With some of the smartest engineers around working in cable, a quick rollout of the TV Everywhere movement would seem to be a foregone conclusion. Instead, the process remains slow with the various factions looking to secure – shocker! – as much money as possible now, which would put them in position to get even more later.
The technology is there. Flipping the switch on a system that allows cable subscribers to watch TV anytime, anywhere as long as they can prove – or authenticate -- that they pay for TV service seems easy.
But, while networks appear to recognize the opportunity, they are loath to allow cable and satellite operators to make their programming available ubiquitously. And, while the operators may be more eager to move, they don’t all exactly seem to have McKinsey-worthy plans.
“It may not surprise you to know that each of our major distributors sees authentication somewhat differently,” Scripps Networks’ John Lansing told investors this week with an apparent touch of sarcasm. “But, we’re working to unify that strategy for ourselves.”
Top network executives want operators to pay them rights fees, but they also express wariness that TV Everywhere could cost them ad dollars. They say there isn’t an adequate system to measure viewing that would take place on computers, iPads or other devices, which advertisers would accept and then pay for.
There are compelling reasons for a network to steer clear of TV Everywhere to protect ad dollars, but the frequent complaints about a less-then-sturdy measurement system have lost some heft.
Since late April, Nielsen has had an Extended Screen system in place that can capture viewing on TV and computers and meld it into a single C3 rating – the currency that drives the national market.
This seems to go largely unnoticed. And, it is largely untried.
“There’s a lot of variables in there, there’s politics, there’s technology, there’s history,” said Nielsen senior vice president Brian Fuhrer.
There also appears to be significant misunderstanding among buyers and sellers about how Extended Screen works.
Maybe a “C3 Plus” brand would generate more interest.
The Nielsen system does measure Macs as well as PCs. It does measure laptop viewing out of the home. It can capture viewing on multiple computers in a home. Its panel size is not a speck: 10,000 homes, which is about half of Nielsen’s national TV panel.
Turner may be the only programmer to sign on for the measurement stream, though Fuhrer said announcements about others are coming soon.
Carping about Nielsen is part of a network’s DNA and Extended Screen has downsides. Most prominently, it cannot capture viewing on iPads or other mobile devices, though Nielsen says most cross-platform viewing occurs on a computer.
Extended Screen also requires an episode or broadcast to have the exact same commercial structure on-air as online. That means the same amount of commercials and ads running in the same spots.
A network must also bear the expenses involved in setting up the infrastructure to allow Nielsen to track the cross-platform viewing.
For many networks, it also hardly makes sense from a business standpoint to go with the aggregated C3 number and attach a single CPM to it. Networks can earn more money by selling online ads separately, where CPMs can be higher.
ESPN believes its various online streaming initiatives carry distinct value, allowing opportunities for interactivity and better engagement. MTV may get a load of viewers watching “Jersey Shore” online the day after air, but can probably land more revenues by selling digital views discretely.
For smaller networks, there may not be enough added online views to make it financially worthwhile to pay Nielsen for the service. However, Turner’s head of research, Jack Wakshlag, told MediaPost in June that online use will grow over time and Turner is benefiting from the incremental C3 growth.
In an average week across all networks, not many shows are eligible for an Extended Screen C3. Perhaps between 20 to 40.
Extended Screen draws its combined rating from a panel of about 10,000 homes – a figure just reached this week – which is a subset from its national TV panel of approximately 22,000.
Viewing on both Apple and PCs is captured. It can be measured whether a viewer watches an episode on a network Web site, Hulu or anywhere else on the Web.
The Nielsen system also offers an element of out-of-home viewing: when a person watches an online stream on a metered laptop, it is counted regardless of where it takes place.
Nielsen’s Fuhrer said viewing on multiple computers in a home is measured, though there are some software issues that can be a tripwire.
Nielsen is moving to add measurement of iPads and smartphones to the system. “Clearly our clients have made it clear that’s a priority and we’re working hard on it,” Fuhrer said.
What is not counted is VOD viewing on TV, even if the commercial structure is the same. Nielsen offers ratings for that through a different stream.
Perhaps that will be melded in down the road towards some type of single-source metric. For now, not many people seem to appreciate there is a road at all, whether it's considered to have potholes or not.