At the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference Monday afternoon, several panels talked about the future of entertainment. First, the heads of Comcast and Disney/ABC television talked about delivering “TV Everywhere.” Then, NBA commissioner David Stern and the head of Turner Broadcasting discussed how live sports and social media are changing with the new technology.
Above: Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Television Group, and Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable
Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable and Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Television Group talked about how the two organizations agree on a strategy for “TV Everywhere,” letting Comcast subscribers receive Disney content on any device. Most interestingly, it is a ten-year deal, even though technology may change a lot over that time.
Sweeney cited a Disney Junior app that received 5.6 million app downloads. It has a few episodes built in, but to stream the Disney channel, you must be a Comcast subscriber. She recalled a four-year old girl in a focus group talking about “curling up on the couch with my iPad.”
Smit said all of Comcast’s deals now involve “TV Everywhere,” including those with all the major premium TV providers. The company is working on trying to make identification and authentication easier, so when you turn on the app in your home, it will do so automatically. He also talked about “second screens” with additional information and evolving applications for live events.
As TV is now available on more platforms, the ratings have gone down but overall TV-watching is up. Including video on demand does change how the content is viewed and this is impacting scheduling, Sweeney said.
Windowing is changing, Smit said, and Netflix does a good job as an archive, traditional cable for live and first run content, and video on demand for recent content. Sweeney noted that there are ten to 15 windows for a series these days.
NBA and Turner on Live Sports
In another panel, moderator Geoff Colvin said that live sports are becoming more important. He introduced National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern and Turner Broadcasting System CEO Phil Kent by talking about how the ratings for the NBA, which has been on Turner for 30 years, have increased tremendously in the past couple of years.
NBA.com has had more than a billion video streams, and Turner hosts NBA.com and NBA TV. This is in contrast with MLB.com, which has built its own applications.
The shortened season led to better matchups and both the league and the network changed how they show the games, creating a Thursday night doubleheader, for instance.
Asked why the NBA now has more Twitter followers than other professional sports, Stern said the league made a conscious policy decision to push tweeting, although not right before, during, or after a game.
Social media has been a big part of fan engagement for the NBA, Stern said. The personalities in the league have led to enormous interest and social media has given the opportunity for the community to be more interactive.
TNT, ESPN, and ABC are likely to remain the primary revenue drivers, Stern said, but NBA League Pass is a great chance to experiment, letting viewers watch games on any device, anywhere in the world.
Expanding international viewership is really important, Stern said, who is pushing to license games to foreign broadcasters, stage exhibition games in more countries, and offer its digital applications in more countries.
Asked if there are more options for content providers like the NBA, Stern said that Turner and the Walt Disney Company (ESPN and ABC) are among very few big media companies in the United States. Of course, he will continue to shop for the best prices. The NBA has had a long relationship with Turner Sports. Stern did a deal with Ted Turner to put games on WTBS, back when it was a local station, and only allowed it to go on cable when cable reached 30 million homes.
On the possibility of the Knicks resigning Jeremy Lin, Stern said there are penalties the team will incur in the third year if it does, as the league is trying to make the teams more competitive. As a result, more teams now have national followings, and the LA Clippers, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, and even the Oklahoma City Thunder now draw big TV audiences, instead of just the Lakers and Celtics.
Regarding fan videos on YouTube, Stern said that while the league retains the rights to its games, in general, social media like YouTube is great for the game. Kent said that anything that drives fan engagement also drives viewership. “We got younger,” Stern said, in terms of TV viewership, and he attributed that to social media and the digital world.