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Comcast, Time Warner aim to crack open cable's TV Everywhere potential

Comcast?s proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner would provide the kind of scale that cable networks need to compete against broadcasters to make content available across television, mobile phones, tablets and desktops.

Comcast is known for pushing the envelope with different digital and mobile initiatives, and the merger with Time Warner could help the company reach a significantly bigger group of consumers to distribute these products to. At the same time that Comcast wants to gain the upper hand in TV broadcasting with the Time Warner acquisition, networks are also racing to develop their own mobile services that with compelling content to lure consumers away from using the services from the 

?Certainly, TV Everywhere services are growing and being deployed more widely with more content and that will be an important piece of content delivery for Comcast and Time Warner Cable,? said Jason Blackwell, director of service provider strategies at Strategy Analytics, Newton, MA.

?Comcast is one of the most innovative and technologically advanced cable operators with its deployments of X1 and now X2, along with advanced gateways and user interfaces,? he said.

?So, mobile delivery of content is an important part of that company?s strategy. As companies like Comcast have spent large amounts of money developing its platform, the greater scale of more subscribers and more devices will help to spread those costs.?   

Mobile streaming grows
Comcast?s Time Warner Cable merger would give the cable giant a reach of 33 million cable subscribers, the majority of whom also have broadband ? or digital ? services.

Comcast has 20 million broadband customers, and 10 million of Time Warner?s 11 million customers subscribe to broadband services.

The broadband side of business is a bright spot for cable networks with a growing number of subscribers and high margins.

By focusing on this increasing broadband business, Time Warner and Comcast may be able to justify the costs in delivering high bandwidth broadband services, according to Mr. Blackwell.

Comcast?s benefit in the deal is more subscribers that will lead be able to get more out of mobile and digital investments since they will reach more consumers.

Time Warner customers on the other hand will be able to access some of the unique products that Comcast has been rolling out for quite some time, including the X1 set top box and on-demand and cross-platform video Comcast streampix service.

According to Brett Sappington, director of research at Parks Associates, Rockville, MD, Comcast is getting cloud-based services, including store and video conferencing, right with digital, which Time Warner will also benefit from.

Growing broadcast initiatives
The possible new reach of Time Warner and Comcast could give the pay TV providers ? or cable companies ? an initial leg up over broadcasters since each of the main broadcasters have their own mobile apps and it is likely easier to distribute one app from a cable company to consumers.

However, the content within the cable companies? mobile apps tends to be more utility-driven and therefore may not be used as frequently as the content within a broadcaster?s app.

Take the Olympics, for example.

NBC?s Sports Live Extra app lets consumers watch the Olympics in real-time and set up push notifications to be alerted when a particular event is about to start.

This app-exclusive content is a compelling reason for a consumer to download an app, but will likely not be used after the Olympics end.

To keep this momentum going, broadcasters need to develop apps that go beyond topical content to build long-term engagement.

Over the past year, ABC, CBS and NBC have all bumped up their investments in mobile apps and streaming services to catch up with consumers who are increasingly watching TV and content on whatever device is nearby to them at any point during the day.

Cable companies? mobile apps typically include program guides and the ability to remotely set up recordings.

Regardless of which type of app consumers use, the data that both cable companies and broadcasters collecting from these apps will be critical in determining which one ultimately wins the TV Everywhere industry through advertising, per Mr. Sappington.

?For pay TV providers, they?re interested in delivering services over all sorts of devices in order to keep their customers and keep them happy,? Mr. Sappington said.

?For content companies and broadcasters, they?re interested in audience, and audience and subscribers are subtly different,? he said. ?As a CBS or a broadcaster, I want as many eyeballs on my content for advertising purposes, but also to make that content really valuable, so they have a real interest in ? regardless of what pay TV does ? of making sure that their apps and other things out there really allow that audience to build around those valuable brands.?

?The broadcasters and content companies have an advantage in terms of creating compelling apps that have interesting content because they are content companies, and they are used to doing that. The Pay TV folks are good at creating an interface to be able to access content, but they?re not so good at creating content itself.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter at Mobile Marketer, New York