Some Web TV streams will be delayed until Comcast users get first crack
In a deal announced today that could spawn a replication of the multi-tiered pay TV network scheme (first run, second run, rerun) on the Internet, cable service provider Comcast will be partnering with cable network parent company Time Warner (no longer related to Time Warner Cable) to make replays of shows seen on TNT, TBS, and potentially other Turner networks down the road available online first to paying Comcast customers.
The deal will lead to Comcast extending its "On Demand" brand to the Web, using a platform that will not only enable advertising but also provide a ratings service to advertisers. Most likely, this will be an analytics service provided by the Nielsen Company, which Comcast endorsed in January 2008.
Although early analysis of the partnership has centered on the cable provider's interest in capitalizing on "second-run" content before it all becomes free for downloading, the move actually may not actually change much with regard to the status of Turner Networks programs. While broadcast networks' "second runs" tend to be available shortly after their original air time, on sites such as Hulu, TV.com, and YouTube, TNT shows such as The Closer, Saving Grace, and Leverage are only made available through that network's own portal at TNT.tv (though TV.com often provides links to this portal).
Unlike the major sites which use Flash, TNT and TBS.com utilize a version of Windows Media rights protection which clearly removes platform independence from the equation, and whose plug-in has failed to install correctly in Betanews tests with at least six different browser configurations -- the latest such failure taking place in Firefox 3.0.11 on Windows XP, at the time of this writing.
What's more, Turner already delays the streaming premiere dates of its programs often until a week or more after their first-run airdates, so the window of opportunity for Comcast to take advantage of exclusivity already existed.
The first beta tests of "On Demand Online" will involve 5,000 Comcast customers, who will also very likely become participants in Nielsen tracking as a result. In their joint statement this morning, the two companies professed their interest in promoting the business model of second-run to paid subscribers, third-run later, as a kind of principle they're calling "TV Everywhere."
In his part of the statement this morning, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes remarked, "TV Everywhere is no longer just a concept, but a working model to deliver consumers more television content over broadband than ever before. We consistently look to make our popular, branded content more accessible to consumers in order to grow our business." Nonetheless, nobody has said exactly how this principle will be promoted, or whether we'll actually hear anything about "TV Everywhere" beyond this initial agreement.
Right now, ABC has joined NBC and Fox as stakeholders in Hulu, while CBS is the principal stakeholder in TV.com -- none of them, arguably, have an interest in delaying viewer access to their programs. And while those companies are largely known as broadcasters, they and their parent companies are all involved to varying degrees with cable channels.
Meanwhile, perhaps the most noteworthy holdout in this "TV Everywhere" is Comcast itself, which has its own stake in many cable channels that could have provided programming to this effort, including E! Entertainment Television, Style Networks, and sports channel Versus.