Video Everywhere: ESPN Needs Blackouts On TWC iPad App

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The live feed of ESPN's flagship network is not available via Time Warner Cable's iPad app because the cable operator does not currently have the ability to comply with blackout restrictions required under national TV contracts, according to Matt Murphy, senior vice president of digital video distribution for Disney and ESPN Media Networks.

Murphy, speaking on a panel here at Multichannel News/B&C's Video Everywhere event Wednesday, was asked why ESPN -- among the most popular cable networks -- was not in the 32-channel lineup on TWC's controversial app.

"We are not on the Time Warner Cable iPad app because their transport mechanisms don't support blackouts," Murphy said. "We continue to be in conversations with them."

After the panel, Murphy declined to provide further comment.

Blackout restrictions are typically required under national TV contracts for sporting events, to ensure local or regional broadcasters have exclusive rights to carry specific games. Major League Baseball, for example, uses a geo-location technology based on IP address to determine whether a viewer is eligible to view games on its MLB.tv Internet-streaming service to out-of-market areas.

Time Warner Cable released the iPad app March 15, allowing customers to watch 32 live TV networks on the popular Apple tablet devices but only over a Wi-Fi home network. Several media companies immediately objected that the app wasn't allowed under the existing carriage deals and at least one programming group -- Fox Cable Networks -- has sent the MSO a cease-and-desist letter demanding its networks be pulled off the service.

In defending itself, TWC this week launched a dedicated website, IWantMyTWCableTVApp.com, arguing its position that cable customers have already paid for the right to access TV channels anywhere in their home on any device of their choosing.  Cablevision Systems is expected to launch a similar iPad app as soon as this week.

Time Warner Cable has not disclosed technically how it is delivering the 32 networks to iPads, except that the video is in Internet Protocol format and that the transmission traverses the MSO's privately managed network to subscriber homes and never touches the open Internet.

Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable customers already can access ESPN content on PCs. Last fall the operator 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. To access that service, Time Warner Cable customers can log in either at myservices.timewarnercable.com or espnnetworks.com.

ESPN's Murphy, on the panel Wednesday, noted that digital distribution deals when executed properly do not cannibalize existing TV viewership. He pointed out that 2010 was ESPN's highest-rated year ever for TV, while the programmer also scored its highest digital consumption figures to date.

"It's not a zero-sum game. It works out just famously for us," he said.

Also on the panel, Comcast Spotlight group vice president Kevin Smith said that from an advertising perspective, the ability to sell inventory against video content made available through tablets and other non-TV devices must catch up to changing viewer behavior. "The strategy is very simple: We want to follow the impressions," he said.

Measuring ad impressions across multiple non-TV devices, such as the TWC iPad app, remains a looming issue for the industry to make sure networks receive credit for cumulative viewing. Media measurement firm Rentrak, for one, has a project dubbed Rentrak Connect that can tally unduplicated views based on a unique ID for each piece of content, according Cathy Hetzel, president of the company's Advanced Media & Information (AMI) division.

"We do what we can with what is available today," Hetzel said.

The panel, "Counting the Dollars: Translating Views to Revenues," was moderated by B&C business editor Jon Lafayette.

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