Multiplatform TV: Comcast Set To Launch Live ESPN, Disney 'TV Everywhere' Services

NEW YORK: Comcast will soon offer cable TV customers access to WatchESPN -- expanding the reach of the live-sports streaming service to 40 million households -- and also will become the first pay-TV provider to offer live and on-demand "TV Everywhere" content from Disney's three children's cable networks, said Matt Murphy, Disney & ESPN Media Networks senior vice president of digital video distribution.

"We've been acquiring [multiplatform] rights to our content for years," said Murphy, speaking at "TV in a Multi-Platform World," presented by Multichannel News, B&C and TV Technology. "We want to bring that TV experience to other devices."

Initially, the Disney networks will have TV Everywhere apps for Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices. Content available to Comcast subscribers on the Watch Disney Channel, Watch Disney XD and Watch Disney Junior services will include a live simulcast of each network plus on-demand content. The amount of on-demand programming will be roughly comparable to what Disney makes available on conventional VOD, Murphy said.

Comcast is launching WatchESPN and the authenticated content from the Disney networks under an expansive 10-year deal the MSO inked with the media company in January.

WatchESPN provides most of the live events carried on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPN3, available at and on smartphones and tablets. Currently, it's available only to video subscribers of Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Verizon Communications' FiOS TV. WatchESPN apps have been downloaded about 8 million times to date, Murphy said.

The Disney/ESPN TV Everywhere strategy "first and foremost... is consistent with our ongoing quest to provide more value to our affiliates. We're very focused on that," Murphy said.

In explaining the rationale for TV Everywhere, he cited the collapse of the music industry's sales over the last several years. The music companies were "slow to adapt to consumers' changing behavior" and did not embrace technology shifts, Murphy said.

For pay-TV operators, "there's absolutely a halo effect for the MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] that offer this," Murphy said. According to Disney/ESPN's research, consumers have a greater perception that providers offering TV Everywhere services are cutting-edge.

But there are issues with TV Everywhere, starting with the fact that the registration and authentication process is not as straightforward as it should be: "It has to be frictionless," Murphy said. There's also low awareness of the services among consumers, and audience-measurement techniques are not keeping pace with the rollout of TV Everywhere, he said.

Disney Channel has conducted focus groups with parents and kids on TV Everywhere, and found that using "verify" instead of "authenticate" in the signup process improved the chance that they would register and use a service. "When they saw 'authenticate,' they didn't know what that means, and it implies it might be something they have to pay for," he said.

The measurement side for TV Everywhere "is not quite there," Murphy acknowledged, adding, "We're comfortable with that.... But the money is too big. It has to be measured."

Murphy was interviewed by Multichannel News editor in chief Mark Robichaux.

Robichaux asked him how a guy with a degree in European history ends up in digital distribution in the TV industry, to which Murphy replied: "I'll tell you the same thing I told my parents about that: You have to understand the past to predict the future."

-- Multichannel News