Time Warner Cable announced at the end of last week that they are now providing their users with the opportunity to stream live television on their mobile phones and tablets. Exciting, yes? Well, not too exciting. You see, it only works when you are within the confines of your home wi-fi network. Doing a quick search online, there was a report from Nielsen last January stating that the average TVs per U.S. household numbered 2.5 with 31% of households having more than four TVs. With those numbers, will people be able to find a place to watch TV on their personal devices outside the range of one of their televisions? At first glance, the announcement of such a seemingly inane addition of yet another screen in the house is silly. But when you look into it deeper, the issues are more complicated and perplexing.
The silliness stems from the fact that you can’t just stream content to your device anywhere. The perplexing part relates to the further fragmentation (and possibly confusion) of content delivery.
Time Warner Cable had launched an app last year that would allow its subscribers to view content anywhere. Due to court challenges and general push-back from providers, TWC dialed it back and removed the feature. This announcement for the iPhone and iPad allows users to watch some shows live in addition to the ability to manage your DVR, search for shows and some other things. Yet, you still have to view shows on apps from HBO, ABC and others. And, TWC even has a totally separate App just to manage the account – much like HBO offers a completely separate App to enable social interaction with their shows. Which leads to the perplexing part…
One of the beauties about television is that you know where to find everything on one box. You can search through the guides in umpteen different ways and find what interests you. As discussed in this blog last week, the challenge in finding everything online is quite challenging. It shouldn’t be so for the content we want to find on our cable or satellite systems. Even if we can’t get everything through one happy shiny app, we shouldn’t have to download multiple brand apps just to be able to fully consume and interact with that brand. The confusion this brings only leads to a further barrier to adoption.
There are huge economics at play in terms of who owns what with streaming, but most people don’t want to have to bounce between a handful of apps to watch their shows. I would rather have one App to do it, and if Time Warner, DirecTV, or Verizon is my provider in the house, I would much rather access through one app. Even with the NFL Sunday Ticket mobile app that I have through DirecTV, I have to open up another app just to view that content. Is it horrible to have to do this? No. But I won’t do it with multiple apps for all the different cable networks I subscribe to – it’s just to unwieldy.
Further to the economics, I pay extra for the Live NFL content on my mobile because I knew that was an add-on premium. If I had to pay more for the mobile version of other premium offerings, I think I would balk. That is a nice thing about the HBO Go product and others like it – it comes free with my subscription – but there’s too many apps to download when it could be just one. As more and more people become open to viewing video on mobile platforms, the kinks need to be worked out and access fragmentation is one of those biggest kinks.
As a society, we have sadly become more cynical. So, it might hurt the situation more than help it by coming out with a release that causes people to question whether the products are even worth it. Perhaps companies can learn a lesson from Apple and only put out press releases when there is really something solid to cheer about. In the case of the TWC release about Live streaming, it’s a total tease because you’ve got to read the fine print that you can only view the content where your access already exists. Even though people have supposedly been waiting for live streaming to come, this could be considered a waste of excitement and we’re better off waiting for a live ANYWHERE product that could be streamed through wi-fi or our data plans. As those data plans start bringing in more money, that may be where the companies will have something to cheer about – especially the ones who have bundled the mobile with cable/satellite.
So, thank you for the offering of live streaming in the house. I’m just not buying it – even if it is free.