A Look Back: Lessons learned from TV Everywhere a year after deployment

Marty Roberts, thePlatformBy Marty Roberts

For nearly a year now, thePlatform has been supporting some of the largest TV Everywhere initiatives to date. In that time, we've encountered some surprising--as well as anticipated--challenges while helping our customers architect TV Everywhere. The following is a glimpse at some of the most interesting lessons learned so far in working with programmers and service providers to bring their TV Everywhere initiatives to market.

Authentication and authorization really do provide a seamless user experience

One of the biggest misconceptions about TV Everywhere is that the log-in process is prohibitively complicated for subscribers to cable, telco, or other TV service providers.  The successful viewing metrics from ESPN3's broadcast of the 2010 FIFA World Cup have shown that consumers are willing to add an additional step and enter their credentials to access quality content.

We've learned that in practice users have to be authenticated by the service provider's system, so the programmer isn't gathering any personally identifiable information about an individual subscriber--including user name and password. There are two ways this is being approached today: 1) A viewer can be sent to the service provider's website to log-in and then redirected back to the programmer's website; 2) Alternatively, a log-in can be embedded into a programmer's own website, but hosted on the back-end by the service provider. After a user is authenticated as a current subscriber, the system performs a two-step authorization check before the selected video can begin playback. This first consists of validating all the business policies surrounding that content--such as geographic restriction, air dates, etc.--and then verifying that the viewer has access to the particular TV channel based on their subscription package.

Content libraries demand more rigorous ingest and metadata

The sheer size of the new TV Everywhere content libraries coming on to the Web for the first time present a challenge in terms of how best to bring all of this content online. We're finding that the ingest process has to be very rigorous and coordinated. Each key piece of metadata has to be gathered as it comes online--for example, parental control ratings have to be included on each individual piece of video. Additionally, each piece of content must be marked with its associated channel IDs, and since each service provider has its own ID for each TV channel, this becomes a critical piece of data.

End user registration requirements should account for parental controls

One of the new challenges in architecting TV Everywhere is how to differentiate individual users' ages to help determine which content is appropriate for each viewer who can access it. Parental guidelines are a given on TV. After all, the V-Chip--which allows parents to block programs based on the industry's ratings system--has become standard on television sets manufactured since 2000 and many service providers offer parental controls as part of their programming guides. A thoughtful registration process for online viewing must be employed to account for each member of the household and their acceptable parental control settings.

Personalized discovery is still often overlooked

When a user visits a programmer or service provider website, logs-in and searches for an episode of the TV show their friend just recommended, there are still some fundamental choices to be made. Should the results display simply the channels to which the user subscribes or should they list content that a viewer could access if they were to upgrade to a different pay-TV package? Content discovery also has to align with the parental controls and age restrictions set for the individual user. Even titles or thumbnail images could be considered inappropriate for some viewers.

Content security should be tied to the number of active sessions

Credential sharing, where users give their username and password to friends and family is a serious concern. Some methods for gating this are to cap the number of active viewing sessions or to limit the number of active devices that a user can register to access TV Everywhere content. Reports detailing excessive usage can also be provided to quickly identify users who exceed the site's usage policy. Ultimately the goal is to avoid capping usage based on the number of streams per user, which are delivered by the content delivery network (CDN) and often streamed from dozens of different servers.

TV Everywhere offers significant benefits for consumers, service providers and programmers. In the course of this first year of deployments, our work has focused on ensuring a seamless experience for consumers while preserving business models and protecting content rights.   

Marty Roberts is VP of Sales and Marketing at thePlatform. He can be reached at Marty.roberts@theplatform.com. This article originally appeared in CED Magazine