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Why TV's Not on Your Tablet Yet

Cable execs sound off at Promax conference
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The day’s discussion was listed under the heading "Designing for TV Everywhere," but a more accurate billing might have read "Top Reasons We're Not There Yet." At a panel discussion on the final day of the Promax BDA conference in New York Thursday, television executives representing just about every slice of the industry sounded off on how terribly difficult it is to bring TV programming to platforms like the tablet, laptop, and hand-held devices.

“From where I sit, it’s clearly evident there are technology and business issues that need to be worked out,” Peter Dolchin, vp, strategy, business development and operations at MTV Networks, said. Among those issues: piracy is a concern, he said, as is the authentication process, in which users are identified as cable subscribers no matter what platform they attempt to access programming from. And then, of course, the big hurdle: “We need to have the same level of monetization [on digital platforms] as we have on television. It’s not even close to being there today,” he said.

For A&E Networks’ head of distribution, business development, and marketing, Mark Garner, another roadblock is branding. As cable distributors like Comcast become increasingly sophisticated in presenting programming to the viewers in different ways, and organizing that programming in different ways (e.g., allowing users to choose programming based on what their Facebook friends like), how do the networks maintain control over their editorial voice? “We have the [cable] distributor becoming a programmer,” Garner complained.  “In these [new] platforms . . . there’s an editorial voice [of the programmer] that gets overlaid . . . we have a voice as a brand. On television that voice isn’t interrupted. But now on Xfinity, it has an editorial voice . . . That’s something that needs to be addressed. ”

And what is Comcast concerned about? “A lot of it has to do with technology,” said Tom Loretan, vp, user experience and executive director, interactive media, Comcast. “We’re trying to create a seamless experience,” both from the user perspective as they jump among devices, and from a measurement perspective in trying to track which screen they’re using to watch their programming for monetization purposes.

The tenor of the discussion served as a vivid reminder of a comment an industry executive made at the start of the conference a few days earlier. “We have to get out of our own way,” Comcast’s interactive media chief said, criticizing the industry's rather leisurely pace in adapting to the multi-platform world.

In spite of all the griping on Thursday, though, the main takeaway seemed to be that everyone agreed ubiquitous television programming across a variety of platforms—“TV Everywhere,” as it’s known in the industry—is near. Exactly how near is a very different question.