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Comcast, Time Warner Announce "TV Everywhere" Initiative

Comcast and Time Warner said this morning that they're working on plans for a big increase in the amount of TV shows watchable online for free--but only by people who also subscribe to their regular TV services.

This scheme goes by the name of "TV Everywhere." The idea is that the best way to cover the costs of producing TV shows is to get online viewers to pay for them--not by charging them directly, but by requiring that they first show that they pay for a TV service. It's right there at the end of a list of bullet points in their press release:

TV Everywhere is open and non-exclusive; cable, satellite or telco video distributors can enter into similar agreements with other programmers.

Yes, you read that right: To watch this new batch of TV shows online, you'd have to sign up for a traditional pay-TV plan.

The TV Everywhere idea has been a dream of some media people for the last few years; see, for instance, Mark Cuban's defense of the idea. But I don't get it. At all.

Set aside such operational issues as authentication (how do you verify that one person's a Comcast/DirecTV/Fios/etc. customer and another is not?) and those broadband caps that cable Internet providers seem so fond of (won't all the Web viewing made possible by TV Everywhere bump you over your quota?). No, the real problem is that TV Everywhere is illogical, unfair and stupid.

It's illogical because it makes a simple matter far too complicated. If somebody wants to watch video online, let 'em: Charge them a fee, make money off their attention through advertising--better yet, give people a choice between watching ads or paying for an ad-free experience. But don't force them to sign up for an unrelated, non-Internet service.

It's unfair because it forces people to buy one thing to get another--as if, say, you had to subscribe to the Post to take one of the Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan test-prep courses. Not only is that kind of "tying" begging for an antitrust lawsuit, it's also guaranteed to annoy viewers who have switched to Web viewing precisely because they're sick of the ever-higher charges of cable, satellite and fiber TV service.

And it's stupid because it ignores every lesson of online media distribution. Repeat after me: Trying to introduce an artificial scarcity of easily-duplicated content on the Internet does not work. If you set up boundaries that make no sense to your customers, you will simply cede the field to bootleg redistribution of your work. Fighting this principle is like trying to push water uphill--with a broom.

Let's not forget that this proposal comes from two companies that share a history of questionable Internet-usage limits and surcharges--and year after year of dismal customer-satisfaction scores. You really have to wonder what they're thinking in Comcast and Time Warner's executive suites these days.

But that's just me... I could be wrong. What's your take on this idea?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 24, 2009; 4:54 PM ET
Categories:  TV , Video  
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I watched a season of a British show on You Tube. BBC America is not showing the season two episodes on this side of the pond yet. It was broadcast on Monday night in the UK and a dedicated viewer posted each show (in 10 min increments) every Tuesday. Within minutes of her posting you could see the tabulation of views soar. We were all sitting at our computers watching as fast as she put them up. Free. Best part: commercials were edited out. If there was a fee I guess it would be a complete one hour show. No doubt with all the commercials.
I do have access to ESPN360 as a paying FIOS customer. I've used the stream for a couple of events but I wouldn't pay extra for it.
Rob, will you have any updates on the WUSA and WJLA reception issues for tomorrow's chat?

Posted by: tbva | June 25, 2009 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Rob- As a Comcast customer, my first take was that this was good, I'll be getting more value for the huge amount I already pay Comcast. Maybe this will shake out so that I'll be able to watch my favorite game or show, when I'm not at home in front of the tv.

Posted by: Max231 | June 25, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Comcast treated my wife and me so shabbily over their fraudulent 'unlimited internet access' - which it turned out wasn't unlimited and the cap was top secret - that I refuse to ever give them any money every again for any service. They have a government-sponsored monopoly of cable services in a large percentage of the US. Their abusive treatment of their customers should be grounds for stripping them of their exclusive cable rights and opening up their pipes as a publicly-accessible internet backbone.

Posted by: boboran | June 25, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

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