Time Warner and Comcast Start TV Everywhere Trial

Turner shows will move online

Want to watch The Closer online or via your cable systems Video On Demand offering? Time Warner and Comcast have teamed up to bring a selection of Turner's popular cable shows to a number of online TV destinations and Comcast's VOD platform as part of a broader agreement to shape the TV business for a new era.

Time Warner and Comcast today said viewers will be able to watch a broad range of shows currently airing on TNT and TBS including Saving Grace and Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns and My Boys. The shows will also be available on Comcast.net, Fancast.com and later on TNT.tv and TBS.com.

The new arrangement is termed a technical trial, and both parties said in a statement this morning that it expects other programming networks will participate as the trial expands. Cable programmers have been reticent about putting their best material online for fears of upsetting their biggest revenue providers, the cable operators.

Time Warner's CEO Jeff Bewkes has been heralding an industry-wide plan, dubbed TV Everywhere, which is aimed at organizing the industry around a single plan that would ask pay-TV subscribers to authenticate or identify themselves as paying customers before gaining access to online TV content.

The move is aimed at heading off a phenomenon called cord-cutting which sees subscribers dropping their cable TV subscriptions and instead watching TV online at sites such as Hulu, owned by News Corp., NBC Universal and Disney. CBS Corp.'s TV.com is another such player. (See related article, "Hulu Gets Traction as Web Video Go-To")

In a statement released this morning the two partners, Time Warner and Comcast, called for a new process to measure ratings for online viewing. The goal should be to extend the current viewer measurement system to include advertiser ratings for TV content viewed on all platforms, read the statement which also outlined several other core principles for bringing TV Everywhere to fruition.

Other principles include the suggestion that networks and video distributors should provide high quality, consumer friendly sites for viewing broadband content with easy authentication. The two companies said that TV Everywhere is open and non-exclusive and will include cable operators, telco video distributors as well as satellite operators.

Media Access Project raised red flags over the programming combination among the studio and the nation's largest cable operator, registering concerns about vertical integration.

"These new initiatives raise serious legal and policy questions," said MAP VP Parul Desai. Putting content behind a paid wall threatens the wide open model which has made the Internet innovative and diverse. Until now, users have been in control, but the "experiment" announced today appears to limit customer choice. The American public must be attentive whenever choice, innovation and diversity are threatened."

Public Knowledge was even tougher. “We are disappointed but not surprised at the announcement this morning by Comcast and Time Warner," said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn."It is obvious that their ‘TV Everywhere’ is not TV for Everyone."
“Limiting access to programming is straight out of the cable playbook, going back to the days when Congress had to act in 1992 to allow the satellite programming distributors to have access to cable programming. This new version raises substantial anti-competitive issues by restricting the availability of programming to the favored distribution methods."

The Comcast partnership is the second trial involving Time Warner. The company’s former distribution unit Time Warner Cable is also operating a trial to give subscribers web access to HBO shows. The trial operates in Milwaukee.

Separately, CBS Interactive which operates TV.com, issued a statement responding to the Time Warner/Comcast partnership Wednesday. The statement read: “ We are in favor of any proposal to help extend our business in such a way that is open and non-exclusive; consumer friendly; and responsible to our advertisers and shareholders. Initiatives like TV Everywhere and OnDemand Online are the very reason why we believe it’s imperative to control our own programming online. We look forward to continuing discussions with cable operators -- and all distributors -- to seek partnerships that recognize the value of our content."

John Eggerton contributed reporting to this article.