The concept of TV Everywhere is tantalizing: sci-fi, techie wish fulfillment crossed with consumers' ever-growing demand to stay connected to entertainment.
"I remember sitting in an airport for the final round of the Masters last year [watching it on an iPad], and there was a group of five or six guys sitting around me," said Ray Carter, WPXI-TV general manager. "Quite a scene."
In recent years it has been possible, but not particularly common, to watch live television programming on laptops, smartphones and tablets. Technologies such as Slingbox record over-the-air (OTA) shows and allow users to play them back in virtually real time, which is how Mr. Carter watched the golf tournament.
But the notion of content providers opening the pantry doors to shelves of products -- from the latest "Homeland" on Showtime or CBS's NCAA March Madness to the upcoming Winter Olympics on numerous NBC platforms -- is just beginning to reach the top of the marketing roller coaster.
As it picks up speed and more providers along the way, TV Everywhere just might become the greatest thing since the color picture tube or it could be the downfall of the traditional television advertising model.
"I hear some talk about this being a threat to us, but I think it's just a reality," Mr. Carter said. "The smart players are going to figure out how to make this work."
The promise of TV Everywhere means freedom to, well, watch TV everywhere. Or at least everywhere there is Internet access. Those lucky few with uncapped data plans will be able to stream as they please, but for the rest of us, there are limits.
A recent report from eMarketer sampled 400 data points from 40 different researchers and concluded that for the first time, U.S. adults are on the verge of spending more time using digital media than watching traditional television on a set.
Media consumption soon will be up to five hours a day through nonvoice, online mobile activities, compared to four hours, 31 minutes of television viewing.
Depending on who's doing the talking, this is either super news for traditional content providers such as broadcast networks and cable companies, or it's a sign of the TV apocalypse.
Many networks have unveiled plans for TV Everywhere apps this year, from ABC Watch -- possibly arriving in Pittsburgh before the winter holidays -- to A&E and its lineup of History and Lifetime apps accessible on the Kindle Fire device.
In a promotional stunt, Dish and Southwest Airlines just concluded a month of TV Flies Free, in which patrons could access up to 75 on-demand stations if they flew on one of Southwest's 400-some Wi-Fi-enabled planes.
TV Everywhere doesn't necessarily mean everywhere, however. For example, the HBO Go and Netflix apps won't work in Paris -- but they do work in the United States-- because services are limited by what's known as geoblocking.
There are work-arounds, of course, but the average cable subscriber isn't going to get into that.
TV Everywhere is growing quickly, so much so that some networks and multichannel video program distributors (MVPD, in other words, cable and satellite companies) are rushing to give consumers these new options without necessarily having worked out all the answers yet.
And everybody is trying to get into the act. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Google is approaching programmers in order to stream their channels. Apple and Intel also reportedly are considering a jump into the live-TV game.
No simple feat
Tangled legal issues involving retransmission rights and how best to monetize the advertising side of it are bound to be part of the process.
"I think you have to give TV Everywhere a kind of 'incomplete' at this point," said Ian Olgeirson, senior multichannel analyst for SNL Kagan. "There continue to be some inconsistencies over what content is available on what device and in what location.
"That has created a level of uncertainty among consumers that puts this into the category of 'work in progress.' "
Will users want to remember even more passwords to access multiple apps? Breaking old habits is tough, but the process of allowing access to content via a sign-in process, or authentication, is a necessity.
"I think that with any of these applications, you balance how tight your security is versus how easy your access is. Any time you tighten the controls, you risk making it more difficult for legitimate consumers to get to," Mr. Olgeirson said.
Then there is the tricky question of retransmission rights. Fox filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Dish satellite network this year, claiming the technology in the latter's Hopper technology -- Dish owns Slingbox and has it embedded in its DVRs -- allows viewers to skip commercials.
Then there are start-up companies that promise to bring popular programming to consumers while sidestepping the MVPD's high subscription fees.
Aereo is a company that leases users a tiny TV antennae from its many data centers. It attaches a DVR to the subscription. A basic $8 subscription allows the user to watch and record over-the-air content from cable providers.
In turn, Aereo has been accused of retransmitting content without paying fees. Another company, New York-area NimbleTV, piggybacks off Dish's service via broadband connection to deliver online content. Like Aereo, NimbleTV offers DVR function and real-time broadcasts.
Dish recently cut off access to NimbleTV, which has been signing up for Dish service on behalf of its subscribers for the starting fee of $29.99 a month.
Retransmission fees have been in the news recently, with Time Warner Cable dropping CBS content that ultimately has affected more than 52 markets, including New York City and Los Angeles. Time Warner Cable claims the broadcast network is demanding an exorbitant markup in retransmission fees, and after negotiations failed last week, Time Warner pulled not only CBS, but subsidiary content including Showtime, the Smithsonian Channel and The Movie Channel.
The "Showtime Anytime" app was reduced to Showtime No-time, as CBS then blocked Time Warner subscribers from accessing full-episode content online or through mobile devices.
Subscribers, naturally, were not pleased. On Sunday night, when an episode from the final season of Showtime's "Dexter" was to run, fans were tweeting their dismay.
It's about the money
TV Everywhere threatens to shatter the long-standing models between content providers and advertisers, which is one reason everyone is scrambling to work out a new model.
Canoe Ventures, a joint venture of several big-name MVPDs, focuses on video on demand advertising. As subscribers view VoD on various devices, it allows for customizing ads.
At the same time, networks such as NBC -- which offered cable subscribers live feeds from the 2012 Summer Olympics on a variety of platforms -- are able to gather data that will help target advertising.
"It's an incredibly complex and expensive operation we are starting," said NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert during an industry summit in Las Vegas several months ago.
The Big 3 networks have hinted at TV Everywhere via affiliate stations, it's just a matter of when it reaches the Pittsburgh market. "We believe in the localized version of TV Everywhere," Mr. Harbert said.
In Western Pennsylvania, the local cable market is dominated by Comcast's Xfinity and Verizon's FiOS.
"The industry is really exciting right now," said Debbie Frey, a Comcast communications representative based in Philadelphia. "We welcome the competition; it all makes for creativity in the end."
Raised on a diet of online viewing for free, many younger viewers are unaccustomed to paying for cable or are likely to opt out through "cord cutting."
By creating a menu of real-time streaming and downloadable services that require authentication, MVPDs are hoping to lure this demographic back to cable.
Unlike relying on data gleaned through the traditional Nielsen television ratings, providers can accurately measure who's watching programs, when and for how long. It's all the better for customizing ads.
In fact, the "Showtime Anytime" app user agreement states that it collects user information including Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, viewing habits and Internet service provider, all the better to "analyze trends, study traffic patterns and gather demographic information."
It then states that some third-party companies are able to view such information.
So as TV Everywhere enters this brave new world and we are all watching, it's good to remember that in some cases, a digital Big Brother is, as well.tvradio
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.