The iTV Doctor Is In! OTT and the Kitchen Table

Dear Readers
At TVOT 2014 San Francisco, we had an all-star cast of panelists at our Virtual MSO panel: Sherry Brennan from Fox Networks; Mick Darling from Tomorrowish; Paul Johnson from MPP Global; Adam Lowy from Dish Network; Tom Morgan from Net2TV; Eric Fitzgerald Reed from Verizon; and Eduard Zaslavsky from WebTuner 
During that June, 2014 session, I described a scenario for sometime in the next year where our customers will be sitting at their kitchen tables looking at all of their individual pay-TV subscriptions: Netflix, something from Dish, something from Verizon, probably something from HBO, maybe NFL Sunday Ticket and one or two more. The services would be laid out like baseball cards, and our customers would start flipping the services according to where they get the best deals: three months free here, gift card there, in-season sports, just want to watch "Game of Thrones," etc. 
A year later, most of that has come to pass, along with two other rather critical issues: the current batch of OTT services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, Sling TV, CBS All Access, HBO Now and others ready-to-launch) have different billing models and our customers have to keep track of payments through iTunes, PayPal, direct-debit and a handful of credit cards. It can be a bit overwhelming. 
And, of course, there is no unified program guide to find out what's available on their own "package" of services, whether on-demand or at 9:00 tonight. They can go to individual sites and services and search, but that's such a pain in the neck. 
After all, watching television is supposed to be easy, right? 
Since TVOT 2014, I have used that Kitchen Table metaphor at over a dozen panels, most recently at TV Connect in London. And every time, I see the audience nodding their heads. They get it. They're not sure what to do with it, but they certainly get it. 
And over the last year I've added a solution to the problem: before too long, someone will come along and say, "That's OK, bubala. We'll take care of all that for you. We'll give you exactly what you want at exactly what you're paying now, all on a single bill. And we'll give you a unified program guide so you can find everything you subscribe to." 
Of course, most of the major MVPD providers could do that, and they're probably working on it right as I'm writing this. But they all have body-slam business issues to deal with now, and the incremental revenue from providing that kind of aggregation won't significantly move the revenue needle...yet. 
And there are a lot of companies developing hybrid set-top boxes for the new television world: devices that can handle a variety of video feeds from a variety of sources, including over-the-air antennas. I saw about forty different products at TV Connect and at the NAB show in Las Vegas, and I'm sure there were even more at INTX (The Cable Show) in Chicago. 
And there are certainly sufficient closed platforms that can PUSH the content to consumer devices, but that doesn't really address the consumers' need to fully customize their package, with convenient billing and a great guide. 
But if I'm reading the tea leaves correctly (and I usually do), we might not have long to wait before somebody steps up. 
And while we're on the topic of guides, here's another sound bite: From the consumer's perspective, the guide doesn't need to show everything; IT NEEDS TO SHOW THE RIGHT THING. 
Doctor's note: Guides are near and dear to my heart; I spent many years in that space. And I even had (emphasis on past-tense) a patent that I'm pretty sure just about everybody is violating. And I believe that none of the guides we have today will work tomorrow. 
We'll take up the conversation again at TVOT San Francisco, June 23rd-24th at the Presidio, with a hand-picked panel representing OTT distributors, ad sales, networks, curation, metadata management, UX design and navigation. Here's how that panel is looking now: 
  • Adam Lowy, GM of Interactive and Advanced TV, DISH & Sling TV
  • Jim Theberge, Head of Product Management and Sales Strategy, Advanced Advertising, Verizon
  • Mike Earle, CEO, aioTV
  • Claire McHugh, CEO, Axonista
  • Adam Ware, SVP/Head of Digital Media, Tennis Channel
  • Daren Gill, VP of Product, Advanced Search and Recommendations, Rovi
OTT distribution is no longer trending. At the speed of today's deployments of new OTT products and services, OTT has needed to mature very quickly. And while we are solving the technical and distribution questions relatively quickly, the great unknown remains: The Consumers. What will they buy? What will they use? What will they keep? How will they respond to advertising? And how are they (and we) going to deal with the hundreds of OTT options that will be available within the next 12 months? 
In our legacy business model, consumers had to deal with hundreds of channels in a convenient bundle. Now they have to navigate through hundreds of choices, and make a purchase, a viewing and a retention decision about each. And all those viewers represent eyeballs that we need to monetize through new advanced advertising paradigms. 
Our panel will focus on OTT consumer marketing, usage/tune-in, retention and advertising: in other words, all the things that we know EXACTLY how to do in our legacy business, but we are just LEARNING HOW TO DO in the OTT business. 
See you at the Presidio.

The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.


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