On the Hot Seat with David Aufhauser, vice president, general manager of digital media at Pac-12 Enterprises
Pac-12 Enterprises is a new content and multiplatform media company created for the Pac-12 conference. David Aufhauser, vice president and general manager of digital media at Pac-12 Enterprises, recently spoke with FierceCable contributing editor Mari Sibley about the company's TV Everywhere strategy, the importance of good content and what's next for the Pac-12.
FierceCable: The Pac-12 adopted a TV Everywhere strategy earlier than most. As a programmer, what made you decide to invest resources in streaming content to viewers on multiple platforms?
Aufhauser: At the very core we are a content company. And when we think about content, and we think about how our fans want to consume and interact with that content, and connect with our student athletes, and coaches, and our team, we wanted from the outset to provide that to them in the way in which the fans consume that content… I believe we were the first broadcaster, content company to launch a brand new television network and TV Everywhere [network] at the same time.
FierceCable: What were the initial technical challenges you had to overcome? How did you find technology partners?
Aufhauser: When we started out there were very few U.S.-based broadcasters who were doing a 24/7 live video television network. ESPN was doing it. CNN was doing it. There were probably two or three others. When I started out in TV Everywhere, most people had some sort of TV Everywhere application, but it wasn't live. I think HBO is probably the premier TV Everywhere application, but HBO content is not live.
We spent a lot of time vetting out a lot of partners and really focusing on picking best-of-breed partners. The main partner that we work with across the board on all things video is a company called Ooyala. They're a very key partner in helping us build out not just the back-end technology, and the live streams, but also the user experience. Along with Ooyala [is] a company called iStreamPlanet. They are part of that back-end [technology]… We obviously partner with Adobe and Adobe Pass to do all the authentication. And there are some other small partners from a development standpoint that we've worked with.
FierceCable: What is the state of your digital network today? How comprehensive is it? What features do you offer, and what platforms do you support?
Aufhauser: So today, users are able to authenticate using 18 of our providers, so basically all of our major providers can authenticate to our app except for Comcast. We have distribution on the Web. We have distribution on iOS, both iPhone and iPad. We'll be launching an Android and a mobile Web version in coming months, and then we will expand from there.
From a features standpoint, we have some interesting customization so a fan can access… what they want to watch when they want to watch it. [There's a] separate tool if they want to sort [video]. Plus they can go in and say, 'Hey, I want to watch Pac-12 Bay Area, or Pac-12 National, or Pac-12 Arizona' [and] we can give it to you by program or by station or network. We also have a ton of video content that's not live, and again we've added filters to that so that you can watch it and focus in by school, by sport, or by time. We have hundreds of thousands of hours of content [that] has been consumed in that regard.
FierceCable: What has been the response from your viewers to the Pac-12 digital network?
Aufhauser: We've had an absolutely incredible response. Our fans and our schools love it. We've gotten letters and phone calls, especially from some of the parents of student athletes that are just wowed that they can pull out their iPad or iPhone or computer and watch their sons or daughters play on multiple devices. We've gotten some great feedback. I think Comcast subscribers, while they can access it through Xfinity, they've been pretty vocal about getting access through our Pac-12 Now app.
FierceCable: What's the deal with Comcast?
Aufhauser: I think we're just waiting on them to give us the green light.
FierceCable: How do you make money off of the TV Everywhere aspect of this, or at least recoup the investment?
Aufhauser: I think advertising and sponsorship will eventually be part of the mix. From our perspective, being where we are, our focus was really on the product and the fan experience. We haven't really focused on the monetization piece yet. We've got our work cut out for us in exploring that.
FierceCable: What are the new things you hope to accomplish with the digital network in 2013 and beyond?
Aufhauser: I wish you'd ask me that question in about a month. [Laughter]
We were in launch mode. We were in operational mode. And now we're in what-do-we-want-to-be-when-we-want-to-grow-up mode, so I think we have a pretty good vision of where we want to go, which is offering fans a really, really immersive live experience that's integrated with data, and other content, and scores, stats, information on players, and all kind of things that are really at our fingertips that can make for an amazing social viewing experience. But how that manifests itself is literally what we're in the process of scoping out and determining.
FierceCable: For the industry as a whole, can you make any predictions about where TV Everywhere initiatives are headed, and how the viewing experience will evolve for consumers over the next few years?
Aufhauser: Everybody likes to talk about over-the-top, and certainly Netflix and folks are doing that, but there's great content that you need to subscribe to through a TV provider--HBO Go, Pac-12, ESPN, Showtime. I don't think that that model, as much as people like to write about it, is going away any time soon. It will someday. It will happen someday. But not for a while.
I think that the big thing is providing fans what they want to watch when they want to watch it. And I think the way that they discover it; I think that will change significantly over the next year or two.