by Brian Swarth (@bswarth)
Although no doctor has formally diagnosed me, I am pretty sure that I have a multi-media-consumption-addiction. I feed my appetite for it whenever, wherever and in whatever form I can. My condition is so serious that if my devices were Krispy Kreme donuts, I would easily weigh…roughly 900 pounds by the end of 2011.
For starters, I have a High Definition DVR cable box in every room of my apartment. I also have an Apple TV, two Roku boxes and two broadband connected DVD players. Did I mention my beloved Sling Box and iPad? My wife and I have been known to engage in Netflix marathons, and I’m proud to say that we recently completed the first four seasons of Friday Night Lights in just under three weeks.
So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that my provider, Time Warner Cable, had developed an iPad app that would let me stream cable TV content to my iPad while I was at home. Given my obsession with having 24/7 access to content, I downloaded the Time Warner app the first day it was available in the iTunes app store.
My first impression of the app? While the picture quality was great, I found the actual app quite useless, at least in its current state. I think the Cablevision app that launched shortly after TWC’s is much more comprehensive and valuable to content addicts like me. (see Cablevision’s app features here). To be honest, I almost entirely forgot about TWC app after a few days.
Then I started to hear about the emerging disputes between some notable cable programmers and TWC. Shortly after launching its iPad app, Time Warner was forced to remove channels from some cable programmers like Newscorp and Viacom. (TWC has since put some of Newscorp channels back on).
Here are the programmers’ gripes. (In case you couldn’t guess, money is front and center)
The iPad is not a television, thus Time Warner’s existing licensing agreement does not cover distribution to an iPad = Pay us more $ for these rights.
Ok, let’s all say it together: the iPad is not a television. But the mechanism for distributing the content to the iPad is the same “secure” pipes that are used to get content to your tv set. Programmers argue that the iPad is a new platform, but in reality, it’s just another screen that can access TV content you already pay for.
Some of the programmers’ own agreements with content producers don’t allow for distribution to iPads = Pay us more $ so we can obtain these rights.
Sure the programmers may have a point, but it seems to me that all of the other cable programmers on the iPad (AETN, Discovery, Scripps, NBCU/Comcast, Turner, ABC/ESPN and Rainbow) have figured out a way to get around this.
TWC is using this product to enhance the value of its broadband service, but programmers aren’t receiving compensation = Pay us more $ if you’re using our content to make your non-tv services better for your customers.
While I agree that the iPad app makes Time Warner Cable’s broadband service more valuable to me, the app will only work if I continue paying for a bundle of channels. So the app reinforces the value of subscription tv, which all programmers maintain is crucial to the survival of their business.
Time Warner launched the app with only a subset of the programmer’s channels = Include all of our channels.
It’s true that programmers prefer to have a distributor pay for and carry all available channels. My guess is that as soon as TWC has the capacity to do so, it will mirror what’s available on the cable box on the iPad app (which is what Cablevision did). So this is shortsighted thinking from some of the programmers.
Nielsen, the ONLY real currency for measuring television viewership, does not currently have a method to capture iPads views = Pay us more $ to make up for any potential loss in advertising revenue, as viewers shift from TV to iPad
Of all the arguments posed by programmers, this has the most merit. Until Nielsen can properly include tablet viewing in its samples, programmers won’t be able to monetize this type of viewership… at least not through advertising revenue. But is this enough to keep certain programming off of the iPad? It seems like a lot of programmers who are also dependent on advertising revenue have decided that being on this platform now is important. Their hope is that Nielsen gets its act together soon.
I don’t know about you, but I always find it fascinating when these disputes, which are usually private, become open to the public. My guess is that the few remaining holdouts will eventually come to an agreement with Time Warner. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw them on the iPad within the next few months. Until then, I will be preoccupied with all of my other media consumption platforms, feeding my fix.