TWC's Witmer: We Didn't Anticipate iPad App Backlash

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Time Warner Cable has received at least one cease-and-desist letter from a programmer demanding its networks be removed from the MSO's recently launched iPad streaming video app -- a reaction the operator was not expecting, according to chief programming officer Melinda Witmer.

"We certainly did not anticipate that programmers would be unhappy about this in any way," Witmer said in an interview.

TWC has received "a number of inquiries and there are definitely some programmers who said they don't agree," she said. The operator has been sent "one or more" cease-and-desist letters but so far there has been no formal lawsuit lodged over the TWCable TV app.

"We think everything we have received so far is baseless," Witmer said.

Time Warner Cable TWCable TV app

On Monday, the cable operator launched a website, IWantMyTWCableTVApp.com, to argue its case for why customers should be allowed to watch live TV on the tablet devices under existing programming distribution deals.  TWC says that since the app's March 15 debut, more than 300,000 customers have downloaded it.

The TWC app lets subscribers who take both broadband and expanded basic or higher watch 32 cable networks -- but only over a home Wi-Fi network. Programmers including Discovery Communications, Fox Cable Networks, Scripps Networks and Viacom believe the ability to play back video to a tablet isn't covered by current carriage agreements.

According to Witmer, Time Warner Cable licenses the right to deliver "programming signals to customers in their homes, and we have never designated what screen the customer has the rights to access it on."

She added, "If I can pick up my TV and carry it around -- is that device now prohibited?... We always have assumed that customers have the right to choose [the device they view TV programming on]." Objecting to the iPad app, Witmer said, "is akin to telling a customer they need to have a Sony Bravia and to designate the screen size, which seems to be a really anti-consumer proposition."

Time Warner Cable is in the process of adding more channels, including local broadcast TV channels, to the iPad app. The MSO also is working to deliver programming to Internet-connected TVs, including Sony and Samsung HDTVs, as well as other devices such as Samsung's tablet.

"This is the same technology that is going to serve smart TVs," Witmer said. "The biggest thing that will be sold at the end of this year is smart TVs. We anticipate an environment where the way we get to the smart TV in the living room is through this IP-enabled environment. I can't imagine why anyone would want to say, ‘This is OK on this TV but not on that TV.'"

Asked why Time Warner Cable is offering IP-delivered video initially on iPads, as opposed to PCs, Witmer said, "We're working on all manner of devices; for a whole host of technical reasons we started with the iPad."

From 2005 to 2007, Time Warner Cable conducted a test of IPTV for 9,000 subscribers in San Diego -- and programmers objected to that service, too.

With respect to the iPad app, one of the issues programmers are concerned about is that viewers of their networks on tablets or other non-TV devices will not be counted in Nielsen ratings.

Witmer said TWC will provide assistance in any way it can to help viewership metrics be collected but noted that "it's an issue between Nielsen, programmers and consumer electronics companies" to collect that data. "The distributor's obligation is to pass through the Nielsen signals," she said.

As for access to cable programming outside the home, Witmer said, Time Warner Cable is pursuing "TV Everywhere" deals to let subscribers watch video content when they're in other locations.

The MSO, for example, last fall struck a deal with Disney/ABC Television to let customers watch live simulcasts of networks including ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU over any Internet connection if they have a cable TV subscription package that includes those channels.

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