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TV Everywhere hits 22 million. Is 70 million really next?

It took more than six years to get 22 million households tuning into the digital TV option. Now it wants to triple that in a fraction of the time.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney appear on a monitor during the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa, Florida (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
Brooks Kraft, Corbis via Getty Images

Netflix has said TV Everywhere is its own worst nightmare. Now, TV Everywhere is hoping it can make that a reality, despite a track record that might suggest otherwise.

TV Everywhere is how traditional pay-TV networks and providers attack the consumer shift to video online and on their phones. By setting up streaming channels included in pay-TV customers' subscriptions, the industry hoped to keep those viewers from cutting the cord and and switching to online-only alternatives, like Netflix. But some analysts have criticized TVE for struggling with customer adoption.

TV Everywhere has broken through to 22 million households in the US and Canada, according to new data Monday. By comparison, that's half of Netflix's 47.5 million US streaming subscribers. The TVE number is based on an estimate provided to CNET by Adobe, one of the primary companies that delivers TV Everywhere streaming.

So now, TV Everywhere is getting aggressive. Adobe predicts TVE can triple its viewers in two years, estimating 70 million quarterly users by the end of 2018.

Adobe Systems Inc.

The comparison to Netflix subscribers isn't precisely apples-to-apples.

Adobe is measuring the number of households that fire up a TV Everywhere channel, app or video at least once every three months. Netflix subscribers are the number of people paying the service monthly, whether they use it or not. (Most do.)

"The industry needs to accelerate the adoption of TV Everywhere, and in some ways it hasn't taken advantage of it as best as it could," Jeremy Helfand, vice president of Adobe video solutions, said in an interview.

Roadblocks for consumers included the hassle of entering usernames and passwords. Plus, TV Everywhere is complex. It needed to recruit dozens of channels to be available through multiple providers on hundreds of different models of device, according Jeremy Legg, chief technology officer of Turner, which runs networks like CNN, TBS and TNT. Industry insiders had reason to resist, too. Pay-TV providers and programmers were tense about losing regular TV eyeballs that went online, where ad rates are less lucrative. There was also fiction over whether users stream over a cable company's system or a programmer's app.

Developing TV Everywhere was like "staring up at Mt. Everest," Legg said.

But criticism of TV Everywhere's difficulty breaking through with consumers underplays its potential.

"We've always been most scared of TVE as the fundamental threat," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said at a conference last year. Netflix's own challenges to keep growing furiously in the US partly motivated its near-global expansion in January. Worldwide, Netflix has 86.7 million subscribers, and most of its growth is overseas. International subscribers have surged by half in the last year, while US streamers ticked up 10 percent.

To hit the 70 million projection, TV Everywhere knows it needs to address thorny problems.

It needs to be easier to find shows and movies viewers want, both Legg and Helfand said. TV Everywhere's setup -- with apps and streaming video on websites --makes it too hard to find what's available even through something as rudimentary as searching Google for a video of your favorite show, Legg said.

Adobe would love to remove passwords all together. "It should be just like turning on your TV in your living room," said Helfand. Earlier this month, Apple TV launched a single-sign-on feature that would theoretically let you sign in to one TV Everywhere app once and then open the gates to all the rest, a first step to removing authentication friction.

"What we all have to do is...whatever is in the best interest of the consumer," Legg said. "We want to keep them happy pay-TV customers."