Operators need to move faster on content-rights deals for TV Everywhere to grow

A new study out from In-Stat says the hybrid set-top-box market will top $1.3 billion by 2014, driven by ever increasing consumer demand to bring Internet content to their TV sets. While the $1.3 billion number is substantial, it shouldn't really be too surprising. After all, everybody's been trying to find a way to bring more content from the Web to the living room.

Which brings up today's other big dollar news that includes the (relatively big) bombshell that Netfix has signed a deal estimated at $1 billion with pay-TV movie channel Epix--a joint venture between Viacom (specifically its studio, Paramount Pictures), Lionsgate and MGM. The deal will give the DVD-by-mail king access to new releases from Epix partners 90 days after they make their premium-pay TV debuts for streaming to its 15 million subscribers online. Granted, it's not the 28-day window that DVD-by-mail releases get, but having a slew (about 300 or so) of new films available to subscribers to watch online is a coup for Netflix, which has been on a content acquisition binge of late.

Again, it talks to that desire consumers feel to have everything at their fingertips, like, for example, content on their mobile phones and tablets, and, yes, there's news on that front as well.

AT&T has rolled out a new app that brings some--and that's an important emphasis, some--of its U-verse content to subscribers' iPhones.

As the industry marches toward TV Everywhere (or TV Anywhere, pick one depending on what mood strikes you), content continues to be the stumbling block. As Jeff Weber, AT&T's VP of U-verse and video products told me last week, technology issues can be overcome to allow for delivery of content far more easily than can the issues of content rights.

The how and why of making sure programmers are getting their fair share of the pot is something that is a long way off, and until that issue is resolved, TVE is going to continue to move at a snail's pace.

"It is the dance between the service providers, the Comcasts and the DirecTVs etc., and the content providers," he said. "And because there is so much money in the industry, that can't get out of balance. And so they tend to keep each other in check and that probably causes things to move a little bit slower, no big surprise there, but it also keeps a healthy ecosystem in total and makes sure it doesn't get out of whack. Because if it gets out of whack, one way or the other, customers aren't going to have access to content over time."

A slow and measured approach to content rights and acquisition may be the smartest approach, but consumers are clamoring for it to pick up speed. The IPTV industry, with its all-IP based delivery, is far better situated to respond to that demand than its cable competition. Maybe it's time to pick up the pace. -Jim

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