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    The FCC’s Imperfect Path To Increased Video Competition

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    Robust wireless video services could break cable-ISPs video monopoly on their end users.

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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 […]

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%).

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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 »

YouTube and Twitch Channel Cable TV

With the upcoming launch of YouTube Gaming, YouTube will have dedicated apps for its three most popular categories of videos: music (Music Key), kids (YouTube Kids) and now video games.

While the Google-owned site has long supported discreet “channels,” those are largely a convenience for individual video creators as they look to build their own YouTube_music_keycorporate or personal brands. They were not created by YouTube with an eye to sorting the content in its vast online library by category or genre. Nor, by extension, were they created to try to segment YouTube’s vast audience by interests, tastes or demographics  the way, say, a category-specific cable TV network like Nickelodeon or CNBC seeks to do.

By creating category-specific apps, however, YouTube is clearly edging toward that model.

The launch of YouTube Gaming, of course, is also Google’s response to the rapid growth of Twitch, the live-streaming gaming site it came close to buying last year only to have Amazon snatch it away at the last minute. While Twitch’s audience of 100 million active monthly users is a small fraction of YouTube’s more than 1 billion, they’re a dedicated bunch. The average Twitch user spends 106 minutes a day on the site, according to the company, and peak concurrent usage can reach 1.5 million. Read More »

Democracy On an iPhone: Why 2016 Could Be A Big Year For Meerkat and Periscope

All presidential campaigns send trackers to stalk their opponents. Armed with video cameras, or even just a smartphone, trackers follow opposing candidates around from whistle stop to whistle stop to document any unscripted moments that could be turned into an attack ad or used in a fundraising pitch.

periscope_logoAny candidate who makes it past the New Hampshire primary, conversely, quickly figures out they’re being stalked and learns to avoid, whenever possible, going off script. And if they don’t they don’t make it past Super Tuesday.

The spread of video-capable smartphones during the last couple of election cycles has made the stalking even more intimate, as Mitt “47 percent” Romney found out in 2012. Even at events that have been carefully screened for opposition trackers, what you say can end up on YouTube.

But as P.J. Bednarski points out in a post on the MediaPost Vidblog, the peril is likely to get ratcheted up even higher for candidates in 2016 thanks to the popularity of live-streaming apps like Meerkat, YouNow and Periscope: Read More »

Apple Makes Music Fans An Offer They Might Refuse

As expected, Apple’s new music strategy is to try to be all things musical to all people. Or almost all people.

The newly christened Apple Music, unveiled Monday at the World Wide Developers Conference, includes a $10 a month streaming service that offers on-demand access to Apple’s 30 million song library, along with cloud storage and playback of your own music collection and the option to let Apple’s experts curate personalized playlists for you. It also includes a free, ad-supported internet radio service featuring featuring celebrity DJs and what Apple is billing as the world’s first 24-hour global radio station, Beats One. It also includes a reboot of Ping, Apple’s failed social media platform, now called Music Connect and featuring artist pages.

Apple_Music_iPhoneYou can also, of course, continue to purchase downloadable tracks and albums from the iTunes Music Store.

About the only thing Apple Music does not have is the sort of free, ad-supported on-demand tier that has helped make Spotify the world’s largest on-demand streaming service.

The lack of a free on-demand tier is partly Apple’s preference: It didn’t spend $3 billion to acquire Beats’ subscription-only music service last year to get into the free streaming business. But no free tier was also part of Apple’s pitch to the record labels, publishers and artists, all of whom have been agitating to get more people paying for music online, notwithstanding consumers’ demonstrably limited appetite thus far for paid streaming: Give us what we need to crush our rivals, Apple suggested, and we’ll do for paid streaming what they couldn’t. Read More »

Apple’s Changing Spot On the TV Dial

A report released Thursday by Adobe Digital Index provides Reason #4,327 why it never made any sense for Apple to build an integrated TV set: Apple devices already dominate over-the-top and TV Everywhere viewing, which is what “TV” is going to be the future.

According to the report, nearly one in four (24 percent) of all unauthenticated online video starts, including desktop, set-top and mobile, happen on an Apple mobile device. And as mobile viewing in general increases as a share of total online video viewing, Apple’s share is poised to increase disproportionately. According to the report, Apple devices (iPhone and iPad) account for more than two-thirds of all mobile views.

 

Adobe_smartphone_video_share
Apple devices also now dominate in authenticated (TV Everywhere) online viewing. In the first quarter of 2015, iOS devices accounted for 47 percent of online authentications, up from 43 percent a year ago, more than tripling the share of authentications via Android devices or via browsers. Again, as TV Everywhere usage increases overall — now up to 13.2 percent of pay-TV subscribers — Apple will benefit disproportionately due to its dominant market share in authenticated viewing.
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