Comcast And Time Warner Team Up To Control What TV You Watch Online

from the consumers-anyone? dept

There’s certainly been plenty of talk lately about how efforts like Hulu to move television shows online could undermine the television industry as people start to realize that they don’t need to pay gobs of money to a monopoly cable provider (other than maybe for broadband). The TV content folks believe this is a problem as well, because the cable companies currently pay them corporate-sized gobs of money for the rights to offer their channels to end customers. This leads to regular fights between cable companies and content providers — but neither really want to see that old system go away. The cable companies want end users to keep paying monopoly-inflated gobs of money, and the content creators want that hefty check from the cable companies.

So, it was no surprise back in February to hear of plans to make agreements between cable companies and content providers that would limit what kind of video you could watch online, requiring you to be a cable company subscriber and “authenticating” what you could watch. Thus, it should be no surprise that Comcast and Time Warner are now announcing exactly that.

This should raise all sorts of antitrust concerns. First, you’ve got industry execs working together to limit consumer choice, and these industry execs already have quasi-monopolies in certain regions. And they’re doing this to keep prices high against competition from the internet. Doesn’t that seem like a problem?

The real issue, of course, is that the equation is (as it so often is with such companies) backwards. Rather than embracing what the internet allows these companies to do, they’re trying to remove that ability, and make it act like good old television, with those good old revenue streams — and, amusingly, claim it’s “the future of television.” Not even close. It’s television’s past, with an attempt to move it to the internet without any real advantages. As Om Malik points out in the link above: “The deal makes it painfully obvious that everything cable companies do… is done to save their video franchises.” It’s not about looking forward. It’s about preserving the past.

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Companies: comcast, time warner cable

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Comments on “Comcast And Time Warner Team Up To Control What TV You Watch Online”

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Lord Bear says:

Re: Monopoly?

Actually, recent FCC rulings indicate that “exclusivity agreements” between property owner/managers and cable providers amount to anti-competitive practices and *are not enforceable*.

While you can probably get *your apt mgr* to dodge Comcast, the problem that remains would be to get your local Verizon/AT&T/Whoever franchise to be willing to actually come and throw down some copper from the fiber probably already running under your street…

JBB says:


(Fair warning: I work for Comcast.)

Another way to look at this is simply this: If I’m a Starz subscriber of Comcast’s, they’re making the same movies available to me online.

Isn’t that horrible? I’m all broken up about it.

Oh, YOU want access to the same content that I get by paying for it (whether by paying cash and/or by getting company benefits in lieu of more pay)? Forgive me if I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you.

Oh, you want them to NOT make this content available to me because it isn’t available to you too? Alright, *now* we have a problem, Mr. Sour Grapes.

Your “scorched earth” method of fairness leaves something to be desired. Buck up, son, and consider the definition of “limiting” — is it limiting to let you use my garden hose? That’s generous. Just because I’m not letting you use my entire house doesn’t mean I’m limiting you. I’m making something extra available to you. But since you’re whining about it: Buzz off, you’re lucky I’m not turning off my hose too.

Chargone says:

Re: *yawn*

file this in the ‘almost, but not quite’ category.

something about analogies not extending properly or something. blah, i had the point straight in my head before i started typing…

i guess it’s like if the above were true, but [in the majority of cases in the states, at least, if what i read on this site is true] you Also have the only hose in town, and a legal right to prevent other people owning hoses [or was it using the water?]. it changes the equation a bit.

this still probably doesn’t line up right, but i hope you can see what I’m getting at.

John Doe says:

Re: *yawn*

You are missing the point. There are companies providing programming over the internet. Cable companies have to compete with those companies. But wait; cable companies also own your broadband connection. So now they can enact anti-competitive policies and block you from the content provided by others. Do you still not see the problem?

Steve R. (profile) says:

Re: Re: *yawn*

Filtering. Those opposed to network neutrality assert that the ISP have a “right” to manage data flows. We already have had minor instances were ISPs have “blocked” the free flow of content. It doesn’t take much imagination that with today’s technology that ISP will develop methods to “disable” competitive content streams. After all we can’t have anarchy out there.

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: *yawn*

(Fair warning: I work for Comcast.)
As what, the janitor? The rhetoric you just spewed indicates you hold no executive position, peon.

Buzz off, you’re lucky I’m not turning off my hose too.
No, just charging people to turn on the tap, provide a hose, over-inflated the cost of water, and limiting the amount of water to customers.

Now, it seems these companies are going to put a splitter on the tap and charge, yet again, for the other connection to deliver content.

I’m often criticized for using the word “greed”, but I now expect these same people to clearly tell me why this set up isn’t defined as greed. Enlighten me.

Also note, I’ve heard rumblings about “cable authentication” in regard to content cable companies don’t even deliver to paying customers. Luckily, they’re just rumblings and nothing more.


Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: *yawn*

“I’m often criticized for using the word “greed”, but I now expect these same people to clearly tell me why this set up isn’t defined as greed.”

I certainly can’t argue with you. When I’ve got some bourgeoisie talking to me about stealing, and how artists must get their fair share, then hopping into the Ferrari to go do coke of some hooker’s ass, I get a little bit ill.

There is such a thing as having too much. For a long time I have believed that the best option would be a form of capitalism in which people understood and only WANTED a reasonable level of income. In other words, people simply needed to be convinced that they didn’t NEED 4 houses and sports cars.

Now, I’m starting to think the NFL’s salary cap might make for good Nat’l policy…

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: *yawn*

You’re not looking at the whole picture. No doubt you’ve only soaked in what the company wide email told you to soak in, but out here in the real world there’s more to it than that.

It’d be great if it really was simply all the things I can get with my paid TV subscription will also be offered online, but it’s not just that. Your filthy company is teaming up with another filthy company to use their already established, massive presence in the industry to thwart newcomers before they even get to come. I pay far too much for my cable television from your filthy company, because it’s that or nothing, and I frequently work from home, so I needed something faster than DSL. Hulu wouldn’t have to be free, I think it’s awesome that it is, but if it had ALL the shows I wanted to watch, I’d be more than happy to pay for a subscription, especially if it were cheaper than my current cable bill…

It’s not that we want everything for free, Mr. DrinksTooMuchCorporateKoolAid, it’s just that we don’t want to be forced into something we don’t want (in this case, paying Comcast)…

zellamayzao says:

Re: *yawn*

(Fair warning: I used to work for Comcast)

And left for multiple reasons not to exclude the fact they are an evil company bent on preserving their profits with little advancement in their product or services for the end customer.

I had all the same benefits you had and hardly ever used them like you probably dont use them either. I have sinced canceled my basic cable subscription in favor of modem only. and plan on hooking up a spare apple G4 to the tv to stream internet videos to my set. Plus I can pretty much download everything comcast has to offer me from the internet I already pay for.

Comcast is a monopoly. I cant get Fios out my way nor do I want the slow DSL speeds they have to offer me. I still set up what appointments I need thru the technician dispatch line because getting through to customer service is worse than a root canal.

When they can actually admit they are stifling competition and dont care about the customer that will be the day pigs fly. I understand they are a business and need to make money to keep providing their limited library of shows and movies to the masses but there are other, cheaper options with bigger libraries to choose from.

chris (profile) says:

Re: *yawn*

i work for comcast too.

you internet people have no reason to live. do you know how hard i work making people wait for hours for me to not show up?

now you want to get shows on the internet without a box that i failed to properly install? no sir, not on my watch.

when this internet fad passes you will all be really sorry that you put hardworking people like me out of work.

Overcast (profile) says:

Re: Re: No they don't

Cable companies can’t watch it all – many people still use telecom services such as DSL. I personally use cable – but I really don’t care much to sit and watch movies on my PC, I prefer using the TV. Call me ‘old fashioned’, lol.

So personally; I don’t really care what they do – but I don’t suspect it will be all that long before someone comes out with a really innovative idea that will put them in the same situation as the RIAA and music Labels – assuming patent law doesn’t prevent them from going to market with it by being tied up in litigation – which I’m sure will happen once cable companies feel ‘threatened’ by a new technology or idea.

Kazi says:

Fire the lawyers as they’re bad managers and bad PR.

Hire 2-3 average programmers or 1-2 good programmers for the salary of a lawyer and provide a new product/service.

Sell your content online without a need for a cable provider. Thus, you cut out the middle man and move to profits directly.

Wait, that means you have to fire lawyers / managers and people accustomed to the old way of making money. Probably those people don’t know how to setup their own email accounts and read english too. Oh well, can’t say we didn’t try.

Rob says:

Who's providing you the internet in these markets?

In virtually all of there markets, Comcast and Time Warner dominate the ISP market. Those rates are just going to go up (for less bandwidth in some cases). What can we do, nothing in most cases. We can just suck it up like we do in all monopolistic behaviors in this country. A few of these regions now have Fios or Uverse. There’s 1 catch with subscribing to phone company services – early termination fees. If you rent and you move before your 2 years are up or whatever that period is, you can pay that hefty termination fee. Cable doesn’t have that. You can’t win. The FCC doesn’t help. I live in NYC near Long Island. I’m in Time Warner’s coverage area, but I am literally 500 feet from Cablevision’s area. I wish these 2 overlapped each other for more competition and choices in service, or better yet – combine with each other to get the best of both tv and internet services.

JustMe (profile) says:


You focused on the Free Rider principle and theft of services. Several people have discussed why that is an incorrect, and narrow view, but I have another point for you to consider.

Look at it this way. I am a happy DirecTV subscriber. I also pay for STARZ as part of a movie channel package. However, not being a ComCastic subscriber how would I be able to authenticate?

Don't work for a cable company says:

Re @ *yawn*

So, I had my own thoughts to post here, then I saw *yawn*’s post and so many responses, and decided to get in on the action.

I actually agree with *yawn*

Originally, networks made and owned all the content.
Now the content creators and the content providers are (for the most part) separate.

Comedy Central (for example) wants their content seen by as many people as possible, even those without cable, so they make that content freely and easily accessible online.

Other content creators don’t do that for reasons we cannot begin to speculate about.

What it comes down to, however, is that to be successful in business you need to focus on what you’re good at. If you’re a great content creation company you should not be diverting your resources to providing that content to the world because you’ll no longer have the resources to continue creating great content.

Sure, an independent film-maker can post their film online. But if they want it to be seen by the widest possible audience with the best experience, they’ll want audiences to at least have an opportunity to watch on a big screen in a dark crowded theater. Not on a laptop, not on a tv, and definitely not on an ipod. Yes, they’re happy that people are seeing their art, but if they want to make a living they need to continue making art, not focusing on getting their art out there.

That’s why there are publicists and distributors.

This is a simple contracts issue. If you make something you have a right to decide how it will be put out there for people to find and see/hear.

Let’s say you’re a tv production company and you produce the show “I have too many kids: Please, sponsors, help me pay my bills!” You sign a contract with TLC to broadcast your show. You really wanted the show out there so you signed the contract even though it gave TLC all the worldwide distribution rights for 5 years.

TLC now has contracts with cable providers and makes back some of the money it pays the producers through the payments from the cable companies.

Now, TLC can decide to create their own website and make the content available that way or they can allow some other company to create and own a website to distribute the content online.

TLC can also decide, we need to pay the producers of our shows (as well as everyone on our staff). The big cable companies are paying us and are worried that they won’t be able to continue paying us what we want if their customers defect and watch all of the content online. So, we’ll sign a contract with the cable company that we’ll make the content available on our website, but you have to either prove that you’re already a paying cable customer or pay to subscribe to our site to watch the content.

Since people haven’t accepted the concept of micro-payments, and since we like to get lots of different content from lots of different places, it’s unlikely that someone will pay $5-10 per month to each network where they want to watch shows. ($5 to TLC, $5 to Cartoon Network; $10 to HBO; $10 to Starz; whatever) Once you have to start making individual subscription payments to each content provider people will start limiting themselves.

So, we already have this great system where some content providers broadcast over the air (so anyone can watch, basically, for free) and others only broadcast over cable or satellite. If I’m one of the millions of paying subscribers I should be allowed to watch what I pay for online. But if you’re not paying for a subscription and helping to subsidize the programming, why should you be able to watch the same content online for free?

R. Miles (profile) says:

Re: Re @ *yawn*

why should you be able to watch the same content online for free?
You’re kidding, right?


Get this through your head. We, as consumers, pay for services.

If an online venue wants to offer us content at no cost, because they have other models to pay for it, why should we have to pay to view it?

Let’s review YouTube. Here’s a site which allows anyone to post any movie with absolutely no cost. Yet, to list “content” by the movie/television industry, YouTube has to pay?

That’s absurd. Here’s a website offering to distribute content at NO COST to these companies, but they still demand money just to host it.

As a consumer, I get tired of paying for distribution channels filled with ads. Advertising has always been the way to “pay for things” which were “free”, but now we have to endure both? Screw this system and the industries that maintain them.

It’s about time distributors wake the hell up and realize they’re dying. The internet is the new distribution system and there’s absolutely no reason to cap “micropayments” to those who want to use it (regardless of reason).

Because, in time, these micropayments will eventually force such costs from consumers, they’ll simply not be able to afford it.

For crying out loud, just look at the cable industry for proof!

Don’t be ignorant. Instead of defending these distribution idiocies, please stand up against them.

For eventually, your mortgage payment will be less than what you’ll pay for “entertainment” by these companies.

SAD says:

We are pathetic ....I am

Where is that spirit that lead to the American revolution, we are being abused by all these greedy companies but all we do is complain and look for something else to keep our minds occupied so we don’t think about it, “-we are paying too much for cable.” “-John and Kate are getting a divorce.” “-I guess that makes it worth what we pay for.”

Solution, we all give up cable and satellite for about 6 months until our demands are met. Who am I kidding, most Americans cannot live without t.v., cheap Chinese lead products, junk food,etc. It will be crazy to read a book or watch PBS…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We are pathetic ....I am

Actually, I was thinking how absolutely amusing it would be if Comcast and TW came down the pipe and said “starting August 1st, we will no longer be proving internet access. We will have an in house system you can browse, that will include many of your favorites. There will be no open net access”.

What would you do? Serious question, because if your cable and your DSL company both decide that providing the internet is too expensive, creates too much negative pressure on their programming products, and creates too much liability, where would you go?

SAD says:

Re: Re: We are pathetic ....I am

I guess I would have to read the newspaper and go to the library to do research, will have to go my local bank and wait for my turn, will go to my local garage sales and stores instead of shopping on eBay, buy a XXX magazine instead of opening an incognito tab, you’re right that will be too much work and impossible to do, I would have to get off my ass to do half of the things I can do online sitting in front of my PC.

mjb5406 (profile) says:

They Have It All Covered

Comcast & TW own the pipe so they feel they have the right to control what goes own it. It would be like AT&T saying “well, you can only call a certain group of people at certain times of the day and only for a certain length of time”. Then, if their precious video services are threatened by, say, Hulu or other online streaming services, they bandwidth throttle and put caps on the service. Basically, the solution is to treat cable like a public utility, like the phone system. Prevent them from doing anything that reduces the functionality of their services, like arbitrary caps. They use public lands and rights-of-way to run their coax or fiber, just like th phone company. They even run a phone service! So it’s time to change the laws… if they want to be an “indispensible utility”, let’s treat them like onr.

Jake B (profile) says:

Why BitTorrents are popular?

Because of this from the cable companies is why I don’t watch Hulu because I know they will limit my choices. Exactly why I still use torrents to watch certain shows. Eventually, these guys are going to drive everyone away from them and use alternative methods. What’s stopping people is that there is no cohesive product that is easy to setup and maintain for the average consumer. Yet. They keep this up and someone will come up with something that will make cable tv even more obsolete.

SAD says:

In that case...

I guess I would have to read the newspaper and go to the library to do research, will have to go my local bank and wait for my turn, will go to my local garage sales and stores instead of shopping on eBay, buy a XXX magazine instead of opening an incognito tab, you’re right that will be too much work and impossible to do, I would have to get off my ass to do half of the things I can do online sitting in front of my PC.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: In that case...

Not to mention that gives libraries and these mediums more power to censor information they don’t like, making it more difficult for you to find the opposing views that we present here at techdirt. Then you can be brainwashed into this whole “industry is benevolent and doing everything right” nonsense and they are so altruistic.

vastrightwing (profile) says:

They've innovated me right out

The entertainment industry has innovated me right out: I dropped cable when my bill went over $85/mo and I started cutting unnecessary expenses. Then I realized that I don’t need TV for entertainment. There are books, the internet, socializing, projects, walks, and occasional movies and music. TV is not worth the price of admission, for me. So I’m listening to all of this bickering and nonsense and I enjoy it for entertainment’s sake.

rick says:

a step backward

Your last paragraph says it all. Why aren’t the cable companies (many of which already monopolize broadband) using the Internet as a way to deliver? Why aren’t they looking for new business models, instead of trying to squeeze pennies out of the old model?

I’m a broadband subscriber, already paying too much for that service, and I refuse to pay for cable when I can watch what I want over the Internet. I’m pretty sure many more people will be looking into this alternative to cable.

Beruda says:

Comcast should have never started hulu before they figured out
how much access ppl would have and for what amount. To me the problem is not enough forethought and no clear plan. hulu could offer programing before a given date for free but charge a fee for more recent content and leave the latest content (movies and such for their cable subscribers). They could even (but won’t) decrease their customers cable bills due to the increased revenue. Something like that might work.

Why bother to offer free programing if your only going to take it away later, it doesn’t make any sense. Do they think ppl are so hooked that they will pay to keep it? I like hulu but believe me I can live without it no problem.

elvenrunelord (user link) says:


I have been very active in telling these companies what i want.

For instance I wrote a letter to NBC yesterday complaining about their direct player continuing to upload data to the p2p network after I had shut the player down, thus eating up my upload bandwidth…which is much more scarce that my download bandwidth and slows my working software down greatly.

Luckily I found the names of the processes doing this and killed them easily enough.

I have repeatedly told virtually ever network I watch that I no longer watch regular television and why. Regular television has too many commercials, and is not on demand. with the many things available for me to do at virtually any time of day, tv not only has to compete against other networks, it has to compete against other hobbies and time consumers as well. To successfully do that they must position themselves to be used when I want, at a cost I want, and in the way I want.

I have repeatedly said that I would be willing to pay a nominal fee for true HD broadcasts available for download and viewing. My connection is not and probably will not be able to handle true 1080p broadcasts for perhaps another 5-7 years in this area, so queing up downloads while I am busy or sleeping is something I would need rather than streaming.

The pricing structure I am looking for is pretty simple. I want access to the complete list of media content, past and present for a set price per month, no more than $10-$15 a month because I know they get plenty of money from advertisers. No more of the 5-6 commercials during commercial breaks. After about 15 seconds you loose my interest and eyeballs anyway, so one commercial per break is about all that is worth anything to anybody. This means your gonna have to increase the cost of advertising which would be a good thing. way to much garbage I would never purchase is advertised to me as it is.

The content I download needs to be able to be transferred to my laptop or future cellphone equipped with a beamer and can be viewed without being hooked to the internet. Quit worrying about DRM so much and roll out a model that makes it so easy people will forget about piracy and your piracy problem will be solved.

I’ve also let them know I am one of the money demographic as well. The money demographic is those with usable income, average age of 41-65. And I have also let them know I am teaching all my middle age friends about internet TV and the benefits it offers us so we can spend more time with our family and friends during the primetime of the day rather than stuck in front of a boobtube in the eary evenings and night time, because of on demand viewing.

I’ve explained to them why on demand viewing on the internet is not a value added service worth paying more because that is just how the internet works…..its always on demand and they understand and have indicated they do not wish to pay more or even close to the current pricing models because they understand just how much easier and profitable it is to send data over the net verses the massive upkeep of regular tv transmission. They understand the companies can lower their prices and still keep a comfortable profit ratio and see that competition will insure this happens unless legislation gets in the way of this and are determined to see that not happen by holding their elected officials accountable to the will of the people, not the will of corporations.

Do you guys understand what you need to be telling these people so they will understand it in a way they know about? This is the information they pay survey companies to find for them, yet it is delivered to them in a grassroots manner that does not allow for an opinion to shaped by asking pointed questions with limited answers.

True grassroots movements start with one person, yourselves. Companies really need to hear what you have to say and for the most part they only do that when you complain, so complain in an effective manner and you will start to see change you though of and started the ball rolling on.

Scott McNulty (user link) says:

A couple of things about On Demand Online

Hey there,

Scott from Comcast here (yes, another Comcast employee is posting!). I just wanted to clear up a couple of things that some folks are getting confused:

1. On Demand Online (which is what we are calling the online video service we’ll be offering) is voluntary from the programmers’ side, and non-exclusive. What does that mean? If a content producer doesn’t want to be involved they don’t have to be… and if they do want to be involved but also want to distribute their content else where that is fine too.

2. You will be able to use any ISP you want to access On Demand Online. As long as you’re a Comcast video customer you’ll be able to access it with whatever ISP you have (Comcast, FiOS, DSL… whatever floats your boat).

I hope that clears up some things… and if you have any other questions I’ll do my best to answer them.

Mike Moreno says:

Total Monopoly

I just read a Wall Street Journal article that was very enlightening. Basically, Jeffrey Bewkes from Time Warner wants it ALL! Sure, maybe you don’t want to pay the >$100/month to get cable/internet/phone but guess what… Mr Bewkes is going to MAKE YOU pay that much if you want to watch your TV show or sporting event.

I remember a time when I could watch quality content on 4 channels. Mr Bewkes wants me to pay over $100/month to get a whole bunch of channels that doesn’t even have close to the same level of quality content that I could get on 4 channels back in the 80s. What’s wrong with this picture??

Just say no to this Monopoly and boycott their premium service!

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