It’s 2010, and yet we still can’t watch live streaming television on our computer or phone with ease.
What gives? Are the networks to blame? What about the cable companies and other providers?
We asked AT&T’s president of content Dan York.
His answer, paraphrased, is that AT&T, cable companies, and networks realise people want to watch television on their phones, laptops, or iPads. They’re not blind to the disruptive force of the Internet, so they want to bring you content anywhere any time, for a price.
Here’s an edited transcript of the interview:
SAI: How hard is it to do deals with content companies to get more content online or mobile?
They’ve been very open and receptive to working with us to find new and better ways to to deliver content to our customers but it’s important that everyone in the ecosystem find ways to not only expand the market for content delivery but to preserve the business models that have made it as successful as it’s been today such as pay TV business.
SAI: What is the push back from big content companies? Do they say they’re not comfortable with someone watching TV on their laptop outside of their home? Why can’t I watch live streaming TV on my phone yet?
There are myriad factors that have to be addressed as you try to put that construct into place — the existing business models that work for various parties — such as the Pay TV business. There is an upstream issue to address and that’s what rights do the licensors have to these platforms in delivery to these screens in these delivery platforms.
Streaming is a different branch of rights than downloads. Mobile is different than TV or a PC, but as the platforms and devices converge, it becomes trickier for content providers to sort through what rights do we ultimately have.
SAI: You’re charging $60 per month for the core package which includes hundreds of channels. Hulu is offering a mobile and iPad option for $10 per month. Can you compete with that? Offering more content at a similar price?
You mentioned Hulu Plus. I don’t think the purpose of that is to be a replacement for your pay TV subscription. It’s more to be a supplement to it, complementary to it. For us, with U-verse Mobile, if you take one of our packages U-300 or higher, you get this functionality and content and mobile devices at no extra charge. So what the content guys want to do is is expand their business on these platforms with their partners like us, while preserving the multi billion dollar Pay TV business. And there’s been much discussion about this digital online distribution of content in an impetus for customers to cut the cord and that’s a fine line that the content companies have to walk.
All that said, the concept of authentication, “TV Everywhere”, as it’s called, that is a principle that if the industry can execute it, the right customer experience, that should find the right balance where as part of the your pay TV subscription you’d get increased access to all of your content or much of our content across the other platforms.
SAI: We once heard that content companies did Hulu thinking it would be a big success giving networks more negotiating leverage with cable companies, but obviously that hasn’t happened. Do you get a feeling big content companies are more appreciative of fees that they’re paid from companies like yourself than ever before?
SAI: Did TV networks learn from the failure of the music industry? Or are they doomed to crash thanks to the Internet too?
It’s clearly in the content companies best interest to learn from the history of publishing and music spaces.
SAI: Are people really watching video on their mobile phones?
Video consumption on traditional mobile devices — on 2 inch screens — has been relatively small when compared certainly to television viewership usage and even online, but it does continue to grow as the platforms get more converged, as consumers get more attuned to using those kinds of devices and as you see increased delivery of real top quality TV content, services like U Verse mobile. Bottom line it’s been relatively small but it does continue to grow as the experience improves with things like U Verse mobile.
SAI: Is mobile TV a big business or just a small addition?
I think it’s a continually improved experience for customers. We did the last two Olympics games. AT&T exclusive had live coverage, live video of Olympics, March Madness, the Masters only with AT&T, I personally, watched the Olympics.
Out of the home, folks said they wanted to see coverage on the best possible screen, and it may be a mobile device. I watched college basketball games on my iPhone online mobile device. If you’re thirsty for that content and that’s the screen that’s available to you, increasingly that’s the only that consumers use. But it certainly is not a replacement if you’re in your home for a 60-inch 3D TV experience.
SAI: What do you think people want? Do they really want mobile TV?
The concept is anywhere, everywhere access for AT&T U-verse customers. U-verse mobile, U-verse on line. it’s not just the consumption of the live video or on demand screen or downloaded. It’s control, it’s access, it’s looking at your program guide, it’s controlling your DVR, it’s setting parental controls, it’s that seamless functionality which will increasingly include the ability to watch your content on these other devices.
SAI: Is the iPad a mobile device or computer?
The tablets including the iPad are a great example of how what you consider to be one particular platform or one particular type of device — you see a blurring. It can be used as a TV monitor, it can be used as a PC, and it’s a portable mobile device. So it could be considered all of the above and the grant of content rights and distribution to it is an area that’s being sorted out right now.
SAI: In your research, what do you think customers want?
I personally think that customers increasingly want anywhere, anytime access to live and on demand content and control. Any time, any where, any device. And ATT with our all IP platform the products that we have in the market today U-Verse TV, mobile, and online is delivering on that customer want.