Updated: Sounds like Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) have agreed that partnering on TV Everywhere makes more sense than each media giant pushing separately for essentially the same result: making cable programming available online and mobile to anyone who already pays to see it on their TVs. The two companies have called a press conference at the Time Warner Center tomorrow morning featuring TW Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, the chief evangelist for TV Everywhere, and Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, who has been championing his company’s variation of the theme. The subject: “Comcast and Time Warner partner to advance TV Everywhere initiative.”
Comcast is both a programmer and the country’s largest cable operator; it’s also a leading broadband provider that counts on video to keep fueling growth and use. Plus, Comcast owns online programming guide/video portal Fancast, which would be a core part of its subscriber-access plans. Time Warner is a major cable programmer as the owner of Turner Broadcasting, HBO and Warner Bros.; it spun off Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) earlier this year and is planning to spin off AOL, its other major content distribution business.
Bewkes told me earlier this year that his plan didn’t call for extra payments from multichannel operators or their subscribers. Instead, he sees TV Everywhere as a way to keep current and future deals from being devalued by making too much available to non-subscribers. That doesn’t mean everything would be available for no additional charge. If a subscriber pays extra for it now — like a pay-per-view movie — the subscriber would still pay for that but they should get access to it across platforms.
Roberts has compared what he wanted to do with On Demand Online to Comcast’s VOD service: standard content is included and subscribers of premium services Showtime, HBO, Starz and others, can access that content on demand, while some movies, events, etc., are offered as pay VOD.
The New York Times reports that the two will announce a small trial of about 5,000 Comcast customers and some programming from TBS and TNT. The networks each have first-run shows during the summer that usually aren’t available online until after the series is done for the season. Comcast and Time Warmer already had trials scheduled for the summer and its not clear if this is an extension or will replace those.
– ESPN360 as model: Comcast also has been getting a sense of authentication at work in another way — via its recent agreement with Disney (NYSE: DIS) to pay for ESPN360. ESPN has required a license fee for the broadband net since its inception and several cable operators have refused to pay it, blocking access to their subscribers. ESPN360 is a model in some ways for TV Everywhere: users have to be authenticated as subscribers to one of a number of multichannel operators or have free access through .edu or .mil. ESPN360 now has a remote function that allows a user to sign in once from home, then access the service even when away from that provider.
– Technology: One of the biggest issues they’ll have to deal with: authentication technology. To make the concept into reality, a user’s right to content will have to be authenticated quickly and easily no matter where he or she is geographically or what device is being used. It can be done but getting there won’t be simple.
– Perceptions: They’ll also have to deal with perceptions. For instance, the notion that online TV is free because some of its is widely available. But large chunks of programming — mostly cable — are not online and won’t be until programmers are assured that they won’t be damaging the licensing fees that are the bread and butter. Comcast’s Amy Banse, who oversees Fancast, insisted to me earlier this year that Comcast did not want to put up barriers to content that already was available online for free. Fancast is a Hulu distribution partner, but that deal is up for renewal later this year.
– Iger won’t put ABC behind sub wall: At the same time, broadcasters who have made content available without charge aren’t likely to withdraw it. Disney CEO Bob Iger sent that message at the cable show, warning that putting ABC behind a subscription wall would be “anti-consumer” but talked about protecting the value of ESPN by limiting its open-access online video offerings to short form. (ESPN is not included with Disney’s equity partnership in the Hulu JV but some programming from other cable nets is part of the package.) Iger also talked about the value of authentication for cable. “We