Time Warner and Comcast have officially joined forces in their efforts to make cable programming viewable online — but only to paying cable subscribers.
The two conglomerates on Wednesday unveiled a set of what they called “guiding concepts” for TV Everywhere, a broadband video initiative announced earlier this year by Time Warner.
To get things started, 5,000 Comcast subscribers will be allowed in July to view TNT and TBS programs through Comcast portals, including Comcast.net and Fancast.com.online. Shows available will include “The Closer” and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
The program later will expand to include Time Warner portals, including TNT.com and TBS.com, as well as programming from other platforms.
“What we’re trying to do is take the video programming that people are watching more and more in their homes and put it on broadband,” said Jeff Bewkes, chairman and CEO of Time Warner, during a Wednesday morning conference call. “We anticipate that all of our networks will be coming into this arrangement as the system becomes capable.”
The initiative is a direct response to the popularity of such free-to-view portals as Hulu. Cable conglomerates are concerned about programming becoming as widely available online for free as broadcast shows are — a paradigm that could make a huge dent in the subscriber-based business model.
“I think this marks the next logical evolution for cable television,” said Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, who noted that the conglomerate’s On Demand Online service has already delivered 12 billion online video sessions to consumers through portals including Fancast, which currently offers free viewing of full episodes from a wide range of providers.
Roberts added that if the July test among select Comcast subscribers proves that the company can deliver shows effectively and securely, it would be expanded in the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, TV Everywhere’s architects hope that cable programming eventually will be viewed on myriad sites by subscribers of myriad services. For example, a subscriber to satellite provider Dish Network could view “The Closer” on a choice of platforms ranging from Fancast.com to TNT.com by simply entering a username and password.
“We also anticipate that a lot of other distribution platforms — cable, satellite and telecom (service providers) — are going to put up similar test very shortly,” Bewkes said.
While plans exist to migrate cable’s subscription model online, there are still plenty of questions as to how the advertising model will be switched over — a conundrum that continues to perplex Hulu’s architects, as well as virtually every other online video provider right now.
“The goal on advertising should be to expand the current viewer measurement system and move it so it can be applied to VOD watching on broadband,” Bewkes noted.