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Cable Technology Feature Article

April 01, 2011

Time Warner Cable Backpedals on Digital Broadcast App After Networks Object

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable is backpedaling big time. A Wall Street Journal blog reported today that the company has removed a dozen cable television networks from software it created to beam live TV channels to Apple (News - Alert) iPads, a concession to several big media companies that had objected to the application.

The retreat is the latest development in a fight that began earlier this month when Time Warner, apparently (and rather mystifyingly) without securing permission, released an iPad app that included a lineup of 32 live TV channels. Turns out, a number of those networks weren't happy about the release and demanded Time Warner take action to remove them. The complaining networks included Viacom' MTV and Comedy Central, Discovery Communication Inc.'s Animal Planet and Discovery Channel, and News Corp (News - Alert).'s FX and National Geographic Channel.

The change leaves Time Warner Cable's TV app with only 20 channels. The app has exposed tensions between the cable company and some of its network partners as they wrestle with how to adapt to the Internet era and the rights to distribute live TV to portable devices, wrote the WSJ. Some network owners had objected to the app because they saw opportunities for more compensation from cable companies for the distribution rights on new-media devices, such as tablet computers.

They also were concerned that live-TV apps could damage their advertising business, as efforts to measure audiences on such devices have been slow to come to fruition.

Time Warner Cable had argued its affiliate agreements with the programmers allowed it to distribute their programming on any screen within its customers' homes.

The free app only worked within a cable customer's home when the iPad was connecting to the Internet through the company's broadband service.

“We believe we have every right to carry the programming on our iPad app,” Time Warner Cable said yesterday. The company said it “would "pursue all of our legal rights against the programmers who don't share our vision.”

Time Warner Cable said it received a cease and desist letter from some programmers (those “who don't share their vision” apparently), including News Corp.'s Fox TV networks, as well as other programmers. Scripps Networks Interactive has publicly objected to the app, while Viacom (News - Alert) and Discovery Communications have raised objections privately, according to people familiar with the matter.

“We feel this strategy is the best way to preserve our rights,” a spokesman for Time Warner Cable said, adding that the company plans to add other channels to its app, but he declined to provide details.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee