Analysis for 'Cable TV Operators'

  • VideoNuze Podcast #171 - More on Zero-TV Homes, TV Everywhere's Embarrassment and Binge-Viewing

    I'm pleased to present the 171st edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. Leading us off today, Colin digs into Nielsen's new "zero-TV" homes data, part of its Q4 '12 Cross-Platform report. When Colin crunches the numbers, he concludes that the  U.S. pay-TV industry may have lost 1.1 million subscribers last year, who moved into the zero-TV category.  That would be above other estimates, which range from flat to down about 500K.

    Of course one of the industry's key initiatives to add value has been TV Everywhere, and on that front, there were refreshingly candid admissions this week from both David Levy, head of Turner's sales, distribution and sports, who said he was "embarrassed" at TV Everywhere's progress, and Lauren Zalaznick, NBCU's chairman, entertainment and digital networks, who said it's too confusing. Both are right, and there are other reasons as elaborated in the recent Ultimate Guide to TV Everywhere (free download).

    Contributing to the pressure on pay-TV providers is the ever-expanding range of quality content available online, and 2 more efforts surfaced this week, Conde Nast's new digital video network, and VEVO TV, a 24x7 music video network.

    Separate, Colin has released his excellent new white paper, "Second-Screen Apps for TV" (free download here)

    And a reminder to sign up for "Sizing Up Apple TV" a free video webinar on April 2nd featuring Brightcove's Jeremy Allaire and me.
        
    Listen in to learn more!

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  • Growth in "Zero-TV" Homes is Zero Surprise

    Nielsen's new Q4 '12 Cross-Platform Report has identified just over 5 million "zero-TV" homes in the U.S., as Nielsen calls them, an increase from 2 million in 2007. Not to be confused, these aren't homes without TVs (75% of them still have at least one); rather they are homes that don't receive programming over traditional platforms (i.e. pay-TV and broadcast). Instead, almost half of them (48%) opt for OTT services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and others for content.

    The growth in "zero-TV" homes should come as zero surprise. In fact, if there's anything surprising, it's that the number isn't already higher. But who these zero-TV homes are is less clear: are they cord-cutters or cord-nevers? The fact that almost half of them are under 35 suggests many are cord-nevers. Yet, the 2 main reasons for not subscribing to pay-TV (36% due to cost and 31% due to lack of interest) suggests many cord-cutters. Either way, with only 18% of them considering subscribing to pay-TV, most may well be "permanently cordless" and beyond the industry's promotional efforts.

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  • 5 Year-End Video Stories You May Have Missed

    Welcome to 2013! If you were mostly checked out over the past 1-2 weeks (or were only paying attention to the fiscal cliff roller coaster), you didn't miss a whole lot in the video world. However, there were 5 items that caught my attention which I briefly describe below:

    See the 5 items

     
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  • VideoNuze-TDG Podcast #157 - More Thoughts on Cord-Cutters and Cord-Nevers

    I'm pleased to present the 157th edition of the VideoNuze-TDG podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon, senior analyst at The Diffusion Group. This week we devote the full podcast to discussing TDG's new report, "Pay-TV Refugees - A Primary Research Profile of Cord-Cutters and Cord-Nevers."

    Colin notes that U.S. households with broadband service that don't subscribe to pay-TV have grown steadily in the last 3 years, and are forecast to continue doing so over the next 5 years. We dig into the main reasons behind this - affordability and relevance, particularly for younger consumers.

    As I wrote earlier this week, the fundamental question here is what broadband users - presented with a huge new diversity of online video choices, the rising cost of pay-TV and a proliferation of new viewing devices - will do? Admittedly it's still very early in the game and hard to predict what's ahead. But it does seem inevitable, given human behavior, that some percentage will peel off, either dropping pay-TV or not subscribing in the first place.

    All of this - and more - is on the table for discussion at next Wednesday morning's VideoSchmooze in NYC. More info here.

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  • Study: Cord-Cutters and Cord-Nevers Will Soar to 17.2 Million U.S. Homes by 2017

    New research from The Diffusion Group forecasts that the number of "pay-TV refugees" - U.S. homes subscribing to broadband, but not to pay-TV services - will increase 58%, from 10.9 million in 2012 to 17.2 million in 2017. Pay-TV refugees consist of both "cord-cutters" (homes that once subscribed to pay-TV, but no longer do) and "cord-nevers" (homes that have never subscribed to pay-TV). The percentage of broadband subscribers who are pay-TV refugees will increase from 12.5% in 2012 to 17.2% in 2017.

    Although it forecasts the number of cord-cutters to increase over the next 5 years, TDG's founding partner and director of research Michael Greeson believes the pay-TV industry's main concern should be with cord-nevers which will more than double during that period. Of the 17.2 million pay-TV refugees in 2017, TDG forecasts 40% or 6.9 million of them to be cord-nevers, up from 29%, or 3.2 million, in 2012.

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  • SNL Kagan Forecasting 10% of U.S. Homes Will Cut the Cord by 2015

    Researcher SNL Kagan is forecasting that 10% U.S. homes (12.1 million) will cut the cord on their pay-TV subscriptions by the end of 2015, substituting in over-the-top alternatives. At the end of 2011, 4% or 4.5 million homes will have done so. Still, Kagan sees pay-TV subscriptions actually increasing, though not at a rate fast enough to maintain current penetration levels (see yearly forecast after the break).

    Kagan isn't providing any additional profile information on these cord-cutters, but as I've said before, I think the most vulnerable buckets are the "cord-nevers" (i.e. college grads and others who simply don't sign up for pay-TV service in the first place) and entertainment-only viewers who don't care about live sports that are only available on cable TV channels.

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  • New Research Shows Netflix Is A Catalyst for Cord-Cutting and Cord-Shaving

    The Diffusion Group released interesting research yesterday which supports a view that I've had for a while: heavy Netflix streaming usage correlates with a propensity to cut back on pay-TV services. Although Netflix has strenuously tried to position itself as a low-priced compliment to pay-TV services, the reality is that for some pay-TV subscribers who have begun shifting their viewing hours to Netflix streaming, the two are more substitutes than compliments. As I've argued, these are primarily people who are entertainment-oriented, don't care about live sports, are comfortable with on-demand, not live-viewing, are budget-constrained, or some combination of all of these.

    The headline of the research is that the number of Netflix streamers considering downgrading their pay-TV service doubled year-over-year from 16% to 32%. But to me the key nugget is that among those who said they are likely to downgrade or eliminate their pay-TV service, 61% of moderate to heavy Netflix streamers cite online video usage as the top reason for doing so (with two-thirds of these citing Netflix specifically), while just 24% point to economic issues as their top reason. Conversely, for all Netflix streamers, almost half point to economic issues as their main reason (e.g. "cost of service" and "need to save money"), with just 34% pointing to online video usage as their top reason.

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  • 5 Items of Interest for the Week of Jan. 10th

    Even though I was very focused this week on the CES "takeaways" series, there was still plenty of news happening in the online and mobile video industries. So as in the past, I'm pleased to offer VideoNuze's end-of-week feature highlighting 5-6 interesting online/mobile video industry news items that we weren't able to cover this week. Enjoy!

    Level 3 fights on in Comcast traffic dispute
    Level 3 is showing no signs of relenting on its accusations that Comcast is unfairly trying to charge the CDN for Internet traffic it delivers to Comcast's network. In an interview this week, Level 3 said it may use the "Open Internet" provisions of the FCC's new network neutrality rules to press its case. Level 3's challenge is coming at the 11th hour of the FCC's approval process of the Comcast-NBCU deal; it's not really clear if Level 3 is having any impact on slowing the approval, which appears imminent.

    Comcast-NBCU deal challenged over online video proposal
    Speaking of challenges to the Comcast-NBCU deal, word emerged this week that Disney is voicing concern over the FCC's proposed deal condition that would force Comcast to offer NBC programming to any party that had concluded a deal with one of NBC's competitors for online distribution. The Disney concern appears to be that the condition would have an undue influence on how the online video market evolves and how Disney's own deals would be impacted. While the FCC should be setting conditions to the deal, the Disney concerns highlights how, in a nascent, fast-moving market like online video, government intervention can cause unintended side effects.

    YouTube is notching 200 million mobile video views/day
    As if on cue with my CES takeaway #3, that mobility is video's next frontier, YouTube revealed this week that it is now delivering 200 million mobile views per day, tripling its volume in 2010. That would equal about 6 billion views per month, which is remarkable. And that amount is poised to increase, as YouTube launched music video site VEVO for Android devices. YouTube clearly sees the revenue potential in all this mobile video activity; it also said that it would append a pre-roll ad in Android views for tens of thousands of content partners.

    Google creates video codec dust-up
    Google stirred up a hornet's nest this week by announcing that it was dropping support for the widely popular H.264 video codec in its Chrome browser, in favor of its own WebM codec, in an attempt to drive open standards. Though Chrome only represents about 10% market share among browsers (doubling in 2010 though), for these users, it means they'll need to use Flash to view non-WebM ended video. There are a lot of downstream implications of Google's move, but for space reasons, rather than enumerating them here, check out some of the great in-depth coverage the issue has received this week (here, here, here, here).

    Netflix usage drives up Canadian broadband bills
    An interesting test of Canadian Netflix streaming showed that a user there might have to pay an incremental $12/month under one ISP's consumption cap. That would be more than the $7.99/mo that the Netflix subscription itself costs, leading to potential cord-shaving behavior. This type of upcharge hasn't become an issue here in the U.S. because even ISPs that have caps have set them high relative to most users' current consumption. But if streaming skyrockets as many think it will, and the FCC allows usage-based billing, this could fast become a reality in the U.S. as well.


     
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  • 5 Items of Interest for the Week of Dec. 5th

    Once again I'm pleased to offer VideoNuze's end-of-week feature highlighting and discussing 5-6 interesting online/mobile video industry news items that we weren't able to cover this week. Read them now or take them with you this weekend!

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  • 5 Items of Interest for the Week of Nov. 15th

    After a short break, VideoNuze's Friday feature of curating 5-6 interesting online/mobile video industry news items that we weren't able to cover this week, returns today. Read them now or take them with you this weekend!

    Time Warner Cable Experiments With Lower Tier Video Package
    It's a rare day when a cable operator announces a lower-priced offering, but that's what Time Warner Cable did yesterday, unveiling a test of what it's calling "TV Essentials." The new tier, priced between $30-$40, will most notably exclude ESPN, the most expensive channel in the cable universe, meaning right away TV Essentials isn't targeted to sports fans. I've argued for a while now that pay-TV operators have ceded the low-priced/value-oriented end of the video market to Netflix (and others), which given the ongoing recession is a mistake. It will be interesting to see how the new bargain service fares; 2 things that will limit its appeal though are that no channels will be offered in HD, and that it appears those with broadband Internet and telephone services won't benefit from typical package discounts.

    Nielsen study: We're still a nation of couch pumpkins

    More evidence this week that despite all the deserved enthusiasm over online and mobile delivery, good old-fashioned TV viewing still rules in terms of hours of consumption. Nielsen said that the average person watched 143 hours of TV per month in Q2, essentially flat vs. a year ago. For homes with DVRs, hours of time watched on them nudged up a bit to about 24 1/2 hours. On a related note, this week comScore released its online video viewing data for October, which showed average viewing of 15.1 hours per person. While online video has made huge progress in the last few years, it still has a ton of room to grow to catch up with TV.

    More Videos Ads, More User Acceptance
    Speaking of the comparison between online video and TV, this week brought some interesting new data on monetization patterns for premium online video. Online video ad manager FreeWheel released data that showed mid-roll ads are the fastest-growing category of ads (up 693% since Q1), and now represent 8% of its ad volume. Completion rates have increased for pre, mid and post-roll ads this year, but notably mid-rolls have the highest completion rate, at 90%. FreeWheel's conclusion is that monetization of premium online video is starting to look a lot like TV, with ad pods inserted throughout. Going a step further, if viewer acceptance of mid-rolls stays high, then this represents a valuable opportunity for TV networks in particular to combat DVR-based ad-skipping.

    Startup Claims To Have Set-Top Hulu Can't Block
    It was inevitable that Hulu's decision to block access to its programs would set off a game of whack-a-mole, with various devices springing up to do end-arounds. Sure enough, the $99 Orb TV debuted this week, prominently positioning itself as the device that can bring Hulu (among other content) to your TV. One catch is that Orb streams video from your computer and only does so in standard definition. It addresses the "keyboard in the living room" challenge by also including a smartphone app to control the device. It's not a perfect solution, but it does provide a glimpse into the PR-unfriendly dynamic that Hulu, and the broadcast networks, have created for themselves by blocking access to their content by Google TV and others. No doubt there will be plenty more Orb-like devices to come to market in the months ahead, all positioning themselves as solving the blocking problem.

    Comcast's Top Digital Exec Amy Banse to Open New Silicon Valley Equity Fund for Cable Giant and NBC
    As Comcast enters the final stages of approval for its NBCU deal, the company this week announced a new NBCU management structure. One item that wasn't formally announced yet, but was reported by AllThingsD earlier this week was that Amy Banse, formerly head of Comcast Interactive Media (now headed by Matt Strauss), will be heading to Silicon Valley to run the combined operations of Comcast's current Comcast Interactive Capital venture arm, and NBCU's current Peacock Equity (a JV with GE). With all the distribution, technology and content assets that will be under the Comcast roof, the fund will be at the top of any online/mobile video startup's list of strategic investors. I've known Amy for a while and have enjoyed having her on industry panels; she'll be a huge asset to Comcast in the Valley venture world.
     
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  • How About Some Actual Data in the Cord-Cutting Debate?

    No sooner did SNL Kagan's press release, announcing that the U.S. pay-TV industry had lost 119K subscribers in Q3 '10, following a loss of 216K subscribers in Q2, hit the wire today, than the blogosphere was alight with a fresh round of posts that cord-cutting was to blame. This chorus was surely egged on by Kagan senior analyst Ian Olgeirson's remark in the press release that "it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss the impact of over-the-top substitution on video subscriber performance." That remark was a notable change of tone from Kagan's Q2 release which ascribed subscriber losses solely to the country's ongoing economic woes.

    Note however that Olgeirson only offered his opinion, rather than any actual, hard data from Kagan about cord-cutting's impact. That is characteristic of both sides of the current cord-cutting debate - lots of opining, but little-to-no reliable data. In my own Q3 analysis - in which I suggested that the pay-TV as a whole likely lost around 97K subscribers in Q3 (though the group of 8 of the top 9 pay-TV operators actually gained subscribers) - I noted that nobody truly knows the impact of cord-cutting, yet anyway.

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  • 5 Items of Interest for the Week of Oct. 25th

    Lots more happened this week in online/mobile video, and so to make your lives easier, VideoNuze is once again curating 5-6 interesting industry news items that we weren't able to cover this week. Read them now or take them with you this weekend!

    No Longer 'Must-See TV'
    The WSJ reported this week that Thursday night TV viewership (live or recorded) among 18-49 year-olds is down 4.3% this season to 48.5 million, a drop of 2.2 million viewers. For this age group, the drop across all nights (live or recorded) is 2.7%. While the decreases have immediate implications on networks' ad revenue, the bigger issue of course is what the drops say about shifting consumer preferences. For example, I continue to hear anecdotes about users with connected devices now tuning in first to their Instant Watch queues instead of channel surfing or visiting their DVR libraries or VOD. The Nielsen data corroborates other data (here, here) about the decline of TV viewing, especially among young people, and is another reason why broadcast networks in particular should be embracing connected devices like Google TV, not blocking them.
     

    CW Says Study 'Dispels Myth' About Aversion to Ads in Online Video
    Speaking of networks and their online distribution, this week CW released some interesting new data that detailed extremely low abandonment rates for its shows consumed online, even with ad loads almost equal to those on-air. While it is too early to generalize, the data provides a very encouraging sign that networks may be able to achieve parity economics with on-air, even when they window their online releases for delayed availability. It's also an important sign that online video may be a firewall against DVR-based ad-skipping.

    Comcast Launches Free Streaming Video Service Xfinity for All Digital Subs
    In addition to releasing stellar Q3 earnings this week (albeit with a bigger-than-expected subscriber loss), Comcast also pulled the "beta" label off its Xfinity TV service this week, and relaxed its rules about who can gain access. Now any video subscriber, regardless of who they take their broadband Internet service from, can access XFTV.

    Some began to speculate that it could be a precursor for Comcast allowing non-video subs to also gain access to XFTV. This is the concept I wrote about in over a year ago, in "How TV Everywhere Could Turn Cable Operators and Telcos Into Over-the-Top's Biggest Players." The idea is that TV Everywhere services like XFTV could be offered outside of Comcast's franchise areas to allow them to poach video subscribers from other pay-TV operators. It's still a fascinating concept, but nothing about Comcast's move this week suggests it's coming soon.

    Insight To Bow 50-Mbps Internet In Two Markets
    If you think all that Netflix and other long-form streaming is going to strain users' bandwidth, think again, as yet another cable operator/broadband ISP, 9th-largest Insight Communications unveiled plans for a speedy 50 megabit per second broadband tier. Big players like Comcast and Time Warner Cable have been offering this for a while already. It's still very pricey, but as some viewers shift more of their consumption to online and away from conventional TV viewing (see above), more bandwidth will be worth the price. Update - I missed this item, that over in the U.K. Virgin Media began taking sign-ups for a 100 Mbps broadband service. Net, net, last-mile bandwidth will keep expanding to meet increasing demand.

    Promoted Videos hit half a billion views
    Fresh evidence this week that YouTube is finding innovative ways to monetize its massive audience: the company's performance-based "Promoted videos" format achieved its 500 millionth view, just 2 years after being introduced. With Promoted videos, anyone uploading a video to YouTube (brand, content provider, amateur), can buy opportunities to have that video appear alongside relevant keyword-based searches in YouTube. It's a similar format to AdWords, and of course the video provider only pays when their video is actually clicked on. As I said recently, YouTube is becoming a much more important part of Google's overall advertising mix, while for many brands, YouTube's home page is fast-becoming the most desirable piece of online real estate.


     
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  • 6 Items of Interest for the Week of Oct. 18th

    It was another busy week for online/mobile video, and so VideoNuze is continuing its Friday practice of curating 5-6 interesting industry news items that we weren't able to cover this week. Read them now or take them with you this weekend!

    Networks block Google TV to protect themselves
    Yesterday news started breaking that ABC, CBS and NBC are blocking access by Google TV. There are numerous concerns being cited - potential disruption of advertising, encouraging cord-cutting, incenting piracy, diminished branding, unsatisfactory ad splits with Google, and general worry about Google invading the living room. Each item on its own is probably not enough to motivate the blocking action, but taken together they are. Still, doesn't it feel a little foolish that broadcasters would differentiate between a computer screen and a TV screen like this? For Google, it's more evidence that nothing comes easy when trying to work with Hollywood. I'm trying to find out more about what's happening behind the scenes.

    TWC Lines Up For ESPN Online Kick
    An important milestone for TV Everywhere may come as early as next Monday, as #2 cable operator Time Warner is planning to make ESPN viewing available online to paying subscribers. Remote access is part of the recent and larger retransmission consent deal between Disney and TWC. TV Everywhere initiatives have been slow to roll out, amid cable programmers' reluctance.  Further proving that remote authenticated access works and that it's attractive with a big name like ESPN would increase TV Everywhere's momentum.

    Hulu Plus, Take Two: How's $4.95 a Month?
    Rumors are swirling that Hulu may cut the price of its nascent Hulu Plus subscription service in half, to $4.95/mo. That would be a tacit recognition of Hulu Plus's minimal value proposition, largely due to its skimpy content offering. As I initially reported in August, over 88% of Hulu Plus content is available for free on Hulu.com. More important, Netflix's streaming gains have really marginalized Hulu Plus. Netflix's far greater resources and subscriber base have enabled it to spend far bigger on content acquisition. Even at $4.95, I continue to see Hulu Plus as an underwhelming proposition in an increasingly noisy landscape.

    Viacom Hires Superstar Lawyer to Handle YouTube Appeal
    Viacom is showing no signs of giving up on its years-long copyright infringement litigation against Google and YouTube. This week the company retained Theodore Olson, a high-profile appellate and Supreme Court specialist to handle its appeal. While most of the world has moved on and is trying to figure out how to benefit from YouTube's massive scale, Viacom charges on in court.

    Verizon to sell Galaxy Tab starting November 11th for $599.99
    Verizon is determined to play its part in the tablet computer craze, this week announcing with Samsung that it will sell the latter's new "Tab" tablet for $600 beginning on November 11th. The move follows last week's announcement by Verizon that it will begin selling the iPad on Oct. 28th, which was widely interpreted as the first step toward Verizon offering the iPhone early next year. Apple currently owns the tablet market, and it remains to be seen whether newcomers like the Tab can break through. For his part, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said on Apple's earnings call this week that all other tablets are "dead on arrival." Note, if you want to see the "Tab" and learn more about how connected and mobile devices are transforming the video landscape, come to the VideoSchmooze breakfast at the Samsung Experience on Wed., Dec. 1st.

    One-Third of US Adults Skip Live TV: Report
    A fascinating new study from Say Media (the entity formed from the recent merger of VideoEgg and Six Apart), suggesting that 56 million, or one-third of adult Internet users, have reduced their live TV viewership. The research identified 2 categories: "Opt Outs" (22 million) who don't own a TV or haven't watched TV in the last week and stream more than 4 hours/week, and "On Demanders" (34 million) who also stream more than 4 hours/week and report watching less live TV than they did a year ago. Not surprisingly, relative to Internet users as a whole, both Opt Outs and On Demanders skew younger and higher educated, though only the latter had higher income than the average Internet user. This type of research is important because the size of both the ad-supported and paid markets for live, first-run TV is far larger than catalog viewing. To the extent its appeal is diminishing as this study suggests poses big problems for everyone in the video ecosystem.


     
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  • 5 Items of Interest for the Week of Oct. 11th

    Continuing VideoNuze's Friday feature of highlighting 5-6 interesting online/mobile video industry stories that we weren't able to cover this week. Read them now or take them with you this weekend!

    JetBlue Unvails Ads Created By Mullen
    Take a moment to head over to YouTube today where JetBlue has bought out the top-of-page expanding banner for a hilarious new ad campaign, "You Above All," featuring a series of reality-style videos of New Yorkers in situations that mock the JetBlue competitors' service. The clever JetBlue campaign follows the head-turning Sylvester Stallone YouTube ad for "The Expendables" from a couple months ago and underscores the ascendance of YouTube as the #1 piece of online real estate for break-the-mold video campaigns for high-profile brands. Google is capitalizing on YouTube's appeal by featuring it prominently in its current "Watch This Space" ad campaign promoting the value of display advertising.

    Google TV Guns for Cable Deals
    And speaking of Google, with the recent introduction of Google TV, the company is reaching out to cable operators to ink integration deals similar to what it showcased with satellite operator Dish TV last week. Google TV offers tantalizing potential, particularly to smaller operators, to add Internet elements to their core video service, helping better compete with over-the-top entrants like Netflix. Conversely, as we saw this week with the funding/public launch of BNI Video (and in a series of separate product announcements coming next week), technology vendors are lining up to offer cable operators the ability to deliver their own Internet experiences. It's a very confusing time for cable operators, who must figure out whether to go it alone and invest heavily, or partner with a tech giant like Google.

    comScore Releases September 2010 U.S. Online Video Rankings
    comScore's video rankings for September yielded no big surprises, as Google/YouTube continued to be the dominant online video provider and Yahoo narrowly retook the #2 spot from Facebook. comScore changed the way it publicly reports its data this past June which has made it a little harder on independent analysts like me to show trending data as I used to do. Nonetheless, I'm hoping to have some new trending charts to share soon.

    Blip.tv Predicts Best Quarter Yet for Web Creators
    More encouraging news on the online video ad front, as video platform/distributor blip.tv said this week that Q4 '10 is on track to be its best quarter ever. Blip has been a very important player in bringing independent web series to market and its ability to monetize is a key driver of sustainability for many fledgling creators. Blip's news synchs with overall online video ad momentum in first half '10.

    Introducing the JW Player for Flash and HTML5
    Last month I wrote about how the open source JW Player is receiving 15K downloads per day. This week version 5.3 of the JW Player was released which integrates Flash and HTML5 into a single video player, using a unified JavaScript API. What that means is that anyone embedding the new player can seamlessly deliver either Flash or HTML5 video with the browser auto-detecting which playback mode to use. Since browsers and devices are still quite heterogeneous in what formats they support, initiatives like this help reduce friction in publishing and user experience.


     
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  • Are Pay-TV Providers Getting Hit By a Perfect Storm in Q3?

    The U.S. pay-TV industry, which as a whole lost multichannel video subscribers for the first time in Q2 '10, may be heading for a soft 3rd quarter as well. As Multichannel News reported yesterday, Time Warner Cable's CFO Rob Marcus said at a conference this week that Q3 "video net losses are pacing ahead" of where they were in Q3 '09. He attributed the downturn to recession-related factors of high unemployment, high home vacancy rates and slow new home formation. Though that's a fair explanation, it's only one element in a perfect storm pay-TV operators now find themselves battling.

    Aside from the above recession-related matters, pay-TV operators are also up against belt-tightening that's rooted in basic household economics. As Craig Moffett at Sanford Bernstein pointed out in a note last weekend, in the past 25 years, cable and satellite spending has increased from 1/2 of 1% of discretionary spending to 1.4%, a growth rate that's triple other household discretionary line items.

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  • Pay-TV Industry Loses Subscribers in Q2 '10 For First Time Ever; Cable Bears Brunt

    Research firm SNL Kagan is reporting today that the U.S. pay-TV industry (cable/satellite/telco) lost 216,000 multichannel TV subscribers in Q2 '10, the first time the industry as a whole has lost subscribers. Cable operators bore the brunt of the losses, dropping 711,000 subscribers, with Kagan saying 6 of the 8 operators reporting suffered record quarterly losses. By contrast, telcos added 414,000 subs in the quarter and satellite providers gained 81,000. The losses leave cable's industry share at 61%, down from 63.6% a year ago.



    Kagan analyst Mariam Rondeli ascribed the quarterly losses to low housing formation and high unemployment due to the ongoing recession, coupled with churn due to promotions from last year's broadcast digital transitions expiring. Rondeli pointed out that over-the-top video alternatives were not the cause. By comparison, the pay-TV gained 378,000 subscribers in Q2 '09, meaning there was a swing of 594,000 subscribers year-over-year. U.S. Pay-TV providers as a whole ended Q2 '10 with 100.1 million subscribers.

    Looking ahead, I've heard some murmurs that Q3 '10 could be softer than in prior years, again partially due to the recession, but also because seasonal college students' subscriptions  may be reduced due to over-the-top alternatives. While we've yet to see any tangible evidence of cord-cutting, the first impact may simply be slower multichannel sign-ups from younger users more accustomed to watching online. We'll see.

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  • VideoNuze Report Podcast #65 - June 18, 2010

    Daisy Whitney and I are pleased to present the 65th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for June 18, 2010.

    This week Daisy and I return to the topic of cord-cutting, with Daisy tamping down some of what she reported about possible momentum here. Daisy cites new research from Nielsen and from Leichtman Research Group as evidence that in fact cord-cutting isn't actually happening (at least not yet). For my part, as I've said going back to my post in Oct, '08, I don't see much cord-cutting happening any time soon, both because viewers would lose cable TV network programs they love and because it's still not mainstream to connect broadband to TVs.

    We then discuss my post early this week about ABC doubling the ad load on its iPad app, and soon on ABC.com as well. As I said earlier this week, it's tough from a consumer standpoint to see more ads, but the reality is these programs need to be effectively monetized, or well, these programs will cease to exist.

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  • Is "Cord-Cutting" a Big Deal or Not?

    "Cord-cutting," the idea of disconnecting your cable/satellite/telco video subscription service in favor of online viewing only, got renewed attention this week as new research from a Canadian firm named Convergence Consulting Group said that 800,000 U.S. households have unplugged in the last 2 years. Though that number is a teeny-tiny fraction of the population that still takes subscription TV, the question begs, is this an early indicator of rampant cord-cutting to follow, or a blip that's unlikely to get that much bigger over time?

    Back in the fall of '08 I asserted that for most people cord-cutting isn't going to be happening any time soon for 2 key reasons. First, that it's still relatively hard for most mainstream users to connect broadband to their TVs, which is an essential ingredient to long-form viewing. There's no question that this has gotten easier since, and will only get easier still. Eventually broadband to the TV will be ubiquitous. But until it is, cord-cutting raises technical and comfort challenges most people don't want to confront.

    The bigger obstacle to cord-cutting is the loss of cable-only programming that isn't available for free online. Back in '08 the concept of TV Everywhere wasn't yet around. Now that it's beginning to rollout (albeit painfully slowly), it's evident that the cable ecosystem is determined to see cable programming remain accessible only to those who maintain a paid subscription.

    My take is that cable programming is the key firewall against cord-cutting. For some, losing cable programs won't matter. But my guess is that for most, losing their favorite cable programs by cutting the cord will be a non-starter. As Conan's move this week to TBS illustrates, increasingly the most distinctive shows are on cable. And note the "firewall within the firewall" is marquee sports programming on channels like ESPN, TNT and Fox Sports, which isn't going online for free ever. This precludes virtually all true sports fans from cord-cutting.

    Net-net, the debate about cord-cutting's potential needs to focus on how much value audiences place on their favorite cable programs. If it's a lot, then little cord-cutting will ensue; if it's a  little - and there are suitable free online substitutes - then we'll see lots more cord-cutting.

    (Note - all of this is fodder for our VideoSchmooze panel discussion on April 26th "Money Talks - Is Online Video Shifting to the Paid Model?" Early bird discounted registration expires today!)

    What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).
     
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  • 4 Items Worth Noting for the Jan 4th Week (Netflix-WB Continued, comScore Nov. '09 stats, TV Everywhere, 3D at CES)

    Following are 4 items worth noting for the Jan 4th week:

    1. TechCrunch disagrees with my Netflix-Warner Bros. deal analysis - In "Netflix Stabs Us In The Heart So Hollywood Can Drink Our Blood," (great title btw) MG Siegler at the influential blog TechCrunch excerpts part of my post from yesterday, and takes the consumer's point of view, decrying the new 28 day "DVD window" that Netflix has agreed to in its Warner Bros deal. Siegler's main objection is that "Hollywood thinks that with this new 28-day DVD window deal, the masses are going to rush out and buy DVDs in droves again." Instead, Siegler believes the deal hurts consumers and is going to touch off new, widespread piracy.

    I think Siegler is wrong on both counts, and many of TechCrunch's readers commenting on the post do as well. First, nobody in Hollywood believes DVD sales are going to spike because of deals like this. However, they do believe that any little bit that can be done to preserve the appeal of DVD's initial sale window can only help DVD sales which are critical to Hollywood's economics. Everyone knows DVD is a dying business; the new window is intended to help it die more gracefully. And because new releases are not that critical to many Netflix users anyway, Netflix has in reality given up little, but presumably gotten a lot, with improved access for streaming and lower DVD purchase prices.

    The argument about new, widespread piracy by Netflix users is specious. With or without the 28 day window, there will always be some people who don't respect copyright and think stealing is acceptable. But Netflix isn't running its business with pirates as their top priority. With 11 million subscribers and growing, Netflix is a mainstream-oriented business, and the vast majority of its users are not going to pirate movies - both because they don't know how to (and don't want to learn) and because they think it's wrong. Netflix knows this and is making a calculated long-term bet (correctly in my opinion) that enhancing its streaming catalog is priority #1.

    2. comScore's November numbers show continued video growth - Not to be overlooked in all the CES-related news this week was comScore's report of November '09 online video usage, which set new records. Key highlights: total video viewed were almost 31 billion (double Jan '09's total of 14.8 billion), number of videos viewed/average viewer was 182 (up 80% from Jan '09's 101) and minutes watched/mo were approximately 740 (more than double Jan '09's total of 356).

    Notably, with 12.2 billion views, YouTube's Nov '09 market share of 39.4% grew vs. its October share of 37.7%. As I've previously pointed out, YouTube has demonstrated amazingly consistent market dominance, with its share hovering around 40% since March '08. Hulu also notched another record month, with 924 million streams, putting it in 2nd place (albeit distantly) to YouTube. Still, Hulu had a blowout year, nearly quadrupling its viewership (up from Jan '09's 250 million views). But with 44 million visitors, Hulu's traffic was pretty close to March '09's 41.6 million. In '10 I'm looking to see what Hulu's going to do to break out of the 40-45 million users/mo band it was in for much of '09.

    3. Consumer groups protest TV Everywhere, but their arguments ring hollow - I was intrigued by a joint letter that 4 consumer advocacy groups sent to the Justice Department on Monday, urging it to investigate "potentially unlawful conduct by MVPDs (Multichannel Video Programming Distributors) offering TV Everywhere services." The letter asserts that MVPDs may have colluded in violation of antitrust laws.

    I'm not a lawyer and so I'm in no position to judge whether any actions alleged to have taken place by MVPDs violated any antitrust laws. Regardless though, the letter from these groups demonstrates that they are missing a fundamental benefit of TV Everywhere - to provide online access to cable TV programming that has not been available to date because there hasn't been an economical model for doing so. In the eyes of people who think that making money is evil, the TV Everywhere model of requiring consumers to first subscribe to a multichannel video service seems anti-consumer and anti-competitive. But to people trying to make a living creating quality TV programming, the preservation of a highly functional business model is essential.

    These advocacy groups need to remember that consumers have a choice; if they don't value cable's programming enough to pay for it, then they can instead just watch free broadcast programs.

    4. 3D is the rage at CES - I'll be doing a CES recap on Monday, but one of the key themes of the show has been 3D. There were two big announcements of new 3D channels, from ESPN and Discovery/Sony/IMAX. LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony announced new 3D TVs. And DirecTV announced that it would launch 3 new 3D channels by June 2010, with Panasonic as the presenting sponsor. 3D sets will be an expensive proposition for consumers for some time, but prices will of course come down over time.

    Something that I wonder about is what impact will 3D have on online and mobile video? Will this spur innovation in computer monitors so that the 3D experience can be experienced online as well? And how about mobile - will we soon be slipping on 3D glasses while looking at our iPhones and Android phones? It may seem like a ridiculous idea, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.

    Enjoy your weekend!

     
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  • Lack of Viewership Data Could Stall TV Everywhere

    Based on a number of conversations I've had with cable programming executives, Nielsen's current inability to measure online viewing of TV programs and meld that data effectively with on-air viewing is emerging as a key stumbling block to successful rollouts of TV Everywhere services.

    Cable networks are justifiably concerned that any viewership that potentially shifts from on-air to online that they are not credited for will adversely impact their ratings and therefore their advertising revenue. Until the issue is fixed cable networks will be reluctant to offer their most popular programs to TV Everywhere providers, in turn diluting TV Everywhere's appeal to consumers.

    Nielsen, the de facto standard in TV ratings measurement, is well aware of these concerns and as Multichannel News reported this past Monday, it plans to accelerate the deployment of its "TVandPC" software which measures online viewing to 7,500 of its National People Meter households by Aug. 31, 2010. While that's a start, as industry executives have told me, it's not just the online viewing data that's needed, but also the proper blending of that data with the on-air data that's critical.

    Among the issues is how online viewing, which offers consumers the potential of much-delayed on-demand viewing, should be aligned with Nielsen's "C3" ratings, which captures up to 3 days playback on DVRs. Another issue is understanding and measuring new TV Everywhere viewership patterns (e.g. college students remotely watching shows on a laptop which has been authenticated by Mom and Dad's cable account). Then there's the question of whether the online ad loads are going to be comparable to those on-air (e.g. if the online share of a program's overall viewership carried far fewer ads than the on-air viewership, advertisers and media planners will want to know this). No doubt other issues loom as well.

    Add it all up and the process of collecting and then blending online and on-air viewership data is non-trivial and will require a significant investment and testing on Nielsen's part to accomplish. From Nielsen's standpoint, it could be reluctant to make such an investment in overhauling its measurement service unless there were pre-commitments from some of its clients to accepting and buying the enhanced ratings service.

    On the one hand, it would seem that cable networks' reluctance to embrace TV Everywhere until adequate measurement systems were in place would be a strong incentive for TV Everywhere providers to support Nielsen's enhancements. However, I've been told that when Nielsen previously made improvements to track Video-on-Demand viewership, not many service providers implemented necessary mechanisms to denote programs were VOD-based, and therefore Nielsen's investment yielded little return. Particularly given the tough economic times, that could make Nielsen more cautious about how it proceeds with online ratings. For now Nielsen has not disclosed its plans.

    Still, Nielsen is under pressure to move forward given the formation of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), which is comprised of 14 TV networks, agencies and advertisers. CIMM's goal is to explore new methodologies for audience measurement, particularly for set-top box data and cross-platform media consumption. While some in the industry have tagged CIMM as a Nielsen challenger, its members have said they have no intention of trying to replace Nielsen. Regardless, the presence of an industry-backed group trying to wrap its arms around cross-platform audience measurement is likely to only accelerate Nielsen's online tracking efforts.

    As VideoNuze readers know, I've been quite enthusiastic about TV Everywhere's potential, though I'm plenty cognizant of the challenges it faces. Measurement is surely near the top of that list. One of the benefits to Comcast of owning NBCU is that, if it chooses to, it can release NBCU's cable networks' programs for TV Everywhere viewing, absent complete online tracking. This would be comparable to what Hulu's owners have chosen to do by distributing their broadcast network shows online (they're at least partly motivated by the belief that online viewing augments on-air viewing). But Comcast won't take ownership of NBCU for another year or so. By that time Nielsen may well be close to rolling a blended online/on-air offering.

    In sum, it could well be that 2010 ends up being more a year of experimentation for TV Everywhere while building blocks like audience measurement get put in place. VOD, which years since its launch still lacks many primetime programs as well as dynamic advertising insertion, offers a cautionary example for TV Everywhere providers of how a lack of investment can block the realization of a new medium's full potential. Cable networks in particular will keep looking for signals that TV Everywhere will be more robust than VOD before they get too enthusiastic about online distribution.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

     
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