Not ‘TV Everywhere’

Adobe’s Primetime provides a single, end-to-end workflow that links Adobe streaming, digital rights management (DRM), ad serving, audience management, analytics, and optimization technologies.

ALEXANDRIA, VA.—An ambitious project by software superstar Adobe designed to bring real-time broadcast content to a wider array of digital devices beyond the traditional TV screen has elicited a muted response by broadcasters. While that silence might be seen as prudent caution by some, at least one veteran media researcher thinks the silence in this case is not exactly golden.

Adobe announced in November it was launching a new video player in beta-test mode as part of its “Project Primetime,” an initiative to bring “TV-like” viewing to multiple platforms (Adobe’s Reader and Flash Player have long been ubiquitous tools used by Internet users worldwide.) Key goals of Adobe’s Primetime Media Player— designed to simplify viewing of TV content agnostically over a full range of formats and devices in a “TV Everywhere” sort of way—include seamless insertion of local commercials, faster download times for TV shows, and fewer playback errors. In other words, Adobe said, it’s supposed to be “a lot like watching television.”

Yet none of the four major networks TV Technology contacted chose to comment on the Adobe plan, nor did the Television Bureau of Advertising. Perhaps characterizing the current mood of many in the industry toward such a venture, one group broadcaster gave TVTechnology this carefully worded reply: “We are currently going down a decidedly different road to achieve similar objectives to the end results that Adobe is stating can be achieved with their product.”

Ashley Still, Adobe’s director of product management, said the company is taking several of its video technologies and putting them under a single framework to provide a software development kit for video content playback on Mac OS and Windows, native iOS and Android apps. The concept behind Adobe’s project for consumers, she said, is rather simple.

“There are a bunch of things that ‘traditional TV’ represents to consumers. It has to present a great experience from start to finish. It also represents the manifestation of the advertisers’ presentation, which is critical for content owners. In a way, TV has always represented the reliable and successful implementation of video distribution technology, regardless of any changes in the way it has been distributed, such as converting from [analog to digital],” Still said. “It all has to work for consumers, advertisers, broadcasters and other content providers.”

Dr. Richard Ducey Still said what Adobe is doing with Project Primetime is basically “dovetailing off existing broadcast workflow” so consumers can have the same TV content on virtually any Internet-connected device. “Today that’s very difficult because many digital devices have different technologies. But for ‘television,’ per se, no one goes to a Best Buy and worries that some new HDTV set they might purchase will not work with all broadcast or cable services. They all do. It’s standard,” Still said.

“We can take MPEG-2 streams with all the ad markers and such from existing broadcast workflows and format the streams so they can deliver to different digital devices,” she continued. “The player itself has advertiser and data capabilities built into it, so we can dynamically replace a commercial in the original stream with a new ad seamlessly. NBC or ABC might have a national car commercial and replace in digital streaming with a Coke spot.” Very similar ad insertion software was used for NBC Universal’s many simultaneous video streams fed during last summer’s Olympics. (Adobe claims more than 88 million Olympic streams were downloaded to more than seven-million U.S. households during the 16 days of the games.)

Despite broadcasters showing little interest in the Adobe project, Dr. Richard Ducey, managing director at consultancy BIA/ Kelsey and a former NAB executive, said “local television needs to be in this game.” Ducey said the TV Everywhere approach and other branded forms of authenticating and streaming video content are “table stakes” in today’s video marketplace.

“One stumbling block for content owners is restricting access to their programming to authenticated users. Adobe’s solutions have been very helpful in this regard,” Ducey said. “For example, the recent Olympics… that was a significant milestone. My recommendation is that local broadcasters never fear new technologies and business models, but rather make the effort to understand them and develop a constructive course of action that will benefit their companies and customers. Broadcast networks already distribute their original and licensed content over streaming platforms including PC, tablet and mobile. Local stations are more aggressive about doing this,” Ducey said.

BIA/Kelsey forecasts ad revenues for the online/interactive/digital segment of the U.S. local media market to grow from $21.2 billion in 2011 to $38.1 billion in 2016 (12.4 percent CAGR). The U.S. local video advertising market will grow from $26.4 billion in 2011 to $36.4 billion in 2016 and the online video component will grow from $0.7 billion to $3.9 billion in 2011-2016.

“It’s inescapable that today’s video consumer expects cross-platform access to content,” Ducey said. “If that’s where the audience and advertisers are, then broadcasters need to be there, as well. What broadcasters need to do is create a positive experience for their audiences and advertisers as seamlessly as possible, crossplatform.”

However, Ducey warns, the “digital video ecosystem” can be quite complicated. “Few broadcasters can be effective in this space without partnerships and competent vendors. Short term… figure on aligning your required relationships and focus on audience retention and aggregation. Broadcasters are split on digital-only versus combined traditional/digital sales forces. There is no ‘one size fits all,’ so figure out what works for your company [because] significant local ad growth is coming from the digital side over the next five years,” said Ducey.

“A lot of broadcast executives find digital to be complicated, fast-moving, lowmargin and small-revenue, compared to the traditional side of the business,” Ducey concluded. “Yet local spending in digital media will rise to twice that of local television spending. Do broadcasters really want to miss out on that? I hope not.”