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Broadcast Streaming Still Work In Progress

In two recent high-profile retrans battles, TV everyewhere streaming rights were on the table but eventually taken off as networks and affiliates further develop streaming strategies.

Mark down 2013 as the year when retrans went digital.

In two recent high-profile retransmission fee disputes, TV everywhere digital rights, and digital rights in general, shared center stage with dickering over dollars.

In the month-long CBS-Time Warner Cable shootout that ended Sept. 2, the retrans payment component reportedly was settled early in the negotiations.

It was Time Warner’s push to live-stream CBS O&Os on its TVE platform and acquire other digital rights without paying for the privilege that stretched out the talks.

“The roadblock was … whatever CBS does in terms of streaming content online, not only did Time Warner want access, they wanted it for free,” said a source familiar with the talks.

In its negotiations with the Journal Broadcast Group, Time Warner sought the same kind of unfettered rights so that it could live-stream Journal stations.

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But Time Warner conceded the point, agreeing to a carve out of the TV everywhere rights relatively early in the 56-day shut down that ended last Friday.

It was an important victory, says Jim Prather, executive vice president, television and radio operations, at the Journal Broadcast Group.

“The future of our industry is viewers migrating to platforms on smart phone, pads and computers,” Prather said. “We want to be where the viewers are. They’re clearly moving in that direction, consuming more TV through smart devices. It is very important for us to protect our rights and network programming rights for those devices.”

TV everywhere or TVE is the now generic term for the streaming of cable networks and eventually TV stations so that they can be received by authenticated cable subscribers on their mobile devices.

Time Warner and other leading MVPDs developed the service to help with subscriber retention. Before they can stream broadcast signals, they have to get permission of the networks and their affiliates.

One reason TVE digital rights were excluded from the Journal-Time Warner retrans contract is that, with the exception of Disney/ABC, the broadcast networks’ plans for TVE are a work in progress.

“Local broadcasters are waiting on the networks to present terms of how they want to proceed with TV everywhere distribution,” said a source at one station group. “At this point, broadcasters can negotiate only on what they have information on.”

Chris Cornelius, chairman of the CBS affiliates board and chief operating office of Barrington Broadcasting, acknowledges that while the alliance between the networks and their affiliates is being worked out, broadcasters see the potential.

“I think it’s coming,” he said. “It’s another distribution platform that will be local in nature and is coming to a DMA near you.

“I tend to look at [Internet protocol TV] as another opportunity for us. The distribution of our local TV signals on an IP platform is going to look seamlessly like delivery over the air.

“It’s a positive sea change because it provides the opportunity to reach a far greater mobile audience in real time and time-shifted viewing and that’s a good thing. Particularly if networks and affiliates can monetize that process with MVPDs.”

TVE generated a lot of sizzle at this year’s NAB show. But so far, it’s a little tough finding the steak.

Here’s how things currently stand on the TVE front:

Disney/ABC has rolled out its Watch ABC authenticated service to all eight of its O&Os. Hearst Television has committed to launch the Watch ABC live-streaming service in its 13 ABC-affiliate markets but no date has been set for the service launch.

“The model that’s emerging is networks and affiliates aggregating local audiences…but outside the home at remote locations,” says Jordan Wertlieb, chairman of the NBC affiliates board and president of Hearst Television.

Fox says it will likely roll out TVE live-streaming of its O&Os all at once, rather than piecemeal. Currently, Fox is streaming only the Big Ten Network. The network has set no date for extending TVE to its O&Os and affiliates.

NBC is sticking with plans it announced at its affiliates meeting to begin streaming on the TVE platform next year.

“We’ve been working all summer on bringing the plan we talked about at the NAB to fruition,” an NBCU spokesman said. “As previously discussed, we are aiming for a mid-2014 launch of a TV everywhere system that emphasizes localism and that will be in partnership with the affiliates.”

CBS, meanwhile, is hedging its bets.

It has made no announcement concerning TVE, but it remains interested.

The retrans deal it finally reached with Time Warner is said to include a “framework” for negotiating a TVE agreement.

At the same time, it has purchased a significant minority interest in Syncbak, a technology that would allow it to stream its O&Os and participating affiliates independent of the MVPDs.

CBS is experimenting with the technology in many of its O&O markets, but is not yet committed to rolling out a service.

CBS, like the other broadcast networks, is eager to capitalize on the additional eyeballs captured by live-streaming network programming to mobile devices.

So far, measuring those eyeballs has been a knot in the revenue hose.

But Nielsen is expected to announce formally this week plans to incorporate linear live-streamed programming viewed on smartphones and other mobile devices in its national ratings beginning in September 2014.

CBS boss Leslie Moonves, in an interview with CNBC following resolution of the retrans dispute with Time Warner, said he expects online advertising to garner the same rates as on-air advertising in the foreseeable future.

“We are heading to a point where that will happen in three to five years,” Moonves said. “That’s a game changer.”

MVPDs are not the only ones interested in the streaming rights of the broadcast networks and their affiliates. Other potential buyers include Intel, Google, Sony PlayStation and Microsoft.

That’s making broadcast networks and station groups leery of striking any deals until they know more about the market.

Some broadcasters consider TVE, an interim step and an uneasy alliance with MVPDs. They don’t want to get left out, but neither do they want to close out options.

“Everybody is taking steps forward realizing consumers want availability on all devices they have,” says Will Richmond, editor-publisher of VideoNuze, an online publication that tracks the digital video industry. “But everybody is being justifiably cautious.”


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