Cable and programmers talk mobility at last

Mon Jun 13, 2011 6:10pm EDT
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By Yinka Adegoke

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cable programmers and operators are putting aside usually difficult negotiations to solve their most pressing challenge this year: How to make more TV shows mobile without harming their lucrative business.

This issue will top the agenda for a cable industry at this year's Cable Show, when industry executives gather this week. The industry has watched credible new rivals such as Netflix Inc, Apple Inc and Google Inc, start to offer flexible new ways for consumers to watch favorite cable shows beyond the TV set in the traditional living room.

The Holy Grail for cable executives, who have previously battled to keep agreements locked within the traditional cable system, is how to ensure programing can be seen everywhere, on any device and at any time for paying customers.

"The economic strains and competition we've seen in the last few years have resulted in more contentious conversations," said Denise Denson, executive vice president, content at Viacom Inc. "Technology is moving faster than ever, so it's even more important that operators and programmers work together to stay relevant with consumers."

With the vast majority of programmers' profits coming from cable and satellite distributors, the programmers are being careful not to rush into new deals with the likes of Google and Microsoft Corp whose plans not only rival cable, but unbundle TV shows from traditional cable networks.

This was the thinking behind TV Everywhere, a proposal led by Time Warner Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes and Comcast Corp CEO Brian Roberts in 2009. The idea is to allow cable customers to access their shows online away from home once they were authenticated as a paying customer.

"Even in the middle of one of the worst recessions, there's an increase in TV viewing without new homes. TV Everywhere gives us an chance to extend the existing model beyond the home," said Andy Heller, vice chairman of Turner Broadcasting System, a unit of Time Warner. "We're not being altruistic. We'll be able to ... keep the eyeballs, so there's upside for us, the cable operators and for the customers, as we're giving them more access to content for no extra charge."

But even though it now reaches nearly 70 million homes the basic concept of TV Everywhere has not set the industry alight -- and one reason for that are the complicated licensing agreements between distributors and programmers.   Continued...