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SXSW Report: NBCU Says TV Everywhere too Complicated for Viewers

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In an intimate one-on-one interview on the last day of South by Southwest Interactive, Lauren Zalaznick, executive vice president for NBCUniversal, addressed many of the questions now facing traditional TV broadcasters as they grapple with online distribution. While NBCU was behind the biggest viewer authentication launch yet, with the London Olympics, Zalaznick acknowledged that the TV Everywhere model is too complicated for most viewers.

After polling the tech savvy audience and finding that few knew what TV Everywhere was, Zalaznick defined the system where viewers gain online access to TV programs in exchange for maintaining pay TV service. TV Everywhere has a simple goal, she said, but is "a little complicated for viewers to understand."

TV Everywhere is three things, Zalaznick said: a superb on-demand platform, enhanced viewing with extras, and a method where viewers can use the best screen available to enjoy shows. She praised HBO Go's simple, effective interface, as well as the way viewers could watch games that weren't televised on the NBC Olympics site.

Despite the promise, Zalaznick said TV Everywhere was a challenge to roll out, since it could be hard for viewers to understand.

"That will be the next evolution of the thing we call television," Zalaznick said.

Responding to a question on availability windows, Zalaznick said that people pay for content now that they never would have paid for before. In the 1970s, people would have scoffed at the idea of paying for water, she said. Comparing that to premium content, she said that people now paid for subscriptions to watch content that they used to watch for free, but expected other content for free that should cost money. Companies that offer free content won't be able to sustain themselves, Zalaznick predicted.

Addressing the problem of piracy, Zalaznick called it a "dramatically important value-suck out of the system" and said "media has definitely not solved" it. The answer, she believes, is to give people the opportunity to pay for the content they want. Given the chance, she thinks most will.

"Nobody wants to be a thief, except for thieves," Zalaznick said.

Speaking at length about the rise of online content, Zalaznick praised the way online distribution serves niche viewers missed by broadcast or cable. When no one respects a viewing segment, she said, they need to make their own content.

Agencies and marketers all know they have to be involved in digital, Zalaznick said, where there's a need to get viewers "activated" around product. Video is the king of content, both on TV and online, she said. Ad rates are low now, but she believes that will changes.

"When demand rises, ad rates rise," Zalaznick said. One unknown is how much scale matters in ad targeting.

Over half of the people watching TV now have another screen in their hand, Zalaznick said. The challenge for broadcasters is to use that second screen to drive live viewing.

"What can I serve this fan that enhances the social experience and makes them more likely to watch when I want them to watch?" Zalaznick asked. Gamification of content through apps like Zeebox is one way to encourage live viewing. Zeebox is fun, informative, and event-oriented, she said.

E-commerce will be the next wave of second-screen activity, Zalaznick predicted, letting viewers buy what they see on TV when they see it. 

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