Lack of consistency drags down cable's TV Everywhere ambitions

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Steve Donohue, FierceCable

Aside from exclusive programming like DirecTV's (Nasdaq: DTV) Audience Network or Time Warner Cable's (NYSE: TWC) New York 1, there's little difference in the packages of linear networks pay TV providers sell today. But when it comes to authenticating which subscribers get access to TV Everywhere online video portals and apps offered by networks in their bundles, anything goes.

Just take a look at the disparate approaches from Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) in the options they give subscribers to watch shows from NBCUniversal's USA Network, Bravo, SyFy and Oxygen. Cablevision Optimum subscribers who visit its TV to Go portal can click on links that take them to SyFy Everywhere, USA Anywhere, Bravo Now and Oxygen Everywhere. Once they get to the portals, Optimum subscribers are prompted to enter the user name and password they use to access their cable accounts. Subscribers of Comcast, which owns NBCU, can't watch complete episodes of shows like USA's Psych or Oyxgen's Bad Girls Club Atlanta through the NBCU online video portals, except for Style Anywhere.

"Think of it as a moment in time," Comcast SVP of Digital and Emerging Platforms Matt Strauss said in a recent interview, when I asked why Cablevision subscribers get a different experience than Comcast subscribers looking for NBCU content on the Web. Strauss said Comcast subscribers will soon be able to access content through the NBCU portals, but that the MSO has focused initially on delivering content from NBCU and other cable programmers through its Xfinity TV portal and Xfinity TV Player apps for Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone and iPad, and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android devices.

Strauss noted that Comcast began distributing Showtime original series through Xfinity TV in 2011, long before most other pay TV providers began offering access to the premium network's Showtime Anytime mobile video app.

Strauss and Comcast are included in a FierceCable feature this week focused on TV Everywhere authentication platforms. We've looked at how the industry has progressed since the launch of the first TV Everywhere site in 2009, and some of the challenges distributors and programmers face in driving increased consumption on the Web and through mobile video apps.

TV Everywhere is becoming more user friendly thanks to approaches such as automatic in-home authentication, which Comcast and Adobe launched last summer for the London Olympics. And technology vendors such as Synacor are easing the login process by allowing subscribers of Midcontinent Communications and other operators to use their Facebook, Twitter or Google logins to access protected subscription video content.

There's no doubt that authentication technology has improved dramatically in the last year. But obtaining multiplatform rights to hit primetime series from the Big Four broadcast networks may be one of the biggest challenges for cable and satellite providers, and rights issues are a chief source of the inconsistency in their offerings. Comcast, which has rights to more TV Everywhere content than any other provider, was able to include CBS in the Watchathon multiplatform viewing marathon that it ran for a week in April. While it was able to offer subscribers access to CBS shows like NCIS through the Xfinity TV web portal, CBS doesn't yet allow it to deliver full-length shows through the Xfinity TV Player mobile video apps.

CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) recently announced that it had bought an equity stake in Syncbak, an Iowa-based technology company that is selling an authentication platform that broadcasters can use to stream programming to local viewers. The company's WCBS-TV station in New York also has a deal with Dyle that lets customers of the mobile video service watch live CBS programming by connecting an over-the-air antenna to an iPhone or iPad. Those deals could help explain why CBS would resist the idea of letting Comcast and other pay TV providers be a conduit for delivering content to mobile viewers.

CBS rival Fox has said it is looking to use access to TV Everywhere content as a way to gain leverage in its retransmission-consent talks with cable and satellite providers. That's one of the topics covered in our feature. To read it, please click here. -Steve