updated 11:45 am EDT, Wed June 24, 2009
Comcast TW TV Everywhere
Cable providers Comcast and Time Warner today launched a new initiative to help accommodate online video with their traditional TV businesses. Called alternately On Demand Online (by Comcast) and TV Everywhere (by Time Warner), the pact will see both develop a non-exclusive system that grants web-based, streaming access to TV shows and movies for a given network as long as the customer already pays for a subscription with access to that channel or show. An authentication system will verify permission, but customers won't need to use an Internet connection from their TV provider to access those shows.
The two businesses have also agreed on principle that the services should be free on top of traditional TV and that the concept should be open enough that competing companies, such as those with fiber optic or satellite-based TV networks, should also have the option of entering into these deals. They additionally hope to have a standardized ratings system that will likely help spur advertisers, which are often reluctant to sponsor online streams under the assumption of low demand.
Comcast will be the first to roll out the service and is testing On Demand Online with a 5,000-customer national trial focusing on "premium" shows that will include programming from Time Warner. A Time Warner trial is coming later, and it's suggested that both experiments will actively shape the final product.
Both partners interpret the effort as opening more of their content online, and particularly HD shows that have often been in limited availability outside of TV packages due to licensing rights or the cost of making it available independently of a subscription. Hulu and network-specific websites often limit access to certain shows and, in the case of Hulu, often remove old shows about to appear on Blu-ray or DVD to artificially spur sales.
Critics have regardless accused these companies of protectionism by forcing customers to maintain TV subscriptions when the content would otherwise be available to anyone. Net neutrality is also a concern as fears exist that the two may abuse their monthly data transfer caps to deter use of Internet TV and protect their more lucrative cable TV services, possibly exempting their own Internet video services from contributing to the transfer count.
A recently introduced bill would, if passed, ban metered Internet on major providers without proof the service won't discriminate against particular services.