Time Warner, who I wrote about earlier in the week when they hit a snag with their TWCableTV iPad App, has sought a legal judgment on the matter. The Southern District of New York was petitioned by the cable operator about the legality of the streaming of content to iPads in the homes of Time Warner Cable subscribers. I am both fascinated and saddened by it all.
I'm saddened because it seems that the first recourse in any dispute about new media instantly goes to the courts instead of company leaders bothering to put any thought into how it might benefit them in the long run. It fascinates me because this could set a precedent that allows for a flood of iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7 apps for cable subscribers since a few others have them in the works already. It might even go so far as to cover some recent discrimination against Google TV by broadcasters who blocked access to their websites from the connected-devices.
The way I see it is that, the end-user should be allowed to use the broadcasts on any device in their home for any legal purpose. The TWCableTV iPad app, for those that don't know, allows one to stream channels that you would have in your cable package if you were one of their 15 million subscribers, only while on your home network. That would then, as far as I'm concerned, be considered a delivery vehicle just like a set-top box as its job is to interpret and display the programming coming down the Time Warner cable to the home.
Time Warner Cable's request is specifically aimed at Viacom and asks that the court see the iPad app content delivery within the scope of their carriage agreement which gives them the right to deliver programming over their cable systems to devices in subscriber homes, regardless if those devices are cable-boxes, TVs, or computers like the iPad which is the crux of the problem.
Marc Lawrence-Apfelbaum, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Time Warner Cable said, "We have steadfastly maintained that we have the rights to allow our customers to view this programming in their homes, over our cable systems, without artificial limits on the screens they can use to do so, and we are asking the court to confirm our view. With over 360,000 downloads of our TWCableTV app, it is clear that our customers welcome the convenience and flexibility our new app provides.”
The app, which launched to customers on March 15, 2011, currently features 43 channels which are available to customers whose subscriptions include them.
I have to agree. If all delivery of programming is being done digitally then at the most basic level, it is zeros and ones. How that data is then interpreted and displayed should not matter. Time Warner's agreement allows them to deliver the programming through their systems. Their systems are digital and the device on the end should not make one bit of difference.
I have to believe that any court in the country would see it exactly the same way. It would be like outlawing TV tuner cards for PCs because they're catching the broadcasts and displaying them on devices that aren't televisions.
Viacom probably sees it as a violation since it could expand the number of screens a household could view the content on, but that's just silly since it would only work to expand viewing of their content. The problem is that it can't be tracked and so if you are sitting out on your patio watching the latest episode of a show (as opposed to on the couch with the TV and set-top box) it can't be tracked and so it could negatively impact viewership ratings. As I said in my original article, that's not a Time Warner problem nor should it impact the end-user ability to watch the programming on the screen of their choice.
It's the only thing I can see them being upset about unless they're going to try and contend that the digital delivery to the iPad is in itself illegal, which no court would uphold since, again, it's all zeros and ones.
The app works just like an extension of your cable subscription package offering only the content you already have access to and only from your home broadband which is also supplied by Time Warner. If Time Warner loses the first round I see a long list of appeals processes taking it as high as it can go.
I'm also fascinated how Time Warner seems somewhat interested in the consumers in all of this. Sure, it would be a value-add for their service, but really, it offers consumers the largest benefit out of everyone from what I can tell. Want to sit out on your patio and watch the baseball game? No problem. Want to stream some tunes while sitting on the riding lawnmower? You can probably manage that as well. I can see some other benefits to Time Warner like increased viewing time, more ads displayed and generally looking like a forward-thinking company all around. So I applaud them on their drive to pursue this. I'll keep an eye on it.