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Summary:

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt is watching the Aereo legal battle with interest. If the upstart prevails, Britt may try a similar tactic himself.

Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt is thinking about delivering over the air television to consumers via the internet. The CEO of the nation’s second largest cable provider told the Washington Post in an interview Thursday that he found Aereo’s actions “interesting,” and something his company might consider.

From the Washington Post article:

“What Aereo is doing to bring broadcast signals to its customers is interesting,” Time Warner Cable chief executive Glenn Britt said in an interview with The Washington Post. “If it is found legal, we could conceivably use similar technology.”

That’s a big admission from Britt, and illustrates both how rapidly the internet is changing the television industry. But what would be an even bigger admission would be if Britt would consider delivering that public broadcast package beyond its existing subscriber base.

A modest proposal

In short, would Britt be willing to break the unspoken agreement that has kept the telcos and cable providers from infringing on each other’s turfs even as IP technology has made it possible for them to deliver their TV packages over the top?

If Time Warner Cable were to implement an Aereo-like business model and offer it to anyone, it might hurt Aereo but it would set off a war between the telcos and cable companies to deliver their services over the top. In many cases, the technology isn’t stopping this revolution, but the business implications would give them pause.

If Comcast’s Xfinity service were available everywhere and so were Verizon’s FiOS packages, then pay TV will have been decoupled from the entwork. All you would be left with are dumb pipes and whole lot of companies offering to provide the same channels of television. Would we need 20 “premium cable offerings?”

My hunch is no, which would have trickle down effects on the money the networks make as well as hasten the rise of a la carte pay TV packages, or even simply paying for a show. However, all of this speculation is premature as Britt cushioned his statements by telling the Washington Post that his company is only watching Aereo’s legal battle and that it doesn’t have concrete plans.

Taking action on this sort of talk would hugely piss off the broadcasters that own some of the channels that Time Warner Cable depends on to keep its subscribers happy, and may just be a feint in the ongoing fight between cable providers and content companies about retransmission fees.

Back in the real world

But Britt is clearly a fan of shaking things up. Unlike many ISPs that view Netflix as a threat to their triple play bundle, Time Warner Cable sends out advertisements touting Netflix as a reason to upgrade broadband speeds. He’s also letting consumers stream live TV to their Roku boxes with a Time Warner Subscription (that might come in handy should it elect to make an Aereo-style over the top offering). And he’s also been more vocal about the need for more flexible packages of channels for consumers.

He reiterated that to the Washington Post:

“The structure needs more flexibility,” Britt said. A customer shouldn’t have to pay for less popular channels like VH1 Honors in order to get Nick Jr. and MTV. “There are fellow citizens who are struggling financially and can’t afford large programming packages. We want the ability to offer those customers smaller, more affordable packages.”

It’s better to keep a customer paying you something, rather than decamping because they don’t want to pay for a $150 cable bill. Britt seems to get that, and wants to find a middle ground before the internet and over the top TV offerings take that ground out from under his feet. I wonder if he’s willing to take it even further.

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  1. Ah, this is fantastic. We need more people to understand that the old model of distribution doesn’t work. I would love to see this in the US from the incumbents, which might be the only way to get people to love their TV operator again.

    (I am part of running Magine, and we are a cloud based cable operator. paidcontent.org/2012/11/05/magine-aims-to-be-a-cloud-pay-tv-service-without-the-box/)

  2. “The unspoken agreement that has kept the telcos and cable providers from infringing on each other’s turfs”? Stacey, where I live (northern Virginia), Verizon and Cox Communications have invaded each other’s turfs majorly. Both offer Internet, TV, and phone packages.

    1. It was poorly worded. It’s cable infringing on other cable, and telco infringing on other telco. Telco infringing on cable and vice versa is business as usual.

  3. This is the first I’ve heard of Britt’s progressive attitude. BUT, he does condemn one level of bundling “A customer shouldn’t have to pay for less popular channels like VH1 Honors in order to get Nick Jr. and MTV. ” while no doubt supporting TWC’s need to make customer’s get MTV to get AMC. (Or something. Bundling by the service provider.)

  4. Basically if you receive off the air broadcast from an antenna you receive it free. If you receive that SAME signal through satellite, cable or FIOS it cost you money! WHY? GREED, GREED and more GREED from the broadcasters! They receive revenue from advertising and subscriptions when their signal is delivered through cable or satellite. They only receive advertising revenue when there signal is delivered from an off air antenna. Aereo is not stealing anything! It’s a FREE signal received off the air! How do you steal something that is FREE??????? The broadcasters are ripping off the cable and satellite subscribers by charging them for something that is free! They are making the cable and satellite companies collect money for their FREE signal!!! If the broadcasters want to charge for a channel it should be a COMMERCIAL FREE channel as you have to pay, like HBO, not the same channel you can get for free off your antenna!!!!!!!!!! Cable and satellite should DROP all the broadcast channels, lets see how far the broadcasters can go then!

  5. This article makes the all-too-common mistake of conflating broadcast and cable re: Aereo. There’s no path from what Aereo is doing to a la cart cable service. From a legal standpoint, it’s apples and oranges.

  6. If Aereo is found to be legal, it will ultimately lead to high value content being pulled off the OTA feeds of the broadcasters, and OTA signal will be a loop of local weather and news. There is no free lunch, if consumers want high quality content, it takes $$ to produce, distribute, promote, etc. 90% of HHs already have pay TV, and wouldn’t be affected in the least, while the remaining 10% of HHs relying on OTA signals will have to find alternatives – local libraries have DVDs you can check out, try that…

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