The cable biz is starting to feel the heat from viewers who want free online access to top shows — much to the dismay of cable operators.
Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes is talking up an ambitious plan, dubbed TV Everywhere, that would give viewers that free on-demand online access provided they are already subscribers to cable or satellite services.
Time Warner is in discussions with Viacom, Disney, News Corp., NBC Universal, Rainbow Media and Discovery Communications, as well as major cable, satellite and telecom providers, to allow viewers to stream programs from HBO and myriad other channels on various Internet sites, including the NBC U/News Corp.- owned Hulu. Users would receive a password from their cable or satellite provider that would enable them to access cable programs.
Comcast is working on a similar project and is in discussions with a number of the majors.
The cable biz has generally shied away from free Web streaming of programs for fear of losing subscribers over the long term. But viewers have come to expect online access to shows now that the major broadcast nets offer most of their shows for free streaming via their own websites, Hulu and other Internet vid players.
The plan Bewkes is promoting is a compromise that aims to assuage operator concerns about losing paying customers.
“What we’re saying is every satellite and telephone and cable distributor can and should offer all of this stuff on broadband,” Bewkes told investors at the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday. “And the condition is that everybody who’s watching should be a multichannel TV subscriber.”
Time Warner is conducting a trial of the broadband service in Milwaukee with TW cable subscribers able to watch all the channels they pay for online. Officials for the conglom said they hope to have deals in place to expand the trial later this year.
Internally, Time Warner premium network HBO already allows subscribers to access its series online in a similar way. Bewkes indicated that the conglom’s Turner Networks channels will soon do the same.
“It’s something we should organize. It’s very easy to do,” Bewkes said. “HBO has already done it. If you want to watch HBO on broadband and you’re an HBO subscriber, you’re going to be able to watch it on broadband through whichever provider is giving you broadband and HBO video. And there’s no reason that you can’t do the same thing with TNT or Cartoon Network, and we’re going to be moving to do that.”