Who’s Right(s)?

4/04/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

As Time Warner Cable draws a line in the
digital sand to give its subscribers unfettered access to TV
content, some programmers are peeved that the big cable
operator didn’t ask for “rights” to deliver their programming
to an iPad.

In our cover story this week, Todd Spangler takes
an in-depth look at both sides of the argument. The iPad app
lets TWC customers stream live TV to their tablet over their
in-home TWC Internet connection. But programmers such
as Discovery Communications, Fox Cable Networks and
Viacom said the service was essentially another distribution
channel, which required negotiations (read: money).

It’s highly doubtful the dispute will actually go to court:
Do networks really want to sue the cable operators that pay
them more than $30 billion a year in license fees and have
the ultimate power to boot them from the box?

Far from apologizing, Time Warner Cable has taken its fight public,
where opinion usually falls with the least-expensive option. Here,
TWC has a distinct tactical advantage. Subscribers certainly like the
new app, and will reasonably ask why programmers aren’t making
the content available. TWC helpfully explains its side on its website,
describing the dissenting networks as “those who are solely
focused on finding additional ways to reach into the wallets
of their own viewers.”

Says TWC: “We will continue to fight to ensure that you
have access to the content you pay for, no matter which screen
in your home you choose to view it on.”

Programming networks are forced to deny this logic in a
more important court: that of public opinion. Programmers
will have to provide a passionate response about how content
is still king and worth every penny — at a time when the
very defi nition of TV is in flux, and the FCC is considering
mandating that cable and satellite operators provide viewing
access on multiple devices.

Despite all the drama, the rights issue will be negotiated.
But time is not on cable’s side. Relative to competitors
like Apple and Netflix, cable operators have lagged in the delivery
of multiplatform TV programming. Delaying the rollout of such an
innovative product and denying consumer demand seems counter
to good business.

Right or wrong, Time Warner Cable has now forced the players to deal
with the issue more quickly.

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