ESPN: Monday Night Football Extension includes 3D Broadcast Rights

  • ESPN has announced an eight-year extension of “Monday Night Football” that includes 3D broadcast rights, expanded NFL studio programming, highlight rights for TV and ESPN.com, continued Spanish language rights, the Pro Bowl, the NFL Draft,  and rights to simulcast network coverage on tablet devices through the WatchESPN app.
  • The deal, which runs from 2014 to 2021, “should help quell ideas that ESPN 3D might be axed after its removal from U-verse,” suggests Engadget.
  • According to the press release: “The extensive package of NFL rights will fuel the continued growth of ESPN year-round, boosting its core television business while at the same time supporting the company’s ‘best available screen’ strategy with NFL programs on TV, online and on mobile devices via authentication and digital rights.”
  • The agreement will also lead to “Monday Night Football” celebrating its 50th anniversary season on ESPN in 2020.

Will Dissolution of the Netflix-Starz Relationship Impact Video Biz?

  • Netflix walked away from another deal with Starz after that company insisted on a tiered-pricing model similar to what they would get with a cable channel. Netflix did not want to tamper with the simplicity of its monthly fee model.
  • Netflix had reportedly offered Starz more than $300 million per year to renew their agreement.
  • With the demise of the Starz deal, Netflix customers may feel that they are paying more and getting less. Still, Netflix counters that their Starz content accounts for only 5-6 percent of domestic viewing.
  • Netflix will be challenged by competitors like Hulu, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft XBox Live. Moreover, cable companies are increasingly offering similar access to video through TV Anywhere services.
  • Starz may either sell its content to a Netflix competitor or try and create its own streaming brand like HBO.

Judge Enters His Own OVD Condition with Comcast-NBCU Final Judgment

  • Consent from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger has been approved, but with a new condition.
  • Comcast purchased 51 percent of NBCUniversal from General Electric in January, creating a $30 billion business that includes broadcast, cable networks, movie studios and theme parks.
  • At that time, the Department of Justice said Comcast could acquire NBCUniversal only if it ceded control of Hulu and made stand-alone broadband service available at $49.95 per month for three years, but the settlement still required final approval.
  • Last week, Judge Richard Leon delivered final approval, but stipulated that the federal government would monitor whether rival online video services, such as Hulu or Netflix, demand arbitration to license content from Comcast-NBCU for the next two years.
  • The ability of rivals to obtain programming was one of the key concerns of the DOJ and the FCC during reviews of the merger.
  • “Since neither the Court nor the parties has a crystal ball to forecast how this Final Judgment, along with its arbitration mechanisms, will actually function … I believe that certain additional steps are necessary,” Leon said in a court order.

ESPN’s Billion-Plus Online Video Streams Now Powered by Ooyala

  • ESPN has selected Mountain View-based Ooyala to power the sports broadcaster’s streaming video content. The platform will replace a proprietary model administered by ESPN.
  • Ooyala’s platform will reportedly increase the quality of playback, reduce load times and streamline back-end management.
  • “It’s a serious feather in the cap and vote of confidence for the four-year-old video startup, as ESPN is one of the biggest producers of online video content, with 400 unique visitors hitting play on ESPN videos every second (and serving over 1 billion streams per month),” reports TechCrunch.
  • The media technology site sees the move as positive: “All in all, it’s great to see ESPN finally offering a quality player with fast load times and a more linear on demand experience in which video queues and layouts feel more akin to a television viewing experience — and can compete in ease of video use with YouTube.”

Epix Everywhere: The Future of Premium Cable Networks?

  • Premium cable network Epix has had its library of Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate movies available for streaming for nearly two years.
  • Since its launch in 2009, Epix has added original programming to its library of 3,000 film titles and has expanded its number of distribution partners.
  • “The channel is now available through Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, Cox, Charter, Mediacom, Suddenlink and the National Cable and Telecommunications Cooperative,” reports GigaOM. “Together, those distributors have more than 30 million subscribers, of which Epix has managed to sign up 9 million to its network.”
  • But now that TV Everywhere has become the trend with other networks, Epix is looking to differentiate itself in additional ways.
  • Epix is building apps for new devices (the network is already available on more than 100 devices), producing more of its own exclusive content, adding video that complements its library of movies, and leveraging partnerships that provide original video content.
  • Clearly, premium cable (and perhaps all television) needs to look beyond traditional practices to survive. Is Epix becoming the model of what a premium cable channel needs to be in the era of TV Everywhere?

ESPN Takes a New Approach to 3D Production

  • Variety reports that ESPN remains enthusiastic about 3D technology, despite its slow adoption (and AT&T’s recent decision to drop ESPN 3D from its U-Verse TV service).
  • ESPN is pushing its 3D effort by focusing on combining 2D and 3D production (nicknamed “5D”), which the network says brings costs down substantially. 2D/3D production includes slower cutting and more use of robotic cameras. As the production crews gain more experience in shooting sports beyond HD, the equipment, camera placement and general approach continues to improve.
  • “Some innovations created for 3D have even made it over to the 2D side,” reports Variety. “For example, 3D cameras need to be closer to the action than 2D cameras, so the high 50-yard-line shots that are a staple of football coverage are problematic. To get closer, ESPN put a 3D camera on a 22-foot mast on a small vehicle that goes up and down the sideline.”
  • ESPN stands by the technology, explaining that Twitter feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. And some play-by-play announcers have even indicated they don’t want to go back to watching 2D.

Cord-Cutting: Record Numbers in Cancelled Pay TV Subscriptions

  • The six largest cable and satellite TV providers lost 580,000 customers in the second quarter. This marks the largest such decline in U.S. history.
  • The number of pay TV subscribers has declined in three of the past five quarters.
  • “Rising prices for pay TV, coupled with growing availability of lower-cost alternatives, add to a toxic mix at a time when disposable income isn’t growing,” explains Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. “For younger demographics, where in many cohorts unemployment is north of 30 percent, and especially for those with limited or no interest in sports, the pay TV equation is almost inarguably getting less attractive.”
  • Netflix and Hulu provide lower cost options. Competition from AT&T and Verizon is also having an effect.
  • Providers are struggling to deal with the trend. Dish, for example, is re-positioning itself away from lower income customers. Instead, the company plans to focus on more expensive offerings to increase average revenue per user.

Next for HBO GO Platform: PS3, Xbox 360, Blu-ray Players

  • Time Warner launched the HBO GO platform earlier this year, with Android and iPhone apps that stream HBO content to mobile devices.
  • TG Daily reports that HBO GO may soon be “getting optimized” for TVs, with the platform becoming available on the PS3, Xbox 360, and other Internet-ready devices.
  • “It may seem like a pointless feature, because if you’re watching your TV, you could just tune into your cable box and watch HBO On Demand from there,” explains TG Daily. “But this way, you’d be able to take your HBO subscription to a friend’s house, or watch content on the app that may not be available on the current HBO On Demand library.”
  • In addition to regular programming content, HBO GO provides exclusive content (such as behind-the-scenes clips) and an intuitive video search interface featuring customizable lists.

30 Years of MTV: Impact of Technology and its Multi-Platform Future

  • Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the cable network MTV, which debuted at 12:01 a.m. on August 1, 1981.
  • MTV launched modestly, originally accessible to a few thousand subscribers of a New Jersey cable system. Today, it is more of a lifestyle brand than a cable network, and reaches hundreds of millions of households worldwide.
  • The first music video aired on the new network was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. Mashable reports: “The words were true. Almost overnight, the music video became one of the most important promotional and marketing vehicles for the music industry. Artists that best utilized the new format — Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and Weird Al Yankovic — became not just stars, but icons. In short, video really did kill the radio star.”
  • Now the question has become, Did YouTube Kill the Music Video Channel? Mashable spoke to Shannon Connolly, VP of digital music strategy at MTV, about the evolution of the network and the impact that digital technologies have had on MTV. Connolly suggests that MTV has grown beyond the role of a music video jukebox to a new core competency involving curation.
  • Connolly added that the future of MTV is about creating multi-platform music experiences: “Everything is multi-platform. Every app, every partnership, we think ‘How is this going to extend from the tablet to the mobile to the connected TV.'”
  • The Mashable post includes a selection of videos that aired on MTV the day of its premiere.

Motorola Televation Streams Live TV Slingbox-Style

  • At the 2011 Cable Show in Chicago this week, Motorola Mobility showcased a new Slingbox-style device that allows customers to stream live TV to connected devices within range of their home network.
  • Motorola Televation, a broadband device that works with a Wi-Fi router, was developed with engineers from Comcast (the cable provider is also demoing Televation at the Cable Show).
  • Televation uses a 1GHz digital tuner and CableCard to access channels directly from a coax outlet and real-time transcoding of live MPEG-2 TV broadcasts into MPEG-4 IP streams for devices such as Android and iOS tablets, IP-connected TVs, etc.
  • “Consumers love entertainment, and want easy access to TV no matter where they are in the home. Coupled with the explosive popularity of tablet devices, this represents a terrific opportunity for MSOs to increase customer satisfaction while generating new revenue,” explains John Burke, senior VP and GM, Converged Experiences, Motorola Mobility. “Televation gives our customers the ability to launch a new service that puts innovation back into TV, enabling their subscribers to enjoy TV beyond the TV.”

UPDATE: Time Warner Cable Drops Channels from iPad App, Sues Viacom

We recently reported that Time Warner Cable had drawn significant controversy over its free live-streaming app that provides subscribers access to streaming television content via their iPad (only in their homes). AP reports that Time Warner Cable has bowed to the subsequent pressure from Fox Cable Networks, Viacom and Discovery — and will drop 12 cable channels from the app (20 channels will remain and Time Warner Cable suggests it has plans to add more). The three programmers had complained that the app violated their programming contracts.

“For the time being, we have decided to focus our iPad efforts on those enlightened programmers who understand the benefit and importance of allowing our subscribers — and their viewers — to watch their programming on any screen in their homes,” explained Time Warner Cable in a statement.

Since the AP story hit the wires, Time Warner Cable and Viacom announced they are countersuing each other in U.S. District Court. This case may be an important indicator regarding the growing debate over content and licensing rights amidst an era of mobile devices.

Related Los Angeles Times article: “Time Warner Cable and Viacom sue over iPad app” (4/8/11)

Related Forbes article: “Viacom Yanks Channels From iPad App, Raises Stakes In Streaming Standoff” (4/8/11)

Related Broadcasting & Cable article: “TWC Clicks iPad App Channel Count up to 73” (4/25/11)

Time Warner Draws Controversy with Live-Streaming iPad App

Time Warner Cable recently released a new iPad app that provides subscribers access to live-streaming television content via their iPad (Cablevision is expected to release a similar app shortly). And not surprisingly, the TV networks have expressed concern. Channel owners including Viacom and Scripps see the streaming capability as a contract violation, and reports indicate that cease and desist orders are underway.

To stream programs from Time Warner, customers download the iPad app, log in to their account, and choose from a selection of channels. The current version of the app only works inside the home for customers who receive both TV and Internet from the operator. The problem with this approach is that the networks view iPad streaming as a separate service from cable television, one that may require a different fee.

While Verizon and Comcast are also working on streaming apps for iPads, clearly the business model has yet to be ironed out. And we still don’t know if consumers will be watching TV through an app from their cable company, an individual channel’s app, or through a service such as Netflix.

Related New York Times story: “Dispute Over Time Warner Cable’s Streaming to iPad Bursts into the Open” (3/28/11)

Related Engadget story: “TWCable TV app for iPad now available, but Dish has something to say about being ‘first with live streaming'” (3/15/11)

Hulu Examines its Business Model: Online Cable Operator?

Internet TV pioneer Hulu is reportedly in discussions to transform its business model. Since its 2008 launch, Hulu has been one of the leaders in free online television delivery and web-video ad dollars.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Hulu’s three owners (NBC Universal, News Corp. and Disney) are concerned that free Web versions of their TV shows are cutting into their traditional business, and the three are at odds regarding how much of their content should be offered for free.

News Corp.’s Fox Broadcasting and Disney’s ABC are considering pulling some of their free content from Hulu (and selling more content to Hulu competitors), while Hulu management is discussing the idea of retooling Hulu as an online cable operator that would use the Web to provide live TV channels and video-on-demand content to customers. If they opt to move forward with such a plan, some form of Hulu’s free service would likely remain and it is possible Hulu Plus could be folded into the new service.

NCAA March Madness via Online, Tablets and Mobile Devices

According to a press release from Turner Sports, CBS Sports and the NCAA, this year’s 68-team NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament will feature newly enhanced March Madness on Demand (MMOD) live products. The services (produced by Turner Sports Interactive) will be available across multiple platforms, including online, and as an app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and for the first time, the iPad. Features available over Wi-Fi and 3G include live viewing with larger format streams, a personalized channel lineup, live in-game stats, social companion views, and more.

Live streaming of every game broadcast by CBS Sports and Turner Sports will start with the First Four on March 15, and run through the Men’s Final Four semifinals and national championship game on April 2 and April 4.

Beginning March 10, free mobile apps will be available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad from the iTunes Apps store.

For a complete list of features, check out the press release included in the Engadget post.

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