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    Live Sports Could Force Adoption of New Streaming Protocols

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    UDP could replace TCP for streaming major live sporting events

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    Who Wants To Be An MVPD?

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    The FCC extend program access rights to OTT services, but does anyone want them?

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    NAB 2015 Recap: Top Live, Linear & OTT Trends

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    LAS VEGAS–Last week’s National Association of Broadcasters convention here saw multiscreen, over-the-top broadcasting move, physically and figuratively, from a back corner of the Las Vegas Convention Center to front-and-center of the discussion. “Broadcasting obviously does not exist in isolation, but as a vital piece of the dynamic and ever-changing media and entertainment landscape,” NAB president Gordon Smith said in his keynote address. “As we get closer to realization of the next generation of television broadcasting, we are beginning to envision the new business opportunities it could enable. I believe next gen may be the key to building TV’s […]

Turning Talking Heads

With apologies to LBJ, but when you’ve lost David Byrne, you’re losing the argument over whom to blame for music artists’ meager share of the streaming pot.

Two years ago, the former Talking Heads front man came out as the scourge of Spotify, casting the streaming service in an op-ed that ran in the Guardian, as a sort of malevolent force that was destroying all that was good and holy about the music business:

There are a number of ways to stream music online: Pandora is like a radio station that plays stuff you like but doesn’t take requests; YouTube plays talking_heads_album individual songs that folks and corporations have uploaded and Spotify is a music library that plays whatever you want (if they have it), whenever you want it. Some of these services only work when you’re online, but some, like Spotify, allow you to download your playlist songs and carry them around. For many music listeners, the choice is obvious – why would you ever buy a CD or pay for a download when you can stream your favourite albums and artists either for free, or for a nominal monthly charge?…

The amounts these services pay per stream is miniscule – their idea being that if enough people use the service those tiny grains of sand will pile up. Domination and ubiquity are therefore to be encouraged. We should readjust our values because in the web-based world we are told that monopoly is good for us….In future, if artists have to rely almost exclusively on the income from these services, they’ll be out of work within a year.

Other artists, like Dave Lowry of Cracker, joined the sad chorus. But in an op-ed published in the New York Times on Sunday, Byrne struck a very different tone regarding streaming, even managing a (somewhat begrudging) compliment for Spotify for trying to illuminate the industry’s opaque payment system: Read More »

Going Over The Top Without Cutting The Cord

Trying to figure out what the stealthy startup Layer3 TV is planning to unleash later this year has become something of a parlor game among pay-TV industry watchers. The VC-backed company, founded in Boston by two cable-industry veterans but now headquartered in Denver, has said little about its plans beyond its goal to become “a next generation cable provider spearheading a new era of home media, combining the best of television, social, and digital life.” How it plans to do that, though, remains a closely guarded secret.

The company’s name — Layer3 — refers to the 7-layer TCP/IP stack, specifically the packet routing layer, which may be a hint. And its two co-founders, Jeff Binder and Layer3 TVDave Fellows, are a couple of confirmed gear-heads. Binder was the founder of VOD systems provider Broadbus Technologies, which was sold to Motorola in 2006, while Fellows is a former CTO at Comcast and AT&T Broadband. So it’s reasonable to assume that whatever Layer3 is planning will leverage existing cable-cum-broadband plant.

The announcement of a second-round of funding in June that raised $51 million offered further hints.

“Cable television may have dominated the business press this year but consumers continue to crave a simple, yet elegant, solution for managing the newest innovations in video, social and digital,” Binder said in a statement. “Layer3 TV is the new cable — putting subscribers at the center of the universe by giving them seamless control of their entertainment relationships.” Read More »

The Unknown Unknowns Of Buying Sports Rights

The process of deciding whether to greenlight a movie in Hollywood involves a lot of variables and input from multiple studio divisions, but the math is pretty straightforward: Each distribution unit — domestic theatrical, international, home entertainment, TV, etc. — is asked to estimate how much revenue it could deliver based on the “elements” attached to the proposed film (script, director, stars), the genre, the proposed timing of its release, competing projects at other studios, and other such factors.  Each division, in turn, has its own methodology for arriving at its estimate, based on the track records of the stars/director/etc., the performance of “comparable” recent films, and so forth.

march_madness_tbs_cbsThose projections are then weighed against the project’s proposed budget and projected marketing costs, allowances are made for non-quantifiable variables (star relationships, etc.), and a reasonably well-informed gut call gets made.

The process of approving franchise sequels is even more straightforward since many of the numbers are hard-coded before there’s even a script. The movies may still flop, due to creative failures, marketing miscalculations or shifts in the zeitgeist, but at least the people making the call know what they can’t know.

Compare that with the challenge facing TV sports rights buyers. Speaking at the Second Screen Society’s Sports Summit in New York this week, executives from two of the biggest buyers of sports rights — CBS and Turner — highlighted the growing number of unknown unknowns facing sports buyers. Read More »

The FCC’s Imperfect Path To Increased Video Competition

The conditions the Federal Communications Commission has attached to its approval of AT&T’s merger with DirecTV are being met with a predictably mixed response. Some groups, such as Comptel, a Washington-based lobbying group representing Netflix, Amazon, Cogent Communications, Level 3 and other network operators and service providers, praised the FCC for requiring AT&T to disclose details of its network interconnection deals. Others, such as Free Press, blasted the conditions for not going “nearly far enough” to address the problem of pay-TV consolidation.

Here’s what we know, from a statement issued Wednesday by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler:

An order recommending that the AT&T/DirecTV transaction be approved with conditions has circulated to the Commissioners. The proposed order outlines Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler gestures at the FCC Net Neutrality hearinga number of conditions that will directly benefit consumers by bringing more competition to the broadband marketplace. If the conditions are approved by my colleagues, 12.5 million customer locations will have access to a competitive high-speed fiber connection. This additional build-out is about 10 times the size of AT&T’s current fiber-to-the-premise deployment, increases the entire nation’s residential fiber build by more than 40 percent, and more than triples the number of metropolitan areas AT&T has announced plans to serve.

In addition, the conditions will build on the Open Internet Order already in effect, addressing two merger-specific issues. First, in order to prevent discrimination against online video competition, AT&T will not be permitted to exclude affiliated video services and content from data caps on its fixed broadband connections. Second, in order to bring greater transparency to interconnection practices, the company will be required to submit all completed interconnection agreements to the Commission, along with regular reports on network performance.

Importantly, we will require an independent officer to help ensure compliance with these and other proposed conditions. These strong measures will protect consumers, expand high-speed broadband availability, and increase competition.

Read More »

OTT Retransmission: The Next Net Neutrality

Come the fall, the Federal Communications Commssion’s consideration of its proposal to reclassify some over-the-top video services as multichannel video programming providers (MVPDs) is likely to become the agency’s next highly divisive issue, reprising the same ideological and partisan differences that marked the debate over net neutrality.

Last month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed that the commission will take up the proposal in the fall, and indicated that he favored making the switch, which would grant online video distributors (OVDs) the same program access rights as cable and satellite providers while also imposing some of the same restrictions and FCC sealrequirements. But in a speech to the Churchill Club in Palo Alto, Calif., last week, Republican commissioner Ajit Pai, who had dissented at great length from the FCC’s net neutrality rules, laid down the gauntlet again.

“This morning, I would like to make clear that I strongly oppose this proposal,” Pai said. “Given the remarkable success of the over-the-top video industry, the burden should be on those who favor new regulations to prove what’s wrong and explain why we should change. That case just hasn’t been made.”

As with his opposition to net neutrality rules, Pai’s analysis of OVD reclassification leans heavily on standard conservative “free market: good; regulation: bad” framing. Beyond the boilerplate, though, he raises an issue that I also noted in a previous post here on OVD reclassification: Changing the FCC’s definition of who qualifies as a MVPD, by itself, will not guarantee OVDs will be able to retransmit broadcast signals on the same terms as cable and satellite providers because the FCC has no authority to convey a license to the copyrighted programming contained in those signals. Traditional cable TV systems operate under a compulsory license, created by Congress and administered by the U.S. Copyright Office, that gives them automatic permission to rebroadcast copyrighted programming in exchange for paying statutory royalties. Read More »

Netflix Flexes Its Muscles

Having played a pivotal role in persuading the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice to reject Comcast’s attempted merger with Time Warner Cable, Netflix has seemingly done an about face and given its blessing to Charter Communications’ bid to acquire TWC. In a letter to the FCC dated July 15, VP of global public policy Christopher D. Libertelli said, “Netflix  supports the proposed Charter – Time Warner Cable transaction if it incorporates the merger condition proposed by Charter.”

reed_hastingsKey to the apparent change of heart was precisely that “merger condition proposed by Charter,” specifically a commitment by Charter to offer settlement-free peering with edge providers like Netflix across its entire expanded footprint.

“Charter’s new peering policy is a welcome and significant departure from the efforts of some ISPs to collect access tolls on the Internet,” Libertelli wrote. “Charter’s policy will promote efficient interconnection with on line content providers and with the transit and content delivery services that smaller online content providers rely on to reach their consumers. Charter’s endorsement of the policy as an enforceable merger condition will ensure that consumers will receive the fast connection speeds they expect.”

Charter outlined the new policy in a separate filing with the FCC, also dated July 15.

Comcast’s successful effort to impose interconnection fees on Netflix was the main reason Netflix aggressively opposed Comcast’s bid for TWC. Peering agreements were also the main focus of Netflix’s lobbying in support of net neutrality, urging the FCC to require open interconnection policies as part of its Open Internet order (in the end the FCC did not include specific rules for interconnection arrangements in its order, but set up a process for reviewing complaints against ISPs brought by consumers or edge providers). Read More »

From Over-The-Air To Over-The-Top

The over-the-top dam seems to be breaking for over-the-air broadcasters. Comcast announced last week that it will introduce a new streaming service called Stream later this summer, starting in Boston, that will offer access to local broadcast channels plus HBO and a mix of on-demand content for $15 a month. Seattle and Chicago will follow the Boston launch, with rollout to Comcast’s full footprint planned for 2016.

This week brought a new indications that over-the-air channels will also be core components of Apple’s planned OTT service when it launches later this year.

According watch_abc_tabletto a report in the NY Post, Apple’s talks with ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are “rapidly gaining momentum” and now include access to the networks’ local affiliates’ feeds. That dovetails with an earlier report on Re/Code that the launch of Apple’s OTT service was being delayed to allow time to clear rights to local TV content.

According to the reports, Apple asked the networks to go back and get the streaming rights to their affiliates’ feeds. After initially balking, the networks agreed, and several major affiliate groups are now reportedly on board.

Previously, the networks had largely kept their content off third-party OTT platforms, preferring to launch their own proprietary apps like CBS All Access and Watch ABC. Read More »

Live Music’s Long, Strange Trip Over The Top

Live music has been on a bit of an over-the-top roll lately. The five shows in the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well tour, which wrapped up in Chicago over the weekend, together racked up more than 175,000 paid live streams, making it easily one of the largest paid live music events ever to go over the top. Archived shows will be available through August 5, which will push the combined live and on-demand numbers even higher.

Though major festivals like Coachella and Bonaroo draw bigger online live audiences, those shows are free; the Dead shows cost $79.95 for the full, five-day run (individual shows were less). Archived shows will remain available through August 5, which will push the combined live and on-demand PPV take even higher.

Grateful_DeadWhile the Dead may be sui generis when it comes to pay-per-view streaming, live music streaming in general is attracting new interest from both startups and established players in the concert business.

This week brought word of a partnership between Verizon Digital Media Services and LiveXLive to live stream at least three day-long festivals this fall in the U.S. and internationally.

Launched in May, LiveXLive is a subsidiary of hedge-fund backed Loton Corp., created to pursue what its founders believe is a growing opportunity in live music streaming.  While live-streaming music festivals obviously is not new, LiveXLive’s is thinking much more ambitiously. Read More »

DSTAC-ing The Pay-TV Deck

While over-the-top video services may soon need to ponder whether to become MVPD’s in the eye of the FCC, traditional MVPDs are wondering how far the FCC might go to force them to behave more like OTT services.

The FCC’s Media Bureau convened the penultimate meeting of the Downloadable Security Technical Advisory Committee (DSTAC) this week, ahead of a September Cable_Guy4th deadline to come up with technical recommendations for a successor to the CableCARD. The report, and the deadline, were mandated by Congress as part of the STELA Reauthorization Act it passed in December in an effort to spur the market for third-party retail devices that can be used to control pay-TV services without relying on service providers’ proprietary set-top boxes.

Bringing more competition to the set-top has been an official goal of Congress and the FCC since 1996, when Congress directed the agency to come up with a solution as part of the Telecommunications Act — a provision knows as Section 629. Since then, however, the best the agency and the industry have come up with is the CableCARD, a hardware dongle for cable conditional access that does not support many interactive features, such as video-on-demand and which is not compatible with direct-broadcast satellite services or with IPTV systems like AT&T’s U-Verse. Read More »

Live Streaming Gets A Prosumer Twist

Broadcasters, news organizations and marketers have all begun experimenting with Meerkat and Periscope, but the reach of those efforts has been limited to people using the Meerkat and Periscope apps on particular platforms.

Meerkat last week rolled out a new, embeddable player that will expand the reach of Meerkat broadcasts, but now someone from the professional broadcasting world is looking to offer a more robust solution for distributing live broadcasts generated from mobile apps.

webstreamur_iphoneappMobile Viewpoint B.V. is a maker of wireless video and data transmission equipment for professional broadcasters that uses 3G and 4G wireless broadband links to transmit live, IP video from remote locations. At the NAB show in April, the Netherlands-based company introduced a “low cost” live streaming platform called WebStreamur aimed at small-scale and semi-pro videographers that leverages YouTube to deliver live streams via WebStreamur channels to any device from anywhere on the web.

“Since the beginning of Mobile Viewpoint we looked into the broadcast of smaller but attractive sport events on the Internet,” CEO Michel Bais said in a press release at the time. The growing popularity of watching video online via streaming platforms like YouTube, LiveStream, Meerkat and Periscope opens a marketplace for the delivery of live sports and other events that do not have the reach to get on normal Broadcast Television… WebStreamur gives the smaller content producers and sport teams easy access to a bigger audience and a global marketplace to monetize their content.” Read More »

Does (Screen) Size Matter?

Conventional wisdom in the video industry has long held that programming preferences were closely correlated with screen size. Thus, smartphones, with their small screens, were best suited and most widely used for short-form video “snacking,” apart from the occasional live stream of a sporting event or other time-critical content iphone_TVbeing watched away from home. Long-form programming such as movies and TV shows were preferentially watched on the big-screen TV in the living room. Tablet viewing was somewhere in between.

Data from Ooyala’s Q1 Global Video Index, however, suggests that conventional wisdom needs to be revised. According to the report, the correlation between program length and screen size is rapidly breaking down:

Screen size is being democratized by online video content. Online viewers are spending more time watching long-form content over ten minutes in length than ever before. More than half (59%) of the time people spend watching video on tablets is spent with video 10 minutes long or longer. That’s the most of any device, trailed by connected TVs (43%), mobile phones (37%) and PCs (35%).

For content up to 10 minutes in length, once the domain of mobile phone snackers, PCs surprisingly had the highest percentage of viewing time spent in Q1, 65%, closely followed by mobile phones (63%), connected TVs (57%) and tablets (41%).

Read More »

The First, Rough Hashtag of History

Social media networks are in a rush to get into the events business. Breaking news events, that is. The latest to take the plunge is Instagram, which announced a pair of updates Tuesday designed to make it easier for users to follow events as they unfold in real time through images uploaded to the platform.

Periscope_screenshotThe first update is an overhaul of Facebook-owned site’s Explore tab to allow users to pull of images taken at a specific place or under a particular hashtag. The other is a powerful new search function that lets users search by hashtag or location.

“If you’re a journalist and you want to see live photos happening at any location in our system, you can simply type in the location and up comes the page,” Instagram CEO and cofounder Kevin Systrom told the Wall Street Journal.

The Instagram moves come on the heels of Twitter’s unveiling of Project Lightning, a new feature also designed to make it easier for users to follow breaking news events as they unfold. A new Project Lightning button in the Twitter app will call up eight to 12 human-curated feeds, with an emphasis on images and videos, each focused on a particular breaking event. It also follows the launch of YouTube Newswire, a new service from the Google-owned video site that will provide news organizations with curated feeds of verified videos taken by eyewitnesses to breaking news events.

And, though all of those new services and features must have been in the works for months given the amount of coding and testing they would have required, they all follow the appearance earlier this year of Periscope and Meerkat, which put a spotlight on the growing importance of live and real-time content on the web. Read More »

Social Media’s Enterprise Moment

The recent troubles at Twitter, culminating in the announced departure of CEO Dick Costolo has occasioned all manner of postmortems and punditry as to “what went wrong” and what should be done now to fix it. Most of the suggestions have focused on fixing Twitter’s dreadful UI and discovery tools to make it easier for ordinary web surfers to use, and figuring out how to better measure ROI for marketers.

All of those things could help. But they’re also premised on the idea that the key to success for Twitter is to behave more like Facebook: expand its user base, increase user engagement, then sell that engagement to marketers looking to target consumers based on their interests.

youtube_newswireThat would be a reasonable strategy — and in fact has largely been Twitter’s strategy  — were Twitter really suited to competing with Facebook. But it’s not, and shouldn’t try to be — or shouldn’t only try to be.

In contrast with Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, Twitter is far-less about its users than it is about the information they exchange there. Like many Twitter users, I suspect, I follow and am followed (under @ConcurrentMedia) by hundreds of people whom I’ve never met and probably never will. We are not “friends” in real sense, or even in the attenuated Facebook sense. We follow each other because we find the information we provide each other useful in some way. Read More »

ESPN and the Skinny Bundle

The results of a consumer survey released Wednesday by Digitalsmiths raised some eyebrows for what they said about pay-TV viewers’ channel preferences in a hypothetical a la carte pay-TV universe, particularly with respect to ESPN.

Asked if they would prefer to be able to select the channels they subscribe through a la carte, rather than in pre-selected bundles, nearly 82 percent said “yes.” That espn_leadergroup was then given a list of 75 channels and asked to pick their own, ideal bundle. Fewer than 36 percent included ESPN in their ideal bundle, putting the top rated cable network in the U.S. well behind the Discovery Channel, which was cited by 62 percent of respondents.

Even Digitalsmiths was surprised.

“The top channels selected by this group were ABC, Discovery Channel, CBS, NBC, and the History Channel,” the company wrote in the accompanying report on the findings. “Digitalsmiths finds the high demand for the Discovery Channel (ranked second) to be very interesting, but even more shocking is ESPN, which ranked
twentieth. ESPN is some of the highest-priced content compared to other channels and is likely more expensive than the Discovery Channel” (full chart below). Read More »