When is television not television? That’s the question at the center of a quickly-developing conflict between cable providers and television networks, and the answer has nothing to do with whether it’s HBO or not.
The dispute centers around Time Warner Cable’s new iPad app, which gives its subscribers access to select channels on their iPad. The problem is, TWC and the channels in question weren’t exactly in agreement about whether or not they had the right to do this: According to TWC, tethering it this way – Only existing TWC subscribers have access, and they also have to be at home in order to access the channels – made the iPad merely another television screen in the home, and therefore part of the carrier’s existing contracts with the channels. But according to the networks, an iPad is an iPad, which means that no such contracts exist. To date, Fox and channels from Viacom (MTV, Comedy Cental etc.) and Discovery Communications (the Discovery Channel and siblings) have been pulled from the initial line-up as a result of threatened legal action… but new channels, mostly from the Disney and NBC Universal families, have already replaced them.
This isn’t a one-off situation; other cable carriers are said to be working on similar apps, and given the increasing prevelance of Video on Demand solutions (VoD now accounts for 25% of all video watched in the US), it’s not just TWC that television networks are fighting here… it’s the likely shape of the future. Thing is: It’s not as if television companies are scared of the internet; most networks have multiple sites for their shows and/or their brands, and almost all of the broadcast networks (CBS aside) are partners in the streaming video site Hulu. There are all manner of content deals with partners like Netflix – although, interestingly, both Starz and Showtimes have recently pulled their shows back slightly, putting the emphasis back on the channel as the main source instead of Netflix – and similar companies, so what’s the problem with this TWC app in particular?
Ultimately, it seems, money. If TWC claim that their iPad app is merely an extension of the televisions in the home, then they don’t have to pay any more for the streaming rights to the shows – It’s already been factored in to the existing agreements, as part of the On Demand/DVR model. But that’s disingenuous on TWC’s part; iPads may become as ubiquitous as televisions, one day – probably one day soon, at the rate things seem to be going – but they’re not televisions. The way that people watch content on them is different, and the format is, ultimately, different; to claim otherwise is like saying that a laptop is just like a television with a keyboard attached. In reality, an iPad is a separate stream, and should be treated as a separate revenue stream by all parties involved, like iTunes downloads, Hulu views, Netflix streams or DVD releases. TWC might not want to admit it, but it’s still the case.
I would love for someone to magically fix this situation soon; I understand that I may have to pay more for it, but I really would like to be able to stream programming through my iPad, with as much choice and freedom as I get with my DVR and cable connection. It’s definitely something that’s on its way – I just wish that everyone would manage to get on the same page so that it could get here faster.
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