Connected Consumer Q1: The Over-the-Top vs. Pay TV Battle Heats Up

1Executive Summary

After a year in which over-the-top (OTT) video services like Netflix, Hulu and VUDU grabbed most of the attention, some of the online video headlines shifted back to traditional pay-TV providers in the first quarter of 2011. At CES, TV set makers like Sony and Samsung looked beyond embedded apps platforms for their connected devices to embrace IP delivery of video directly from cable providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Meanwhile, technology providers such as Cisco, Technicolor and Rovi rolled out new services to help pay-TV providers integrate more online video into traditional cable and satellite delivery platforms.

At the same time, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision moved to expand their in-home footprint beyond the TV by introducing live-streaming apps for the iPad that let subscribers carry their cable-TV service with them around the home, so long as the tablets remain connected to a home network.

Many networks were not pleased with those moves, however, which set up the next major clash between programmers and distributors, on top of already-raging disputes over carriage fees and retransmission consent.

Yet for all the cable operators’ efforts to get back in the online game, the amount of time viewers spent watching TV programming on something other than a TV set continued to surge, growing 45 percent year-over-year in January and 40 percent in February.

Video delivered over-the-top to the TV also continued to surge, paced by Netflix and Hulu. According to the NPD Group, Netflix accounted for more than six in 10 movies streamed or downloaded in the use in January and February.

While traditional pay-TV providers worked to tame the threat from online and over-the-top competition, OTT services and platforms began continued encroaching on traditional pay-TV providers’ turf in the first quarter. Set-top box maker Roku added its first two linear channels to the Roku Channel Store, taking on Wealth TV and Al Jazeera English. Netflix flexed its muscles by acquiring exclusive rights to the highprofile original series, House of Cards, beating out a field of more-established rights buyers, including HBO. YouTube, meanwhile, announced plans to commit up to $100 million to fund original, short-form programming for the web.

Wal-Mart owned OTT platform VUDU also went toe-to-toe with traditional cable and satellite distributors, securing rights to show movies in a new, premium VOD window being created by the studios alongside DirecTV and Comcast.

Finally, traditional web powers like Google, Yahoo and Apple made moves to reassert their presence in the living room after their early stumbles. Google acquired cableDRM provider Widevine, a move that could help enlist the aid of cable providers in launching a new iteration of Google TV. Yahoo unveiled a major extension to its Yahoo Connected TV platform at CES while Apple reportedly is in talks with major CE companies to license its AirPlay wireless streaming software for use in third-party connected TVs.

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Paul Sweeting

Principal Concurrent Media Strategies

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