Is the cable industry’s new TV Everywhere initiative an effort that benefits consumers? Or is it a potentially illegal effort to suppress cable competition.
Those competing views of the industry’s plan to provide TV programs for its subscribers on the web and on cellphones were offered Monday, as the industry ramps up for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Several consumer groups called on the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to undertake an anti-trust probe.
“Essentially, the TV Everywhere model requires consumers who wish to watch popular video content on the internet to first subscribe to cable television,” wrote officials of Free Press, Media Access Project, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America and Public Knowledge.
TV Everywhere, the groups claimed, "rests on an illegal agreement among competitors specifically designed to undermine emerging internet-based competition and consumer choice in video programming delivery.”
At a press conference Monday, spokesmen for the groups warned about the impact of TV Everywhere.
“It’s like Al Pacino and ‘The Godfather,’” said Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union. “When people are ready to leave cable, they [the cable companies] are pulling them back in.”
Additionally, FreePress released a 40-page study contending the cable industry is colluging to kill online TV and maintain the pricing model that has allowed the industry to repeatedly raise cable rates.
"Existing and evolving internet technologies may finally inject some much needed competition and choice into the TV market by enabling Americans to watch high-definition programs on the internet,” said the report. “But the big cable, satellite and phone companies which benefit from the status quo are trying to put down this revolution.”
Cable companies were quick to reject that analysis. Instead they argue that TV Everywhere is just one of a number of experiments to provide more content in places where consumers want to see it.
“The call for an ‘investigation’ of TV Everywhere has no factual or legal basis — no matter how many times Free Press and its allies repeat the words ‘collusion,’ ‘cartel” and ‘illegal,’” Kyle McSlarrow, president-CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, wrote in his blog.
Instead, he said TV Everywhere would benefit subscribers, providing them additional ways to watch TV without additional cost.
Time Warner in a statement said it is “committed to providing consumers who subscribe to cable, satellite, telephone or other multi-video platforms with more value for their money, by allowing them to watch their favorite shows when they want to watch them on both their TVs and over the internet at no additional charge. That is what TV Everywhere is, and it is quite plainly beneficial for consumers.”