The Bills, Jaguars And Peak-NFL

Given how little good news Yahoo has had to share with investors lately it’s no surprise that the company is trumpeting the results of Sunday’s first-ever globally live-streamed regular season NFL game, between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars, which attracted 15.2 million unique viewers and 33.6 million total views. Those numbers make it one of the biggest live-streamed events to date, and compare favorably with the TV audience for  a typically Thursday night or Monday night regular season game, according to the NFL.

“We’re thrilled with the results of our initial step distributing an NFL game to a worldwide audience and with the work of our partner, Yahoo,” NFL senior VP of media strategy, business development and sales,Hans Schroder said in a statement. “We are incredibly excited by the fact that jaguars-billswe took a game that would have been viewed by a relatively limited television audience in the United States and by distributing it digitally were able to attract a global audience of over 15 million viewers.”

Yet as others have pointed out, the reported numbers don’t tell the whole story. Yahoo had to resort to some trick plays to score some of those points, like putting a muted auto-play video of the game on the home pages of several of its properties, which means your Aunt Minnie, who has never watched an NFL game in her life but uses Yahoo as her personal home page, is somewhere in that 15 million. The comparison with broadcast TV viewership is also overstated. As Brian Stetler of CNN pointed out, the 460 million total minutes of football Yahoo claims to have streamed, over the course of a 195-minute game, implies an average of just 2.36 million concurrent viewers, the streaming metric most comparable to TV ratings. Read More »

The Co-Dependent Marriage Of TV and Sports

According to a report released this week by PriceWaterhouseCooper, the revenue earned from media rights by the North American sports industry will surpass the revenue earned at the gate by 2018, when they’ll reach $19.95 billion and $19.72 billion, respectively, fulfilling the old adage that the sports business is really the TV business.

Increasingly, the reverse is also true: The TV business is really the sports business.

More than a third of all TV advertising in the U.S. today goes to live sports, and that doesn’t include ESPN, which shows a mix of live sports and sports-related programming. Add in ESPN and the share of advertising going to sport programming would top 40 percent, Advancit Capital partner and former Fox Digital president Jonathan Miller estimated from the stage at the New York Media Festival earlier this month. Franklin_Gutierrez_hitting_HRAt the same time, according to SNL Kagan, sports networks account for nearly 20 percent of the carriage fees paid by cable and satellite operators, and that doesn’t count the portion of the carriage and retransmission fees paid to broadcasters and general-interest cable networks that can be attributed to the sports programming they carry. According to an analysis last year by MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson, the aggregate of sports rights account for as much as 50 percent of the cost of the average cable bill. Read More »

Comcast Antes Up For a Peak At New Media Data

This post originally appeared at Smart Content News.

That $45 billion Comcast did not get to spend on Time Warner Cable seems to be burning a hole in its pocket.

On Monday, Comcast announced it would invest $200 million in BuzzFeed at a valuation of $1.5 billion, giving the old-line cable MSO entree to BuzzFeed’s more than 200 million unique monthly visitors, including 82.4 million in the increasingly elusive 18-34 age group.

“BuzzFeed has built an exceptional global company that harmonizes technology, data and superior editorial abilities to create and share content in innovative ways,” BuzzFeed_BadgesNBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke said in a statement. “They reach a massive, loyal audience and have proven to be among the most creative, popular and influential new media players. We are pleased to be making this investment and for our companies to partner and work together.”

The BuzzFeed deal comes one week after Comcast unveiled a similar $200 million investment in Vox Media, valuing the parent of SB Nation, The Verge and Vox.com at roughly $1 billion.

Comcast is also reportedly planning to launch a new digital video service called Watchable that will focus on original, unlicensed content and made available to Comcast subscribers with an X1 set-top box. Read More »

Bad Sports: ESPN Sues Verizon

No U.S. television network is more invested in, or has benefited more from the dynamics of the bundle than ESPN. The combination of must-have programming for a key segment of the pay-TV audience, and the must-carry leverage of its sister-broadcast network ABC, has given the Disney-owned sports network the power to command the highest per-subscriber carriage fees in the industry, ensure placement on basic tiers, and compel carriage of ancillary networks like ESPN Classics and ESPN Deportes.

espn_sportscenter_logoFor those pay-TV subscribers not in the ESPN demographic, however, that leverage has acted like a tax, imposing higher costs for networks and programming they don’t watch, yielding what amount to windfall rents for ESPN. Those windfall rents, in turn, have given ESPN the wherewithal to pay the skyrocketing rights fees for live sports. Thoseinflated rights fees, in turn, have become the primary economic engine of most professional and big-time amateur sports while acting as a formidable barrier to entry for would-be competitors to ESPN, yielding a virtuous cycle that reinforces ESPN’s dominant position within the pay-TV ecosystem. Read More »

Apple’s Least-Favored Network: NBC

Ever since the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month on Apple’s evolving plans to launch a multichannel subscription streaming video service, much has been made, largely by those already inclined to be suspicious of Comcast’s motives, of the reported absence of Comcast-owned NBC from the talks Apple is said to be holding with the other broadcast networks.

apple_tv“It appears from press reports that Comcast may be withholding its affiliated NBC Universal (“NBCU”) content in an effort to thwart the entry of potential new video competitors. Apple reportedly is planning a Fall 2015 launch for an over-the-top (“OTT”) bundle of TV channels,” the consortium Stop Mega Comcast wrote to the FCC last week. “If the reports are accurate about Apple, it would be consistent with Comcast’s prior conduct in attempting to leverage affiliated content to thwart rival services, even when faced with merger conditions.” Read More »

NBC throws one away

NBC tried to go long in promoting its TV Everywhere offering by using a free live stream of ysterday’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks to showcase its over-the-top chops. But like Seattle in its final, goal-line possession, the network might have been better keeping it on the ground. Instead of a showcase for TV Without the TV, as NBC’s marketing pitch had it, the live streaming experience was mostly a showcase for the limitations — both technical and economic — of over-the-top broadcasting.

superbowlliveextra400According to a tweet from NBC Sports PR, the live stream drew an average of 800,000 viewers per minute, up 52% from last year’s game, peaking at 1.3 million concurrent viewers during Seattle’s baffling final possession, up 18% from last year. But the strains of delivering all that traffic (via Akamai) were evident. Read More »

Seeing Red over copyright

Having failed to put forth a competitive consumer proposition to counter Redbox’s dollar-a-night DVD rentals, the studios are on the verge of accomplishing what, from the point of view of their own economic interests, is the next best thing: they have brought the rental kiosk operator to heel and effectively forced it to accept a 28-day window after street date before it begins loading their DVD releases into its ever-expanding red maw.

On Tuesday, Redbox and Warner Bros. announced an agreement to settle the litigation the kiosk company had brought against the studio last year. As part of the deal, Redbox agreed to a 28-day “vending” window and to limit sales of used Warner discs. In return, Warner will allow Redbox to acquire its releases at a lower cost and promised to “cooperate” with Redbox on possible future digital delivery ventures.

While Tuesday’s settlement applies only to Warner, it’s widely expected that similar deals are in the works with Twentieth Century-Fox and NBC Universal, which are involved in similar litigation with the Redbox. Assuming that happens, new releases will essentially disappear from Redbox kiosks.

Make no mistake. Redbox rentals were hurting DVD sales and undercutting the studios’ other revenue streams. Its dollar-a-night rentals accounted for roughly one of every five dollars consumers spent on DVDs last year, and it returned a far smaller share of that dollar to the studios than Wal-Mart sends them when it sells a DVD. And from the studios’ perspective, the trend lines were getting worse. Something had to be done. Read More »

Comcast's over-the-top lobbying

Here in Washington, DC, TV viewers are treated to an unusual array of commercials: a fairly steady drumbeat of obscure issue-advocacy ads sponsored by industry-funded front groups aimed at influencing Congress by showing off the group’s lobbying muscle. Generally speaking, the more blandly benign-sounding the group’s name, the more mendacious the policy proposal. Groups calling themselves something like Americans For Opportunity, for instance, are a good bet to have something to do with strip mining, or promoting child labor in American Samoa.

Last night, The Media Wonk saw something new: a straight-up, undisguised plug from Comcastfor its dealto gain control of NBC Universal. Presumably, the intended audience was the small group of lawyers and civil servants at the FCC, FTC and the Department of Justice who will be reviewing the deal and have the power to change or block it. How’s that for targeted advertising?

comcast-nbc-monopolyI’m puzzled by why Comcast is trumpeting this thing, though, especially here. The message of the ad (I wasn’t taking notes so I can’t quote from it) concerned all the wonderful new things Comcast would be bringing viewers now that it controls one of the largest media companies on the planet. Given all the groups here peppering the FCC et. al. with concerns over all the new things  Comcast will be able to do now that it controls one of the largest media companies on the planet, I’m not sure Comcastwouldn’t be better off laying low and not drawing any more attention to its size and reach (you can read my full analysis of the strategic implications of the deal at GigaOm Pro (very modest annual sub. req’d)). Read More »

The un-reality of Partygate

The White House party crashers is not a subject that would usually occupy The Media Wonk. But here in Washington, with so many people running about, flapping their arms like frightened hens over the horror of it all, it’s a very difficult story to ignore. After the crashers themselves and White House social secretary Desiree Rogers declined to appear before Congress to explain themselves (the latter on separation of powers grounds) some on the Hill are talking subpoenas, three Secret Service agents have but put on leave and could lose their jobs, the crashers are lawyering up and the cable news networks have created logos and assigned theme music to the story, a sure sign we’re about to go wall-to-wall on this.

salahi-obamaFeh. I’m with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who had to remind overheated reporters at the daily brief Thursday that this isn’t exactly Watergate. It’s a security screw-up in which no one got hurt and the president was in no proximate danger. Worth an internal reveiw by the Secret Service and White House to be sure. But Congressional hearings? Please.

That said, if Congress is determined to start firing out subpeonas, here’s my suggestion: Bravo. The network has been asked little and said less about the incident, even though it was following Michaele Salahi around with a camera all day leading up to the state dinner as part of the preliminary screening for Real Housewives of DC. They followed when she crashed the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders reunion party, where she pretended to be a former member of the squad and made a nuisance of herself.  I’m sure more such stunts will surface in coming days (they always do, like sex tapes.) So why isn’t anyone asking Bravo about its role in encouraging, or perhaps even participating in,  what was, at a minimum, silly and annoying behavior and at worst, possible criminal activity?

Now would be the perfect time for a little reality show reality check. Bravo is owned by NBC Universal, which just announced its pending merger with cable giant Comcast, creating an new media behemoth with myriad conflicts of interest, potential antitrust problems and potential to have a significant and baleful impact on media diversity. Regulators at the FCC, FTC and DOJ are just beginning to pick through the details of the deal. I say, put Bravo under the hot lights and let’s see what the hell it thought it was doing encouraging a freak show act like the Salahis to crash a state dinner.

Apple still messing with people's heads on video

For a company that has never been terribly friendly toward ordinary press coverage Apple has had a remarkably sophisticated media operation over the years when it suits Apple’s purposes. They’ve been masterful at winking, nodding and leaking just enough juicy bits to the fanboy sites and a few carefully selected mainstream outlets to get everybody hyped up ahead of new product announcements, often managing to turn not much into big news. But it has been outdoing itself lately in its manipulations around online video.

Apparently unsure what it wants to do itself in video, Apple seems to want to make sure no one else figures it out first.  So it’s sowing FUD about video industry initiatives by leaking “news” of purported video plans of its own that borders on vaporware.

apple-tv-2Last month, the Wall Street Journal broke the “news”of iDisney’s Keychest technology that will supposedly let consumers buy permanent access to movies and then retrieve them from the cloud using a variety of devices. “People in the entertainment industry,”  told the Journal “it would be reasonable to infer that Apple would cooperate with such an initiative.”

And The Media Wonk is telling you it’s reasonable to infer that it was Apple who told the Journal that. It is also reasonable to infer that the story’s appearance on the eve of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem discussions in Seoul was not a coincidence. Neither Apple nor iDisney are members of DECE, which is attempting to devise a system to let consumers, well, buy permanent access to movies and then retrieve them from the cloud using a variety of devices. And it’s certainly not in Apple’s interest for DECE to succeed.

But if Apple is really on-board with Keychest, it’s a fair bet the system will be limited to Apple devices, using Apple DRM. The alternative would be for Apple to design its devices to be interoperable with others, and with other online services. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Today, Apple struck again, once more in the Wall Street Journal. This time, we’re being told that Apple is shopping a plan content owners to create a $30 per month subscription video service through iTunes “if Apple is able to get enough buy-in from broadcast and cable TV programmers.”

I’m willing to bet no actual “broadcast and cable TV programmers” have really been pitched on the idea, apart from iDisney’s ABC and ESPN networks, who I’m sure were enthusiastic. And I’m also willing to bet that the timing of the trial balloon is related to Comcast’s recent announcement that it plans to rollout its On Demand Online (i.e. TV Everywhere) service to all 24 million subscribers by January. Comcast has had strong support from the pay-TV networks for its ODO trial in 5,000 homes, but a number of those networks are on the fence about whether they want to be part of the broader rollout. Hey, maybe they should see what Apple is offering before signing up with Comcast. No wonder Comcast is so anxious to buy NBC Universal. At least then it can play the same game Apple is playing. (Does it need saying that Disney has been cooler toward TV Everywhere than other pay-TV programmers and is not involved in the Comcast test?)

Everyone would be better off if Apple just figured out what it wants to do in video so the rest of the industry can get on with business.

Net neutrality is Comcastic! Or not.

The Media Wonk co-produced and moderated the panel discussion at the first Digital Breakfast DC event on Thursday and if you missed it, boy did you miss some first-class jaw-boning over net neutrality, fair use and the mysteries of HADOPI. Not to mention chance to practice your skills at balancing a bagel and fruit plate atop a cup of coffee with one hand, while handshaking and schmoozing with the other. There was some genuine talent in the room in that category, let me tell you.

fcc-sealOne person who was scheduled to be there but wasn’t was Rick Cotton, general counsel of NBC Universal. Cotton’s office sent word on Monday that he would likely have to cancel his planned trip to DC this week because, “something had come up,” back in NY so he wouldn’t be able to make the panel. They didn’t say what the “something” was but when the first reports of talks between GE and Comcast over a deal involving NBC broke Wednesday night two and two seemed to come together neatly to equal four (for the record, his office cautioned against putting two and two together).

While it was unfortunate that Rick couldn’t make it (thanks again to Michael O’Leary of the MPAA for stepping in at the last minute), if his absence was in fact related to the reported Comcast talks it at least was on topic. Among the issues discussed by the panel was the FCC’s recently announced plans to conduct a formal rule-making on net neutrality, and in particular chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposal that in enshrine a “principle of non-discrimination”: Read More »

More to chew on over breakfast

As I noted in my last post, The Media Wonk will be hosting the first Digital Breakfast DC panel discussion on Oct. 1 on the topic of Technology and IP Enforcement, including the role of the White House IP Enforcement Coordinator, a new position created by the PRO-IP Act last year. Today, President Barack Obama named former head of Intellectual Property and Innovation at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Victoria Espinel to be the first to fill the new post.

victorial-espinel2The nomination, who must be approved by the Senate, drew praise from both sides of the IP aisle. “Today’s appointment is the welcome culmination of many months of work toward a more streamlined approach to intellectual property enforcement by the federal government,” the Copyright Alliance said in a statement. “This appointment and its locale within the Office of Management and Budget is a strong sign by the Administration that it believes in the importance of creators’ rights and seeing those rights are enforced here and abroad.”

Public Interest group Public Knowledge, which is often at odds with the Copyright Alliance over IP issues, said in a statement, ““We congratulate Victoria Espinel on her nomination to be the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator. She is well qualified for the position, having served as the assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Intellectual Property and Innovation. We look forward to working with her upon confirmation by the Senate. We believe she will be fair in her approach to intellectual property enforcement issues.”

Discussion the appointment at the breakfast will be panelistsRick Cotton, general counsel of NBC Universal, Prof. Peter Jaszi of Washington College of Law at American University, Jon Baumgarten, partner with Proskauer Rose, Bill Rosenblatt of GiantSteps Media and entertainment attorney Chris Castle, who represents music artists and songwriters.

Those interested in attending can register here.

An uneasy alliance on TV Everywhere

I have a guest post up this weekend over at GigaOm where I discuss some of the potential technical and anti-trust problems with Time Warner  CEO Jeff Bewkes’ concept for TV Everywhere, particularly the amount of cooperation and information sharing among nominally competing service providers necessary to make the system work.

But there are other potential problems that could also scuttle the industry’s best-laid plans. Like the imperfectly aligned interests of programmers and service providers.

It’s striking, although perhaps not surprising, that much of the impetus for the plan is coming from programmers. The idea was first articulated by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, who coined the term TV Everywhere (at the time Time Warner still owned Time Warner Cable but was in the process of spinning it off). But other programmers have been quick to jump on board. Read More »