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Time Warner Cable's iPad approach is to ask forgiveness rather than permission

March 21, 2011 |  1:55 pm

When it comes to distributing content on tablet devices such as the iPad, cable operators appear to think it's better to ask forgiveness rather than permission.

At least that's the approach of Time Warner Cable, which last week announced that it would be offering live TV to its nearly 15 million subscribers via Apple's iPad at no extra charge. Comcast and Cablevision are also planning similar apps.

However, some of the programmers whose content Time Warner Cable would be offering have been rumbling quietly that the cable company does not have the rights to stream their programming to iPads. Most, however, are not yet ready to go on a public offensive against the cable operator.

That the Time Warner Cable app only works in the home is of little concern to the programmers. If the contract with the cable company doesn't specifically say streaming on tablet devices is part of the deal, they will balk and probably try to seek more money.

The app has proved to be very popular, although frankly, given its limited usage it seems more of a vanity play than anything else. Why would anyone choose to watch TV on an iPad at home, where they already have at least one TV? In the ad on Time Warner Cable's website, a woman is shown watching an iPad while taking a bath. Not sure if most people will take a device that starts north of $500 into the tub with them.

Among the 32 channels being offered are networks from Disney (although no ESPN), Viacom, Discovery, and NBC Universal. None of the channels have been pulled yet, according to a Time Warner Cable spokesman.

Media analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG Research wrote last week that he looks at the issue and wonders, "Why should a content owner care?" He notes that networks have not to his knowledge made a stink about the Slingbox, a technology that allows its users to be hooked up to their home TV no matter where they are.

"Not only is Slingbox re-encoding the live stream coming out of your multichannel video box in your home (as TWC is doing), but it is also allows you to skip commercials and you can use it in home, out of home and on a wide array of mobile devices," Greenfield wrote. 

All the flashiness aside, the Time Warner Cable iPad app looks like a solution in search of a problem. But it is interesting that cable networks, who have gotten on board with the TV Everywhere initiative in which their content can be viewed online only by those who already subscribe to a pay TV service, are balking over the iPad app.

-- Joe Flint

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