Satellite and telco TV operators are actively exploring Internet "authentication" services -- similar to those outlined by Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- that would grant video subscribers access to troves of cable TV content currently unavailable online.
The idea: to reinforce the value of paying for television service, by serving up TV episodes or even live programming, to customers' PCs or other Internet devices simply by providing a user name and password.
According to industry executives, DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon Communications and AT&T are each aligned -- conceptually, at least -- with the approach represented by Time Warner Inc.'s "TV Everywhere," which wouldn't tie subscribers to a particular site. Instead, subscribers could log in and access content through any participating Web service using a standardized mechanism.
That leaves Comcast, for now, as the exception among major distributors in planning to deliver on-demand programming to TV subscribers exclusively through its own Web site. The company hopes to launch what it calls On-Demand Online later this year, through the Fancast.com entertainment portal, to triple-play subscribers.
In an interview with Multichannel News, Karin Gilford, Comcast Interactive Media senior vice president of Fancast and online entertainment, said the operator's approach would provide a better overall user experience and allow it to launch the service quickly.
"I don't think there's a right or wrong model," she said, when asked about TV Everywhere. "I'm focused on getting this to market as quickly as possible. I'm focusing on the assets Comcast already has but which we just need to link together, to get this to market ASAP."
Added Gilford, "At the end of the day, you have to have a great consumer experience. They need to get a great payoff. They need to have a consistent experience across content and content providers."
Programmers, however, have expressed a preference to deliver Internet TV content via their own, or affiliated, sites.
"Our strong view is that the right way to do this is to be as open as possible, so the consumer can make the choice of where to consume that content they have already paid for," said a senior executive with a large cable programmer. Comcast's Fancast model is "not how people want to engage with content on the Internet, practically speaking."
MTV Networks expects to work with all parties on authenticated access to programming online, but would rather host the video itself, according to Denise Denson, MTVN's executive vice president of content distribution and marketing.
"When the content is off our site, it does not reinforce the value of our brand," she said.
In the second half of 2009, programmers including NBC Universal and Time Warner expect to proceed with plans to launch authentication trials with multiple cable operators or other distributors.
Time Warner spokesman Keith Cocozza said the company is in discussions with Time Warner Cable and other cable, satellite and telco distributors for its TV Everywhere tests with HBO and Turner content.
AT&T, for its part, confirmed that it is "actively building an authentication system for our customers to be able to access their TV content online and on mobile platforms -- on our site and programmers'. We're most interested in pursuing an approach that creates the best customer experience."
DirecTV likewise confirmed that it is "talking to programmers about a service that would give customers access to online content" but declined to provide additional details.
The satellite operator also referred to remarks by DirecTV president and CEO Chase Carey at Deutsche Bank's Media and Telecommunications Conference on March 3.
"I think there are lot of moving parts to get there, so we need to figure out whether it's through this ‘authentication' or what have you and whether the rights coming behind it have the various ways to deliver product for us," he said.
Carey suggested that DirecTV could deliver large amounts of IP video to subscribers via satellite: "Clearly there's broadband but if you get a terabyte-plus in a home... our satellite can push down the product that is right for a particular home and get smart enough to know what are things that will be of most interest to them. And so it's a mix of ways to deliver content to a customer."
Dish Network and Verizon declined to comment for this article.
As for how pay-TV subscribers technically will authenticate among multiple sites and operators, TV Everywhere proponents say there are relatively simple, open Internet standards that can be used.
At the Cable Show '09 last month, Time Warner Cable executive vice president and chief strategy officer Peter Stern said the operator had "embraced" the Liberty Alliance standards for creating and establishing users IDs.
"We think we can create a scalable solution without needing a common database across the MSOs," he said, speaking on a panel at the convention. "The plan is to do this bilaterally, using open standards."
Stern said TWC was figuring on allowing five TV Everywhere user accounts per subscriber, meaning that the service could be accessed from five PCs or devices. "There will always be some level of cable theft," he said. "There certainly is in the current cable model we have today."