Cable Operators

Web TV Plans Percolate

2/21/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Comcast and Time Warner Cable are still in the discussion phase with programmers about the prospect of offering “place-shifted” TV programming over the Internet to their video subscribers.

Both MSOs are in talks about offering cable-TV programming — for no additional charge — to their existing video subscribers with media companies including Viacom's MTV Networks, NBC Universal and Turner Broadcasting System, The Wall Street Journal reported Feb. 20.

Comcast, for one, is also in discussions with Discovery Communications and Scripps Networks, according to an executive familiar with the negotiations.

As previously reported by Multichannel News, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications are each attempting to secure online distribution agreements from programmers to provide content online (see “Ops Seek Rights to 'Place-Shift,' ” Jan. 19, 2009, page 2).

The idea is to replicate the cable lineup via a streaming Internet-video service. However, none of the MSOs has been able to pull together anything more than limited trials to date.

Cable providers are looking to preempt defections by “cord-cutters,” a small but potentially growing segment of consumers procuring video content on the Internet and from other non-cable sources.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox refer to the concept of delivering TV over the Internet as “authentication,” with their services designed so that only paying subscribers may view the fare and ensuring that the content cannot be copied, shared or posted to other Web sites.

Jennifer Gaiski, senior vice president of content acquisition for Comcast, said in a recent interview that every single deal the cable operator strikes now must include rights to carry the linear TV feed securely to subscribers over the Internet.

Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, has already been testing the “authentication” concept in Wisconsin with HBO. In that market, subscribers to both HBO and the operator's Road Runner high-speed Internet service have the ability to watch the premium network's content online.

The concept is not new: Some programmers have been aggressively courting MSOs with the concept of offering “walled-garden” Internet video services to their subscribers.

Starz Entertainment, for example, has been pitching affiliates on a service that would give Starz subscribers on-demand movies and access to the programmer's primary linear movie channel through a Web-video player. No major MSO has opted to offer the Starz online product, which is available to Netflix and Verizon Communications broadband customers.

ESPN has had a slightly different offering with ESPN360.com, an online-only network that provides coverage of live sporting events.

But to date the big cable operators have not bought into it. ESPN360.com is available through Verizon, AT&T and other ISPs.

September