The Cablecos That Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

Time Warner Cable (TWC) knocked down the hornets’ nest of streaming live TV to iPads, but it is Cablevision that kicked it. Cablevision is taking the same path as TWC but offering more live channels as well as on-demand videos. Comcast, the world’s largest pay-TV service, has promised to do the same by year-end.

Cablevision released an iPad app that offers nearly 300 linear TV channels and 2,000 on-demand videos. This summer, the app will let subscribers also control their DVRs. Unlike TWC, it does not require users to have a broadband subscription with it.

Cablevision says the iPad functions exactly as a TV set does in the home, giving it the right to stream live shows to the iPad.

“This application allows the iPad to function as a television, delivering the full richness and diversity of our cable television service to a display device in the home,” said Tom Rutledge, Cablevision’s COO. “It gives our customers the additional flexibility and convenience of watching television throughout the home, in places where set-top boxes might not be ideal or even practical, like the kitchen, bathroom or workroom. This is the future of Advanced Digital Cable televisions served with virtual set-top boxes, and just one of many digital displays we are going to be serving through a variety of applications.”

It makes the point that the shows are not delivered over the Net but over a secure home network. The app, it says, merely turns an iPad into another TV.

“Cablevision has the right to distribute programming over its cable system to iPads configured in this way under its existing distribution agreements with programming providers,” the company said. “Cablevision has been serving customers with switched digital cable for more than five years. Advanced Digital Cable allows the company to switch in multiple digital formats, as its customers continue to buy the latest display devices.”

Cablevision said it plans to add apps with similar functions to other tablets and display devices that function as TV sets.

Time Warner Removes 12 Channels, Adds 25

The cablecos know that the more their subscribers watch content from Netflix, Hulu and other OTT video services, the less they are watching what the cableco offers. Netflix continues to add must-see content; this week it added all “Mad Men” reruns on an exclusive basis.

Last Thursday TWC removed 12 channels from its app that streams live channels to iPads in the home, including MTV and FX, after receiving complaints from Discovery, News Corp and Viacom. The content companies evidently want the pay-TV companies to pay them more for such apps. They offer their own apps for in-home streaming.

TWC said it would replace the channels with 25 others including Bloomberg, CNN, the Lifetime Movie Network and the Golf Channel.

TWC said it believed it had “every right to carry the programming on our iPad app” in the home but “for the time being, we have decided to focus our iPad efforts on those enlightened programmers who understand the benefit and importance of allowing our subscribers — and their viewers — to watch their programming on any screen in their homes.”

It said it would “pursue all of our legal rights against the programmers who don’t share our vision.”

TWC said the response by subscribers has been positive: “The enthusiasm of our customers and the programming partners who have embraced the app, rather than those who are solely focused on finding additional ways to reach into wallets of their own viewers, have convinced us more than ever that we are on the right path.”

It is doubtlessly on the right path. The question is whether it has the legal right to stream live channels to tablets in the home. Do the contracts it has with the media companies give it the right to transmit their channels to secure and authenticated devices in the home and not specifically only to the TV set? In short, is the tablet just another TV screen?

“We will continue to fight to ensure that our customers have access to the content they pay for, no matter which screen in their home they choose to view it on,” the company said.

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