Will “TV Everywhere” Turn Into an iPad-Only Game?

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Although “TV Everywhere” is already catching on big-time on the iPad, the jury is still out about how well — or not — TV shows and other streaming video from major entertainment empires will fare on other mobile gadgets, according to some experts on the subject.

Long a holdout against mobile video, HBO has been going strong with HBO Go since the release of its iOS and Android OS apps in May of last year, said Brian Miller, Western Digital’s director of business development for branded products, during the recent Streaming Media East conference in New York City. The apps are free of charge to HBO subscribers.

HBOGo

HBO is a prime example of a “TV Everywhere” player, along with companies ranging from The Walk Disney Company and Viacom to Comcast and Dish Network. Unlike device-agnostic “Over the Top” (OTT) services like Netflix and Hulu, which were born on the Internet, TV Everywhere folks are moving toward the world of the Web and mobile apps from traditional TV, noted Keith Wymbs, VP of marketing for Elemental Technologies, another conference speaker.

Meanwhile, free apps from Disney, Viacom and Time Warner Cable (TWC) are “doing great” on Apple’s iPads, while paid video apps from TV Everywhere companies aren’t going anywhere, according to a report released this week by analyst firm SNL Kagan.

Disney is giving support to streaming video apps for both iOS and Android, although more of its content seems to be available for iOS. On its Web site, for example, Disney-owned ABC advertises the availability of an app called ABC Mobile – Video on Demand for iPad and iPhone, but not for Android. Comcast subscribers can now use an app called “WatchESPN” to view streaming content from Disney-owned ESPN, but only on iOS devices at this point. On the other hand, an Android version of the app is already available for use with ESPN content streamed over TWC, Verizon FiOS, and Bright House Network.

Some Media Empires Still Balking

In contrast, some other traditional TV broadcasters have been reluctant to take steps into Internet video streaming due to Web economics. With free apps more popular than paid apps, TV Everywhere practitioners have made attempts at using advertising to generate revenue.

Still, the broadcasters can’t earn nearly as much from Web ads, and the absence of the Nielsen ratings in the Internet streaming market makes it difficult to tell how much to charge advertisers, anyway, said Seth Metsch, A&E Networks’ VP of legal and business affairs and general media counsel.

TWC

Meanwhile, content providers like A&E and Viacom must deal with a hodgepodge of different licensing schemes that might make it feasible to distribute some content over the Web but not all of it.

With more and more video turning up on the Web, more content providers are now starting to accept distribution to mobile devices as “a necessary churn reduction tool to complement existing multichannel subscription services, and less as an opportunity to generate new revenue,” according to SNG Kagan’s report.

Just last week, Viacom settled a legal dispute with TWC over whether its subscribers can watch TV shows like “Jersey Shore” on mobile gadgets. The upshot is that users subscribing to TWC’s “expanded basic” video package (or better) will be able to view these shows on iOS and Android devices through the TWC TV app.

iPad is Way Ahead

Right now, emerging TV Everywhere players are overwhelmingly favoring the iPad as their mobile platform of choice, Wymbs told TabletPCReview in another interview. That’s because of factors like its “horsepower” and the Retina screen on the iPad 3.

Still, though, TV Everywhere “isn’t going to be an iPad-only game,” Eisen contended, in another interview.

During Streaming Media, other members of a TV Everywhere panel also spoke in favor of supporting two different mobile platforms, as opposed to either the iPad only or a multitude of platforms. Presumably, content providers don’t want to get locked into a single-vendor situation with Apple. Yet the ultimate identity of the second platform remains unclear.

Most TV Everywhere apps today are available for iPhone, iPads, and Android OS phones and tablets. However, smartphone screens are too small to get widespread use for TV viewing, according to Wymbs. At the same time, penetration rates in US households are much higher for iPads than for Android tablets.

ESPN 2

Shades of Xbox 360 and BlackBerry

In addition to iOS and Android, TV Everywhere providers have been giving smatterings of support to a patchwork quilt of other mobile devices. HBO Go is also now available for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 on certain cable networks, such as TWC and Comcast.

Outside of its streaming apps for iOS and Android, Disney has produced at least one storybook app for Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader.

A Sling-enabled app for Dish Network, now available for iOS and Android, was originally announced for some BlackBerry phone models, too. However, the BlackBerry app hasn’t made it out of beta.

Over the years, Sling has produced mobile apps for 71 different mobile devices, running on mobile OS that include BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Phone, said Michael Fisher, Sling’s senior director for business development.

Keeping mobile app support to just a couple of platforms would be much simpler and more cost effective for Sling, Fisher observed. Yet some OS will “fork,” he reasoned, in a seeming reference to Android.

TV Everywhere providers need to offer an iPad app, Wymbs told the Streaming Media audience. “That’s a no-brainer,” he elaborated. Yet Wymbs also predicted the emergence of “two dominant players” for mobile video apps, with the second player to be determined by the “strengths” of the platform.

Panelists also joked that the “two platforms” could turn out to be the iPad and the iPhone.

Yet if upcoming Windows 8 tablets do take off among consumers, maybe they’ll ultimately become a second major platform for TV Everywhere. Following Microsoft’s release of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in February third-party toolmaker Vsood introduced new video streaming media development tools for Metro Style applications. We shall see what we shall see.

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