TWC Slings Shot Across Bow

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Time Warner Cable will test the patience of
its programming partners with a trial run of a program to
hand out free Slingboxes to Big Apple customers who take
its most expensive broadband tier.

In late September, the operator will begin offering rebates
for the $299 Slingbox Pro HD
to customers in New York
City who subscribe to its
$99-per-month “Wideband”
DOCSIS 3.0 tier, which provides
up to 50 Megabits per
second downstream and
5 Mbps upstream.

That will make Time
Warner Cable the first major
cable company to condone
the use of the controversial Slingbox device to access
live TV and recorded shows anywhere over the Internet
— without the explicit permission of cable TV networks.
Dish Network, whose partner company EchoStar Technologies
owns Sling Media, also offers Slingbox products and
features to its subs.

In one sense, the TWC promo is an incentive to push
subscribers to a higher-margin broadband service.

“Slingbox is one of the best (legal) products/
services to demonstrate to consumers the value of a
‘fat’ upstream pipe, as the wideband service will allow
you to stream your Time Warner Cable video service in
HD quality to portable devices wherever you are,” BTIG
analyst Rich Greenfi eld wrote in a blog post.

But the move also shows the operator is willing to ruffle
the feathers of cable networks in the industry’s simmering
dispute over multiscreen video distribution.

This spring, Time Warner Cable earned the ire of several
programmers with its iPad app for streaming live TV inside
a subscriber’s home. Viacom sued the operator over
the service, arguing it violated
distribution agreements,
while Time Warner Cable
filed a lawsuit seeking a
judgment that existing carriage
deals give it the right to
offer the iPad app. The two
parties called a cease-fire in
June while they try to reach
a business deal.

To date, content owners
have not formally challenged the legality of the Slingbox.
Discovery Communications, in a December 2010 filing with
the Federal Communications Commission, pointed out that
that Dish did not have the programmer’s permission to deliver
its channels over the Internet using Slingbox.

Time Warner Cable hasn’t set a timetable for when it
might roll out the promotion to additional markets in its
footprint. “We are doing it first in New York and want to
see how the promotion goes before considering other markets,”
a spokesman said.

Broadcasting & Cable

contributing editor George Winslow
contributed to this story.