Dish and Fox end carriage dispute, Fox News returns to Dish

The blackout of Fox News and Fox Business News on Dish is coming to an end: Dish and Fox “have agreed to the major terms of a new long term agreement” that will bring the news network back to Dish, according to a statement released by the satellite TV operator, which noted that there are still a few things up in the air: “We are working with Fox on a few contractual details but we are optimistic that these channels will be restored very quickly.”

Fox confirmed the agreement with a news release, but noted that “terms of the agreement were not disclosed.”

Fox News and Fox Business went dark on Dish in late December after both sides failed to agree on terms to renew their carriage agreement. At the time, Dish complained that Fox was trying to add other channels to the bundle that hadn’t been part of the original agreement.

“It’s like we’re about to close on a house and the realtor is trying to make us buy a new car as well,” said DISH’s senior vice president of programming Warren Schlichting back then. It’s unclear whether the new agreement includes any of those additional channels, or just the two channels that went off the air in December.

Also unclear is whether the impending agreement includes any additional digital rights. Dish officially announced its Sling TV streaming service last week, and has plans to sell consumers an add-on news package for $5 per month on top of a $20 base subscription. At this point, that news package looks fairly slim with Bloomberg being the only actual news network. Adding Fox News to that mix would certainly help Dish to make a better case for Sling TV.

Hulu adds Fargo and other cable shows, looks more like Netflix

Hulu doesn’t want to leave all the good shows to Netflix and Amazon: The streaming video services has signed deals with 20th Century Fox and MGM to make Hulu the exclusive subscription home for a number of shows, including Fargo, Taboo and The Comedians. However, the deals are also make Hulu look a lot more like its competitors, and less like the catch-up service we are used to.

The deal with 20th Century Fox brings a number of FX Networks and FXX shows to Hulu, including Tyrant, The Strain, Married and You’re the Worst, all of which are set to become available on Hulu before the second season airs on TV. The service also secured the rights to a bunch of shows scheduled to launch on the two networks in 2015, including a comedy series starring Billy Crystal called The Comedians, a drama called Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll starring Denis Leary and a drama called Taboo from executive producer Ridley Scott. All of those shows will also come to Hulu only after the first season concludes on TV.

The MGM deal exclusively brings the first season of the hit mini series Fargo to Hulu, with episodes coming to the service just before the second season hits FX in fall of 2015. The deal also adds the History channel’s Vikings show, as well as a bunch of catalog fare, including “thousands of episodes” from shows like Stargate Universe, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate: SG-1, Flipper, Adams Family, Dead Like Me and others, according to a post on the Hulu blog.

There’s a common thread throughout those announcements, and I’m not talking about the fact that most of this stuff aired on FX. Most of the content that comes to Hulu through these deals will only be available to paying Hulu Plus subscribers, and none of it is available in-season. So if you are looking to catch up on a show that aired on FX last night, you’re out of luck. Instead, Hulu will offer everything after a whole season aired on TV, in a binge-friendly fashion.

Sounds familiar? That’s because this is essentially the Netflix model. Netflix has long concentrated on full previous seasons, and only very rarely offered a catch-up experience (the release of Breaking Bad in the U.K. was one of those rare exceptions from the rule). Hulu on the other hand started out primarily as a catch-up service, promising access to shows long before they ended up on Netflix.

But in recent seasons, networks have severely curtailed next-day access on Hulu. ABC, Fox and the CW network already delay access to their content for users for eight days after a show airs on TV. FX shows are only available in season to users who sign in with their pay TV credentials — even Hulu Plus subscribers only have access to previous seasons. Bravo posts episodes of its shows often after multiple weeks, and only gives users who sign in with their pay TV information access to next-day content.

As next-day catch-up becomes more of an exception than the rule on Hulu, the service is clearly putting a bigger emphasis on Netflix-like binge-watching. Fargo and the other content announced this week is just the latest reminder that Hulu’s identity is evolving.

Programmatic ad-buying is finally coming to television

The pace of change in the U.S. television business is notoriously glacial. There’s truth to the adage that buyers and sellers of the $75 billion spent annually on TV advertising will change their ways – calcified in the 1960s – only when that generation dies off. But it actually looks like programmatic, one of the biggest buzzwords in digital advertising, may gain some traction in traditional TV next year.

Online, “programmatic” means highly automated ad-buying, via price- and audience-based algorithms, automated order placement, and the like, and often involves real-time auctions and ad inventory exchanges. The topic came up the other day when I was comparing 2015 ad industry predictions with Lisa Joy Rosner, CMO of Neustar. Neustar is a company with its roots in phone number portability that’s re-inventing itself as a supplier of a marketing technologies and services. We weighed the obvious: Is it finally the year of mobile? Will TV dollars shift to online video? Will advertisers figure out social media? She was leaning toward ad tech consolidation, and was pretty skeptical about my suggestion that TV buyers would adopt programmatic techniques. Maybe she bought the argument I made in our Sector Roadmap report that programmatic is a relatively minor near-term disruptive force for marketing-tech platforms and buyers, while it’s a bigger deal for sellers.

The skeptical view

Perhaps “bigger fear” is a better description. Proponents of programmatic buying and selling envision it as the equivalent of commodities trading, where ad inventory is the commodity. No ad seller wants his wares commoditized if the result is much lower pricing – and a cut of that smaller pie going to an exchange or other reseller. Though programmatic is often associated with real-time auctions that could raise as well as lower pricing, it’s also equated with remnant inventory.

Amidst real disruptions in TV viewing and programming like cord-cutting and over-the-top competition, the last thing TV networks want to hear is that their ad dollars are going to be further shriveled and fragmented. Almost all TV ads are sold in a process that’s the opposite of automated. There’s the annual festivity of the upfront, where the networks try to lock in guaranteed sales with glamor, glitz, and those three-martini lunches we always hear about. Then prices go up for the proven hits in the scatter market. Campaigns aren’t managed in real-time. It’s Don Draper versus Lloyd the computer guy in Mad Men, though I think we know how that’s going to end.

Google once tried to automate TV ad buying and selling, but gave up after five years of trying to modernize the industry. Google’s latest strategies to tap into TV spending are oriented around YouTube and brand-lift studies.

Early action

Maybe Google gave up too early. There are signs of change a-coming:

  • There’s a horribly named technique called programmatic direct that could help sellers maintain pricing and preserve the premium content association that many brand marketers like. It started in digital display advertising, and is moving into mobile.
  • ESPN is experimenting with selling Sports Center TV inventory programmatically; even if sister network ABC only does it online.
  • Buyers, sellers, and ad agencies are gaining experience with programmatic via online video. Marketers and agencies have made investments in the infrastructure and processes to support programmatic online buying and are looking for payoff, as well as for cross-media planning and campaign coordination. Meanwhile, brand marketers are getting accustomed to real-time campaigns online, initially with social media and usually in response to events.
  • Companies you’ve probably never heard of that make tools for TV broadcasters and networks to replace the spreadsheets and faxes they use for insertion orders and traffic management have started offering honest-to-goodness programmatic tools and services. They include WideOrbit and Mediaocean, whose customer lists give them access to television spots. Meanwhile, online video programmatic specialists like TubeMogul are hooking up with these types.
  • Automated selling will probably catch on first with cable and satellite operators for the 2 minutes an hour they control via distribution deals with the programmers. Cox Media has been selling programmatically via startup platform clypd.

Connecting dots?

Those signs are encouraging. But programmatic’s real promise for television advertisers is the ability to buy audiences rather than using shows or timeslots as a proxy. We’re not there yet. And you can’t optimize what you can’t measure.

Many in the industry blame that on Nielsen, who sets the standard for measuring TV audiences and establishing the currency by which ads are bought and sold. Most regard Nielsen as a sluggish behemoth, ignoring that every now and then it’s ahead of its customers, and that its TV customers are primarily the programmers. There will have to be some kind of integration across shows, currency, and audience-tracking before automated TV advertising pays off.

Updated December 15 with explainer sentence added.

Creeping a la carte

Consumers increasingly are willing and able to assemble their own, a la carte TV bundles, through a mixture of traditional and OTT channels, while eschewing pre-packaged bundles dictated by the networks.

Need more battling robots in your life? There may be a solution

Two robots battle at the 2013 RoboGames. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Two robots battle at the 2013 RoboGames. Photo by Signe Brewster.

First BattleBots fell. Then Robot Wars. For a whole decade now, the world has been woefully short on a fighting robots show. A new Kickstarter campaign intends to change that by creating a video series based off the wheeled robot battles at RoboGames, an annual event that features many different types of bots. If it succeeds, sparks, fire and a whole lot of epic robots will head to screens in July 2015.