Commentary

Live Network Streaming: Simply Baffling

CBS just announced that starting now, Cablevision subscribers can live stream CBS wherever they are, on whatever device they want.  Whoop-de-doo.

That’s only true if a Cablevision subscriber is in areas where CBS actually owns the local station outright, but nonetheless, a Cablevision subscriber can now visit Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore, and watch CBS live. 

Of course, that customer can also do that in New York, where most of Cablevision’s subscribers are.

This is not that big of a deal. Already cable/telco/satellite subscribers can watch ABC or NBC live if they, like CBS, they live in cities where there’s a network owned and operated station.

So this is a kind of a live TVEverywhere deal with an asterisk that should read, *Not Really Everywhere.

CBS All Access does provide live TV everywhere (plus a library of old programs), but it costs $6 a month. 

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Still, the Cablevision deal is another tipping point, another indicator of how major content providers are coming to grips with the alternative universe of devices, as Nielsen measurement devices get set to size up viewership on tablets and smartphones and everything else.

It would seem that the biggest value streaming has to most viewers isn’t really the “live TV” experience--who cares you watch “The Good Wife” at 9 pm on Sundays?--but that you can watch fresh episodes or the news, in real time.  (Sure, you’d also like to watch the NFL games on CBS. But that’s restricted.)

There seems to be consumer resistance to TVEverywhere no matter how attractive and convenient it may be. That’s because it sounds complex though in reality is as simple as getting the concept behind "Wheel of Fortune."  

Hub Research earlier this year gave results of its study show over half the potential TVEverywhere users don’t do it because they don’t know it exists or assume it costs something. 

But if you get past consumers like those who are just unaware, you find resistance from people who do know it exists and resist it anyway.  Those viewers say the complexity stops them from using TVEverywhere, and 49% say they choose simpler options for viewing TV online, such as Netflix or Hulu.

I do wonder if broadcast and cable networks recognize how complicated they make online viewing seem to the average viewer who isn’t taking notes.

For example, while I’m pretty sure the online guide to WatchABC is meant to be helpful, its instructions seem to be out of a NASA op center. The guide seems to consider almost every way someone might want to watch the network, thereby confusing the hell out of all of them.

Consider this Q&A bit from the ABC Website explaining, in this case, how to find a show that aired on ABC recently if you don’t get cable/satellite feed of ABC:

"If I don't have a participating TV provider account, where can i watch full episodes of my favorite shows?"

Answer: "If you don’t have a subscription with a participating TV provider, you can still see several recent episodes on WATCH ABC. You only need to sign in to view the most recently aired episodes.

Remember, a VERIFY TO WATCH label and key symbol only appear on episodes that require users to sign in with a participating TV provider.

Many new episodes are also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video; or with a subscription to Hulu Plus.

On-demand viewing through a set-top box provider is another way to catch up on recently aired episodes.”

This is a lot to grasp if you are TVEveryone, and they just want to stream a TV show. Indeed, streaming, which should be simple, is made to seem like the tech equivalent of old-time rabbit ears. 

It won’t always be that way, but it is now. Every little bit, like the CBS deal with Cablevision, helps move the needle. But it will be a long time before many people choose to stream live TV, and by the time it happens, it’s possible no one will care anymore.

pj@mediapost.com


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