TV Everywhere’s Problem is Authentication

AT&T U-Verse and Viacom announced that they now have a TV Everywhere agreement in place that will give U-Verse Pay TV customers access to Viacom’s online digital content. On the surface, progress in the direction of such multi-screen experiences is exciting for consumers. In reality, however, multiple hurdles remain on the road to achieving a high quality consumer experience.

Broadcasting & Cable reports:

“Customers who authenticate their subscriptions on the websites of networks including BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike and VH1, will be able to access shows on the computers. The companies say customers will have access on mobile devices including smartphones and tablets in the near future.”

Two details in this quote that are worth noting are that a) the consumer experience is currently limited to PCs and b) customers will have to authenticate on each networks’ website.

Today, a TVE service without mobile access is like an airplane without wings; it ain’t gonna fly. Research has been showing overwhelmingly that mobile devices now dominate both online access and consumer engagement with video entertainment. So while mobile access is part of the plan in the Viacom – AT&T deal, it seems terribly inelegant to launch with a half-baked, PC-based offering to start.

The bigger, long term issue for TVE, however, is authentication. Currently, it’s too clunky. When users have to authenticate multiple times across web properties to access content, it dissuades usage because of the poor experience. Flixster provided a clear example of this problem when its multiple logins soured UltraViolet’s debut as the Hollywood-backed, open-ecosystem counterweight to Apple’s iTunes walled garden.

Further, Ad Age reports that the very term “authentication” is a problem:

“Users are put off by the term “authenticate,'” said David Preschlack, exec VP-affiliate sales and marketing at Disney and ESPN Networks Group. “The word makes them think we are trying to sell them something, and they are less likely to complete the process. Words matter; it’s these nuances we are still trying to figure out.”

Semantics aside, the barrier to a smooth user experience is that no content owner wants to give up its position as the keeper of authentication’s keys. If all of the players involved would agree on a linked authentication scheme that allowed a single point of entry for users and fluid access to content thereafter, it would eliminate significant annoyances for consumers who just want to “flip channels” and be entertained. HBO succeeds in owning its authentication process with its HBOGO offering because it is one of very few outlets that has its own subscribers which it can authenticate into its multi-device environment to present access to extremely desirable, exclusive content.

Few providers command all three legs of that stool; in turn, it leads to arguments over who owns the customer experience. When complex authentication and access schemes arise, it’s not always a result of poor technology. More often, it’s this argument that translates into poor production values. So, while outfits like Netflix and Hulu Plus offer a lot of lousy content and very little that’s new and exciting, the simple, engaging, multi-device experiences they offer are helping them continue to win against partners who can’t stop arguing over rights long enough to recognize how far they’ve fallen behind.

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About Edward Finegold 122 Articles
Ed is now Director, Strategy for NetCracker. Previously, for 15 years he was a reporter, analyst and consultant focused on the OSS/BSS industry and a regular contributor to BillingViews.

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