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CES Report: Consumers Call the Shots in the Multiscreen Future

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On the day Dish announced its long-anticipated OTT service, Sling Television, speakers on a 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show panel all agreed that we'll see a slew of similar pared-down packages in coming months.

"The reason that product exists is that we knew there were some customers who wanted limited access," said Jason Henderson, senior interactive TV product manager for Dish on a panel called "Multiscreen: Strategies for Connected TV and Content," part of the Digital Hollywood track at CES. "You can beat your head against the wall and say that's not the reality, or you can build a product for those consumers."

Campbell Foster, director of product marketing for video solutions at Adobe, said that such "skinny bundles" and a la carte offerings are likely to come with strings attached. "You'll see more ads, you'll give us more of your data, there's going to be a tradeoff," he said.

But OTT-only bundles don't necessarily signal the end of traditional pay TV, said Piksel global vice president, commercial Jody Stark. Piksel customer OSN, a pay TV service in the Middle East and Asia, introduced an OTT-only package and didn't see a subscriber decrease; in fact, it saw an increase. "It's a way to grow the overall size of the pie," Stark said.

Such offerings are just one result of the sea change in consumer demand spurred by the popularity of streaming video, he said. "There's the way we want the consumer to behave, and there's the way the consumer wants to behave, and we have to meet them in the middle," he said later, in response to a question about Sony Pictures releasing The Interview online the same day as it came out in theaters. "Renting is reality, and so if that's what people want, you have to figure out a way to make a business out of it."

As consumer demand grows for small bundles, a la carte rentals and downloads, and easy access to content across all devices, so does advertiser interest. "The wall between TV and digital is coming down, because advertisers don't care where people are watching. They just want the eyeballs," said Adobe's Foster. 

Gracenote co-founder and chief strategy officer Ty Roberts said that advertisers are influenced by new approaches to analytics. "We're going to see analytics that will let you see when people move from one service to another, say from Comcast to YouTube, which will give a much better picture of what consumers are really interested in," he said.

And what about YouTube and the short-form, often user-generated video that is driving so many of its views? Are we going to see that come to OTT and MVPD packages? All the panelists agreed that the answer is yes, but that the challenges lie in how to present that content to consumers.  Roberts predicts that "the future is about tagging. You'll be watching something on broadcast or that you've recorded, and you'll see recommendations for related short-form content pop up onscreen."

That might seem anathema to the lean-back viewing experience, but it's all about the need to reach younger viewers. "Cord-nevers and cord-haters are driving this trend," said Eric Fitzgerald Reed, vice president of entertainment and tech policy for Verizon. "We have to give consumers what they want or we'll go out of business."

In the long run, Adobe's Foster sees a unified entertainment experience that won't be tied to a single delivery method. "Pretty soon there's not going to be a top to go over. OTT is going away, IPTV is going away, and it's all going to be seen as one."

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