Cable giant Comcast announced that it's working with media conglomerate Time Warner to deliver cable TV shows via the Internet for cable TV subscribers.
The companies announced on Wednesday that they will be testing a new service this summer offered by Comcast called On Demand Online. About 5,000 Comcast customers will be involved in the test. And they will get access to some of Time Warner's most popular TV shows from its TNT and TBS networks at no additional charge.
The companies plan to continue to work together to get more of Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting content on the Web for on-demand viewing, Jeff Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner, said during a press conference in New York on Wednesday.
The On Demand Online trial will test a new authentication technology that will allow secured access to the content.
Comcast's CEO Brian Roberts said he expects other networks to participate as the trial expands. Bewkes also said that Time Warner will work with other TV distributors, such as telephone companies and satellite companies, to distribute its video content in similar trials.
Comcast's plan is designed to provide TV networks and movie studios a secure way to distribute their movies and TV shows to a wider audience via the Internet. The way the service works is that people will only be able to access content if they have a cable TV subscription. But the service will work over any Internet provider, so that a Comcast TV subscriber could access video-on-demand services available through his paid TV package using Verizon's DSL service, for example.
Subscribers will only have access to content that is included in their cable package. For example, this means that viewers who pay for HBO could be allowed to get HBO shows and movies on demand via a broadband connection. But if a subscriber doesn't pay for HBO, that content won't be accessible via the service.
Comcast has already been experimenting with putting cable TV shows that haven't been available online on its Fancast Web site. And Time Warner Cable has also offered some HBO shows over the Internet in certain markets for a trial it's been testing.
Bewkes and Roberts emphasized during the press conference that the new service was about giving consumers free access to content via the Web. But journalists at the event and on the conference call pointed out that the service isn't really free since users must already subscribe to a paid TV service to get access to the content.
This is different from services such as Hulu.com, which is owned by NBC Universal and News Corp, and CBS' TV.com. (CNET News is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.) These Web sites offer broadcast TV shows via the Web for free after the shows have aired. Hulu even offers some cable TV shows.
But what Comcast and Time Warner are talking about is putting premium cable programming on the Web. Networks and movie studios have been reluctant to offer their content online because they fear piracy. They also have been uncertain about how to monetize their most valuable content.
But Roberts said that the authentication technology Comcast will use in its trial helps alleviate these fears because it not only authenticates using a username and password, but it goes one step further to ensure that the user accessing the content is really permitted to access that piece of content. And Bewkes said that new advertising models will be developed to help ensure that content owners get top dollar for their movies and TV shows.
Some critics view this move as a defensive one as cable operators and cable networks fear that as more content makes its way online--legally and otherwise--that many viewers will cut the cable cord and watch TV via the Internet. But Bewkes downplayed this concern saying that paid TV subscribership has increased every year for the last 30 years and that he doesn't see this trend slowing anytime soon.
Instead he said that this new initiative is really a way to give consumers more choice to watch what they want, when they want it and where they want regardless of device. While he concedes that most TV viewing is done today on an actual TV, he also said that viewers may want to watch TV shows on mobile phones. And this new model will allow for that as well.