While Comcast is coming off its fourth-straight year of setting viewership records for its most recent "Watchathon Week," the company is constantly fine-tuning its TV Everywhere services.
Comcast Cable's Vito Forlenza senior director, TV Everywhere (TVE) content and product strategy, spoke about the company's most recent Watchathon Week in the first Q&A with Telco Transformation. (See Comcast’s Forlenza Talks TVE.) Forlenza is in charge of shaping content strategy for Comcast's Xfinity TVE platforms, which include Xfinity.com/TV and the Xfinity TV mobile app.
In this second installment, Forlenza discusses where TVE is headed for Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), how it has improved the authentication process and what's holding TVE back.
Telco Transformation: What's next for Comcast's TV Everywhere?
Vito Forlenza: Our ultimate goal is to one day have complete parity across the set top box and all the devices regardless of whether or not you're in your home or out of your home. That's what we come to work every day striving toward. How do we have more parity on our TV Everywhere experience regardless of where you are located? How do we make it easier for you to access that content, both through authentication and also through your browser experience? How do we work on that and make sure that you are finding the content that you want quickly and easily?
Some of that is business contracts that we have to work out with our programming partners to acquire more content, and some of that is making it available to them once we get the rights. That's what we think we need to do. No matter what you want, if it's part of your video package, you should be able to watch it wherever you are. I think that is the goal for the day.
TT: We're at the point where TV Everywhere is more about content rights than the enabling technologies?
VF: It's mostly a rights thing. We sometimes don't have the ability to give you everything. It's not necessarily pointing the finger at the programmers, but the programmers are working with the studios and then the programmers are working with us on what we are able to show. For example, we are trying to add more live streaming of the broadcast networks at some point this year. At this point we don't have rights to every single broadcast network in the country so there might be some gaps. That's a rights issue, it's not necessarily a technical issue.
TT: Can you tell us about the technology side of TVE?
VF: We have a team here called our VIPER team. It stands for Video IP Engineering and Research. They're one of the best in the business. The work that team does is pretty incredible. Most of them are located in Denver. They're amazing. They've made it easy for us to focus less on the technology and more around the discussions with programmers in order to get more rights.
TT: How will the technology side evolve?
VF: There are some technology pieces we're looking at. For example, the ability to sign up for the service and start watching immediately. We don't have that just yet so that's something we are striving towards. If you are a customer, you might not necessarily want to wait until equipment is installed in your home. You might want to watch as soon as you hang up the phone with customer service or as soon as you click "buy" on our website. So that's something from a technology standpoint that we're working towards, making sure you get that access immediately.
TT: One of the early obstacles to broad adoption of TVE was authentication. Are we past that being a problem now?
VF: You probably hear people talk about the authentication experience and how it is hard to sign into TV Everywhere. We've done a lot to try to make it as easy as possible. In 2011, you pretty much had your Comcast username and password and it was a complicated nine-step process of how to get in. Now you can sign in using a password. If you are in your house, we automatically sign you in. We have a feature called "remember me," so if you sign in you check a box and we'll keep you signed in for 30 days on a rolling basis. You can sign in through Facebook Connect and there's other things we're working on for this year to make it even easier to sign in. We're experimenting.
TT: What has been the response to those additional authentication features from your users?
VF: We have a passionate customer base and they let us know if there is something that they don't particularly enjoy and we do our best to address it. But they also write us and tell us how much they enjoy the service and you might even see some tweets out there like, "Thank you for letting me watch such and such while I'm at my kid's recital." We've come a long way and we definitely have our eye on some improvements, but we are happy and pleased with where we are right now.
TT: Comcast is working with CTAM [Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing] on authentication?
VF: I'm actually on the sub-committee that is recommending the guidelines for CTAM. So that sub-committee was formed in 2014 and then last year we released the sign-in guidelines. CTAM is a great vehicle to do that, because it's a mix of the cable providers as well as the programmers. It's a great way for the industry to come together and say, "What's the best thing to do for the customer?" And CTAM is a good vehicle to put together guidelines so there's input from Comcast and other MVPDs, but also influence from other programmers. Some of the programmers that are active are Disney, NBC and Fox.
Everybody's trying to understand what the goal is and what some of the best practices are with the CTAM guidelines. We did focus groups and there was a lot of research done. What language should we use? What iconography should we use? What words should we use?
TT: Can you give us some examples of what CTAM is working on in regards to TVE?
VF: We've found that the word "free" actually is not a good word, because people get confused. They say, "Well free what do you mean free, surely you mean free for a limited time and then you're going to end up charging me at some point,” but no it's not that at all. Through the CTAM focus groups, we found that saying the word "free" scares people because they interpret free to mean free for a limited time.
A phrase like an "added benefit to your service at no extra charge" has proven to be much more receptive for customers. That phrase is something that they are able to get their arms around a lot better than the word "free," which they believed to be ambiguous.
About a year and half ago, we took the CTAM recommendations on messaging for sign-ins and we tried to address the three main things. The word "free" I've already talked about. Another is the different accounts people can have in their households. People are like "I don't want to share my username and password with my kids." Did you know you can have seven usernames in your house?
Also, we aren't sharing any data. We aren't sharing anything with the programmers. You aren't going to get any emails based on what you are watching. We tried to massage those concerns with our messaging and we saw a 10% increase in successful sign-ins just with those text changes and those UX changes.
TT: Were there any structural changes, or this was just due to changing the sign-in messaging?
VF: There were no structural changes to the page from a technical standpoint, but just more of an inviting experience. Talking to the customer in plain language helped raise the success rate there. Again, that was all from the work we did in conjunction with CTAM.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation