point, the mostly frustrating WatchESPN iPhone app that dropped last week and is only useful for customers of Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS and Verizon high speed Internet. For the rest of us, it is closer to TV-Let's-Wait-And-See.
The app is designed to give live access to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN 3. Once you jump through the hoops. The authentication procedure, even for customers of the viable systems is a multi-platform affair. You have to go to a Web address to create an account and enter the credentials on the device.
And then there are the many caveats and exceptions. Verizon broadband customers actually only get one channel. Local blackouts will apply according to where your cell phone is at the time. Monday Night Football is not covered by the current licensing agreement, so you won't get that on iPhone but you can watch online or on a tablet. "Due to rights differences, Monday Night Football is only available on ESPNnetworks.com and the WatchESPN application on tablets," according to the lengthy FAQ of exceptions and limitations, you may get blurred MLB clips or a loss in sound when you are watching SportsCenter on your mobile device. "The blurring/muting is required to honor the digital rights ESPN has been granted for the content which - in rare cases - differs from those rights granted for traditional TV usage." The Zats Not Funny! Blog was first to notice these weird licensing rights gymnastics and quotes from the FAQ fully.
We found even sampling the video on the iPhone app frustrating. After a couple of days the "free preview" expired and the app kicked us over to sign in to our myESPN account. Doing so had no effect on our inability to see anything but the program grid.
You have to wonder whether launching a supposed "TV Everywhere" app with such limited coverage and diverse caveats serves to entice, tease or just put off potential viewers. In the sample time we did get to see, we dropped into long ad pods that played on the iPhone as empty variations of "Please Stand By" screens.The fight over digital rights has suddenly become a public issue that somehow resembles Congressional haggling over the budget. Everyone understands there are real and important issues at the heart of it all, but the public face of it feels petty and counterproductive. As content owners and cable companies now take to the courts over rights, and the restrictions are clearly visible in the products we consume, the parties are trying to position themselves on the side of the consumer in the court of public opinion. It leaves many of us feeling frustrated and wondering when a grown up will come into the room at last and settle all of this. And it makes one wonder if brands are damaging themselves with half-attempts at pleasing only small segments of the user base. Or is TV Everywhere just like the national deficit. Everyone knows the tough job that needs to be done to achieve a necessary and inevitable end. No one can agree on how to get there.