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Summary:

Discovery, Fox and Viacom might have won their battle against Time Warner Cable, forcing the pay TV provider to pull their channels from its live iPad app. But in doing so, they’re losing viewers that might have actually used the app to watch their shows.

TWC iPad

Congrats Discovery, Fox and Viacom: You’ve officially succeeded in making your content less relevant.

Pay TV providers such as Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Comcast want to give their subscribers new ways to access cable shows, on any screen they want to watch it within their homes. It seems like a reasonable request; after all, to most consumers nowadays, there’s little difference between watching a show on a TV, a laptop or a tablet device. But the cable networks aren’t happy with the terms with which the cable providers chose to do so — and now, rather than watching MTV or Animal Planet shows on their iPads, viewers will be watching content from one of their competitors instead.

The whole spat began shortly after Time Warner Cable made 32 channels of cable content available to be streamed live to an iPad app. But even with pretty harsh restrictions for how those live streams can be viewed — the app only works in a user’s home, connected to his or her home network — programmers sent cease-and-desist letters to the cable provider, asking that their networks be removed from the app. Bowing to pressure, Time Warner Cable has pulled a third of the channels available from its iPad app, including Animal Planet, BET, CMT, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, FX, MTV, National Geographic, Nickelodeon, Spike and VH1.

While Time Warner Cable maintains it has broad rights to broadcast any of these networks to any screen within a subscriber’s home, the cable programmers argue that their deals don’t include distribution to new platforms like the iPad. In short, Discovery, Fox and Viacom want to be paid more to have their content viewed on a new type of device, regardless of where that viewing happens or what kind of restrictions are placed on that viewing.

Those programmers may have won the latest battle over how users are able to access their content, but by doing so, they’re losing the war for the hearts, minds and attention spans of their viewers. Time Warner Cable said in a statement Thursday that it will replace those channels with others, “focus[ing] 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.”

In short, Discovery, Fox and Viacom would rather have Time Warner Cable subscribers watching anything else at all than to watch their shows and not be paid more for it. In a cable model built on content scarcity, that kind of thinking might have made sense. But it’s a dangerous strategy in a world in which viewers now have a near-infinite selection of content to view on nearly any device that they choose.

The hard lesson those programmers have to learn is that those hundreds of thousands of Time Warner Cable iPad users aren’t going to just put the app down because they’re not able to stream reruns of the Jersey Shore while someone else has control of the remote for the big-screen TV in their home. Users will still use the app — they’ll just find something else to watch.

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  1. Do people actually watch TV on their TV with a cable box? Thats so last year.

    I *listen to MSNBC and CNN on the TV while its behind me. I *watch TV on my other monitor connected to my computer. Simple. Maybe I can save energy by turning off that TV and listen to NPR.

    1. Why would you listen to one show and watch another at the same time? That’s sounds odd to me. I understand you’re being sarcastic, but how do you “listen” to MSNBC on your TV without a cable box? I assume you have an antenna for that.

      To me, OTT TV watching is still lacking in many ways so I use it as a supplement to cable when there’s not much on in cable or I want to watch a movie not on the Demand stations.

      I think NPR is losing much of it’s federal funding so you may not have that much longer. But you can always listen to some morning zoo show, doesn’t matter which one, they’re all the same lame show.

  2. absolutely agree, the content owners are shortsighted and will lose viewers…..who will view other content on their iPad

  3. Geert Faber Friday, April 1, 2011

    Totally agree. With more people ‘cutting the cord’ distributors have to react to the changing consumer behavior. It is foolish to think that television is just the big screen in the living room, this will harm their position in the discussion about the new ways of content delivery. Unfortunately the popular content creators have the greater power by just pulling their shows, however in the long run they have to adapt.

  4. Anna Lytiks Friday, April 1, 2011

    If you can’t measure it, you can’t monetize it. Case closed. Plus, there’s huge potential for privacy.

  5. It sounds like the CableNets are betting they can extract higher fees from the MVPDs for services like this. Tough to call a winner in this fight just yet.

    But dont TWC and the CableNets get incremental ad revenue here ??

  6. You are woefully uneducated about TV Everwhere and its implications. The networks don’t want to be PAID MORE, they want the credit for the ratings, commercials viewed, to be reported back to their clients. They just want to get apt measurement for what their viewers are watching. Which the cable companies such as the ones noted below are working on getting rolled out (and Time Warner, it should be noted, pulled some of their own networks from the iPad lineup).

    In short, Discovery, Fox and Viacom want to be paid more to have their content viewed on a new type of device, regardless of where that viewing happens or what kind of restrictions are placed on that viewing.

    1. Kerry – Funny, I haven’t seen a single report where the programmers have stated that they would be fine with TWC’s iPad app so long as it provided the kind of reporting they wanted. Everything I’ve seen is that they are unhappy with the fact that their current licensing agreements don’t have provisions for this type of distribution.

      Sure everyone wants to have proper measurement for the content people are viewing. But companies that sit on the sidelines while waiting for those metrics to arrive will be left behind.

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