Brightcove Wants to Help Its Customers Adapt to Comcast’s Proposed Controls on Internet Video

1/26/10Follow @wroush

Before the week gets away from me, I wanted to make brief note of an interesting piece of news yesterday out of Brightcove, the Cambridge-based provider of online distribution platforms for video publishers. Hundreds of companies use the Brightcove 4 platform to organize their video content online and serve it up on demand to Internet users, using Adobe’s Flash Player 9 technology. Today the company introduced a new set of services designed to make it easier for customers to join “TV Everywhere.” That’s a system being rolled out by two cable-industry giants—Comcast and Time Warner—that’s ultimately designed to keep everyone who isn’t a cable or satellite TV subscriber from watching certain premium Internet video content.

One key aspect of the TV Everywhere standard would be an authentication system that checks whether Internet users who arrive at a video provider’s site are paying cable or satellite subscribers before allowing them to access shows. If Fox.com joined the TV Everywhere program, for example, you might need to flash your credentials as a Comcast or Time Warner customer before watching online episodes of 24 or Fringe or Glee (all of which you can now watch for free, unauthenticated).

Brightcove’s so-called TV Everywhere Solution Pack (TVE-SP) is intended to help existing or future Brightcove customers get ready for a TV Everywhere universe by providing, among other things, just such an authentication system. As part of a new strategic alliance, Brightcove’s authentication technology will be provided by Ping Identity, a federated identity software company with offices in Denver, Waltham, MA, and Vancouver, BC.

For some context, I caught up today with Eric Elia, a Brightcove veteran who was just promoted to vice president of TV solutions to oversee the TVE-SP program. Elia says the TV Everywhere Solution Pack isn’t necessarily something Brightcove would have dreamed up on its own, but that customers were asking the company for help. “Our customers really asked us to jump into the TV Everywhere side of the business to make their operations smoother as they enter this new world,” Elia says.

TVE-SP, he says, is designed to help both traditional programmers—the companies behind the channels up and down your cable lineup—and newer, non-traditional Internet video distributors, such as Netflix or Amazon or Apple. “We help with all the levels of the stack—managing media, making sure it gets served up in the right way in the right players, integrating advertising,” Elias says. In other words, “All the pieces you need to make video part of your online business as you layer in authentication, which adds a whole new level of complexity.”

Fair enough—there’s every reason why video publishers would turn to a specialist like Brightcove for help with such matters. But my big question for Elia was whether, in effect, the new “solution pack” means Brightcove is attempting to play on both teams in the turf battles over Internet video access.

Technologies like the Brightcove 4 platform undergird the explosion in Internet video, which allows consumers to access almost any TV show they want, on demand, through programmer-provided sites like Fox.com or Hulu. But operators like Comcast and Time Warner obviously aren’t thrilled about this revolution, since it means consumers (like me) can cancel their cable or satellite subscriptions and still get video content over their Internet connections. The TVE-SP service, in effect, paves the way for the cable and satellite operators to recapture this rogue content.

But Elia doesn’t quite see it that way; in his view, Brightcove is just responding to a need expressed by its customers, and helping to make sure that consumers still have access to their favorite Internet video content.

“If you go to Fox.com you can watch last week’s 24, powered by Brightcove,” he says. “That is an unauthenticated experience, and over the past few years that’s what people have come to expect from their Internet service. If anything, we have been playing in that space and helping to direct it. But the TV Everywhere opportunity is one that has naturally arisen for a lot of reasons. One, it’s in response to consumer demand for a really great [combined cable/Internet] experience, with a lot of great depth and content. Two, it’s to protect existing business models, where it takes a lot of money and predictable revenues for these great shows to get created—we’re talking about billions of dollars in carriage fees and billing fees and advertising.”

Ultimately, Brightcove just wants to serve its customers, whether or not they buy into the TV Everywhere vision, Elia says. “If it’s in the programmers’ business interest to distribute to either place, our goal is to help them both strategically and tactically with the tools and services we’re bringing to market.”

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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