Comcast and Time Warner Inc. have said their planned trial of TV Everywhere will make available a torrent of previously unavailable cable programming on the Web, but at least two activist groups are criticizing the concept as anticompetitive and inhibiting consumer choice.
"It is obvious that their ‘TV Everywhere' is not TV for Everyone," Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said in a statement.
Comcast announced Wednesday it would initiate a 5,000-subscriber trial beginning next month that will provide online access to full-length episodes from TNT and TBS, as well as from Comcast-owned networks and others.
Sohn alleged that the plan would ultimately limit access to programming. "Under the ‘TV Everywhere' plan, no other program distributors would be able to emerge, and no consumers will be able to ‘cut the cord' because they find what they want online. As a result, consumers will be the losers," she said.
Continued Sohn: "Limiting access to programming is straight out of the cable playbook, going back to the days when Congress had to act in 1992 to allow the satellite programming distributors to have access to cable programming. This new version raises substantial anti-competitive issues by restricting the availability of programming to the favored distribution methods."
Comcast declined to comment. In a statement, Time Warner Inc. said, "The TV Everywhere model is consumer-friendly, pro-competitive and nonexclusive." The company has said it is negotiating with other cable operators, satellite and telco TV operators to launch similar trials.
Public Knowledge said it would ask the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to "examine this arrangement closely not only for potential violations of not only Internet openness principles but as a generally anti-competitive and anti-consumer practice."
Another interest group, the Media Access Project, also claimed TV Everywhere raised legal and policy concerns.
"Putting content behind a paid wall threatens the wide-open model which has made the Internet innovative and diverse," MAP vice president Parul Desai said in a statement. "Until now, users have been in control, but the ‘experiment' announced today appears to limit customer choice. The American public must be attentive whenever choice, innovation and diversity are threatened."
Cable-industry executives have argued that relying solely on ad-supported Internet-video distribution models would severely undermine economic support for high-quality cable programming.
"If you advocate show-by-show [distribution], that will blow up the model," said Time Warner Inc. chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, responding to a question at a press conference Wednesday about why the company wasn't making cable programming online in an ad-supported, a la carte fashion, as Hulu does. "You'll end up paying more because you won't have the ability to have niche networks, you won't have the ability for ad support."
The American Cable Association, meanwhile, said large programmers' online TV plans should not be imposed on smaller operators.
"TV Everywhere may enhance the consumer experience, but these business models should not be forced upon broadband providers and their customers by media conglomerates and Web giants," ACA CEO Matt Polka said in a statement.