Bad OTT experience could chase cord cutters back to pay TV

NEW YORK--While a new generation of cord nevers may be willing to put up with occasional poor streaming quality of online video, cord cutters--that coveted group of past pay-TV subscribers who have ditched linear video service for Internet viewing--might return to the pay-TV fold if their streaming experience is bad.

That's the feeling of some online video executives participating in an OTT Video Executive Summit here Tuesday, who paid close attention to a panel of video consumers and their responses to questions about the quality of their streaming experience.

"The experience has to be at least (as good as traditional TV). It has to be everything you expect in the OTT experience," said Stephen Johnson of Coach Media in the summit's opening session.

But cord nevers can put up with a less-than-ideal experience, for a short time, if the content itself is worth watching.

"It happened to me yesterday, I was watching The Walking Dead and the quality was god-awful," said Akshay Bhardwaj, a freshman at George Washington University. "But as long as I could see the action I was hooked." His school has good Wi-Fi, he said, but the streaming experience isn't always good. "When Netflix crashes, it sucks. It's like 2012 all over again."

Still, OTT providers need to continue improving the experience regardless of the audience.

"The flip is if you have a good experience you will consume more. … If (the provider) can improve quality of experience, you have an opportunity to drive additional revenues," said Alice Bertram, VP of marketing at PeerApp in an afternoon session on content delivery.

At any rate, TV Everywhere still has some catching up to do with viewer expectations, before pay-TV providers can dream of cord cutters fleeing back into their arms.

"I would like control of what I want to watch. I don't want anyone telling me this is the group of channels you get to watch," said Alicia Perez, a member of the consumer panel and a second-generation American who watches Spanish-language content. To get the Latin American channel package from her cable provider, she had to take 300 other channels. "I also pay for Starz and Showtime and try to use catch up. Cablevision has (catchup viewing) but when I was in the Dominican Republic they said you have to be in your home to watch. So why do you have an app? That made me very upset."

Subscription requirements and viewing permissions are compounded by the simple problem of being able to log in, according to Synacor VP Steve Davi.

"We think authentication is a big roadblock. We see on a normal website 60-70 percent of people giving up on their content because they can't remember the password," he said in the opening session.

All in all, the video market is shaping up to be an arms race between pay-TV, with their TV Everywhere options, and OTT providers. And quality is the key, said Bonnie Optekman, a consultant and former VP of Connected TV at NBC News.

"Whoever makes the experience the smoothest will win," she said.

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Great job, online video! Don't get cocky