When the monthlong frenzy of college basketball tournaments begins next week, leading to the eventual selection of a national champion in Atlanta, prepare to hear shrieks, cheers and boos from the person next to you at the Starbucks, the MARTA station, the restaurant and the PTA meeting — thanks to their hand-held technology.
Atlanta will experience an up close and personal look at the NCAA Final Four when the games take place at the Georgia Dome next month. But for college basketball fans who don’t have a ticket, or access to a television, watching all 67 games starting next week will be as easy as tapping an app on their smartphone or tablet.
Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System will stream all of the games online for pay TV consumers to view on a number of their online, mobile or tablet devices. But it’s not just Turner, and it’s not just sports.
Nearly every network, cable and satellite TV provider has loosened the reins on where and when people can watch television. The industry refers to the concept as “TV Everywhere,” and metro Atlanta companies have a strong hand in making it work.
Watching TV anywhere was born out of being able to watch it anytime. Cable companies started offering “on demand” viewing 10 years ago. What began as a novelty evolved into downloading programs hours after they had aired live, and “marathoning” — catching up on a show’s entire season in one day.
Still, it’s considered unlikely that watching TV on a tablet will become the norm. People still prefer to lounge on their sofa in front of the largest screen available — their television. Plus, obstacles remain to getting all shows on all networks, live and on-demand, on a mobile device.
“The holy grail of TV Everywhere is to take your complete channel lineup anywhere you go on any device. I think we’re years away,” said Erik Brannon, a senior analyst of U.S. cable networks at Screen Digest, a media research and consulting firm.
It’s not the technology that’s holding back progress, it’s the business model, industry officials and analysts say. The networks aren’t going to give away their content for free, and advertisers want to be assured that the number of viewers watching their commercials will be counted.
“You have to work through how this is going to be a win for the content providers, the carriers and the customers,” said G.W. Shaw, assistant vice president with AT&T U-verse.
As a leader in the TV Everywhere trend, Turner started streaming CNN and HLN online in 2011 and now offers apps for its other networks, which include TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network.
“It’s still in the minority of viewing. While usage is picking up, it’s an important initiative for us,” said Jeremy Legg, Turner’s senior vice president of business development and multiplatform distribution.
AT&T U-verse offers free TV, movie, music and sports content on its website. Paying subscribers can access shows with a smartphone or tablet app, developed in the U-verse lab in Atlanta.
Comcast, Atlanta’s dominant cable provider, offers its entire channel lineup for paying customers. A handful of the networks — CNN, Disney, ESPN and a few others — stream that content live, and the rest of the networks make the content available a couple of hours or so later.
“I think it is effectively blurring the lines between what is really a television,” said Matt Strauss, Comcast’s senior vice president of digital and emerging platforms.
Verizon doesn’t sell its FiOS video product in metro Atlanta, but the company has reported a 150 percent increase in streaming video on smartphones and tablets here.
Atlanta-based Cox Communications, which also sells cable in markets outside the metro area, streams programs from major networks live and on demand for customers to watch on a computer or select mobile devices and tablets. Cox also will start offering a mobile app that will provide individual, personalized video content recommendations later this year.
With most of the providers, these additional features are an extra monthly fee.
Suwanee-based wholesale cable hardware provider ARRIS has been selling set-top boxes that give consumers access to network and cable channels, as well as to Internet-streaming companies Hulu and Netflix, on devices other than their home television.
“There’s consumer interest in freely engaging in their entertainment and information services anywhere in the home and on multiple devices,” said Stan Brovont, ARRIS’ senior vice president of marketing and business development.
For at least one family, the ability to watch TV on more than one tablet has stopped some squabbles.
Holly Lytle swapped out paying for traditional television at her East Cobb home a couple of years ago in exchange for Netflix. Now, Lytle watches movies by hooking up her iPad to the TV with a Verizon Wireless media receiver. At the same time, daughter Winter, 10, and son Luke, 9, can queue up a Disney Channel show on each of their mini tablets and watch at home, at a friend’s house or on an airplane.
“There’s no such thing as having to wait for your show to come on,” Lytle said.
Besides viewers still hanging on to their television sets, three main challenges stand in the way of watching more TV on mobile devices:
- What’s available to consumers isn’t uniform.
- Logging in to the website or apps isn’t always easy.
- There’s still no clear way to measure who is watching a specific program — and advertisers aren’t going to sign lucrative contracts for their commercials if they don’t know whether online viewers will be counted.
What’s available basically comes down to the multimillion-dollar television-rights contracts that networks strike with cable, satellite TV and other video providers. Now, being able to watch programming on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and other devices is included in those long-term contracts, but that wasn’t the case five years ago.
This means that one network may be able to stream content to smartphones and tablets with a cable provider but not a satellite TV company. And that could vary by each region of the country. Or by device.
“Some of these rules were made in the ’90s when you didn’t have tablets and smartphones,” said Jeremy Toeman, chief executive of San Fransisco-based startup Dijit Media.
Logging in — or, in industry-speak, providing “authentification” that you are a paying customer of Comcast, DISH, or whatever video provider you use — has been a difficult concept for consumers as well, analysts and industry experts say. Even though people log in to Facebook, their bank accounts and email daily, having to type in credentials to watch a television show “can be a turn-off,” said David Tice, senior vice president of media and entertainment at GfK Media, a market research firm.
Going forward, consumers will start having more personalized viewing options from their video providers, industry officials said. And tablets will start interacting with TVs, allowing consumers to do things such as watch a show on television, then pick up that show at the same point on a tablet.
“The mobile technology is changing so rapidly,” said Shaw at AT&T. “Everyone is preparing for what that is.”
How much we watch
Average number of hours consumers watch television each week: 32
Average number of minutes consumers spent each month watching video on a mobile phone during July, August and September 2012: 5 hours, 25 minutes
Average number of minutes consumers spent each month watching video on a gaming console during July, August and September 2012: 6 hours, 38 minutes
Average number of minutes a week consumers spent watching video on a mobile phone: 11
Average number of minutes a week 12- to 17-year-olds spent watching video on a mobile phone: 26
Average number of minutes a week 50- to 64-year-olds spent watching video on a mobile phone: 3
Source: “State of the Media: The Cross-Platform Report” from Nielsen, a media research company most commonly known for measuring advertising content on TV shows.
Label for story: Changing Technology An Occasional Series for Consumers
Box head: In-depth coverage
Box text: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is committed to showing readers how technology affects our lives. From the “connected” car and “digital” home to today’s story on “TV Everywhere,” the AJC has been following trends that impact how we work and where we live.