MSNBC's Internet unit launched a broadband version of its Web site last week that, at least for a few days, distributed much of the cable channel's live feed over the Internet.
The launch comes as cable operators and networks are discussing how much content is appropriate for programmers to distribute on the Internet through live streaming video. Some operators are concerned that the value of their programming offerings will decrease if Internet users can view the same content offered on cable channels free-of-charge on the Web.
MSNBC.com launched the site (www.broadband.msnbc.com) April 10. But by last Wednesday night, the continuous live feed that was offered on the site had been pulled, along with a button that read, "Watch MSNBC cable live."
Sources said NBC News and NBC Cable executives didn't know that MSNBC.com had launched the broadband site, and once they did learn of it, they put the kibosh on the continuous live feed.
MSNBC.com executive editor Michael Silberman said the change was made for more practical reasons. "Since we weren't streaming it constantly, it didn't make sense to have the button up there," he said. When MSNBC.com is covering a breaking-news event live, the button will be displayed on the site, he added.
MSNBC.com editor in chief Merrill Brown last week emphasized that the core focus of the site is to offer users "video headlines" linked to taped news segments. "It has never been important to our strategy at MSNBC.com to offer seven-day-a week, 24-hour distribution of the cable network," Brown said.
"There are times that live can work," NBC Cable president David Zaslav said. "If we know in advance that Elian [Gonzalez] and his father are going to meet at 1 o'clock tomorrow, there's going to be a two-minute shot of them embracing. That live moment may work."
He added, "We need to do a lot more work to figure out what the most compelling video-streaming product is, but it's not going to be CNBC on the Internet or MSNBC on the Internet."
Some MSO officials said they were not opposed to cable networks using Web sites to drive traffic to their channels, but they would object to losing viewers to live content from their channels streamed on the Internet.
"If Internet Webcasting is going to enhance the service and drive usage of the video service, we're going to be supportive of that. When the streaming content detracts from the video usage of the network, then we'll have difficulties supporting that," AT & T Broadband spokeswoman Tracy Hollingsworth said.
Comcast Corp. spokeswoman Jenni Moyer offered a similar response. "When it's live, real-time, that's when it significantly diminishes the value for us," she said.
The broadband site also offers video from CNBC, NBC and NBC Sports.
MSNBC.com is looking into distributing video from the Olympic Games and other major sporting events on the broadband site. But no video content will appear on the site before it appears on television, Silberman said.
The broadband site also includes an enhanced version of "News Alert," an application that notifies users on their desktop, without accessing a Web browser, when breaking news has been posted. The broadband News Alert notifies users when new video clips have been posted on the site.
The broadband site offers users 60 news clips each day, which will range from 1.5-minute NBC Nightly News segments to five-minute Today interviews to 20-minute Dateline NBC segments.
The site will also include video content produced exclusively for MSNBC.com and the broadband site, such as its 1 p.m. Politics Only show.