Friday, April 8, 2011

Cable Operator and Programmer Fight Over Streaming Rights

The legal fight is on and I suspect that more will be on there way. For the first round, it is between Time Warner Cable and Viacom, and it puts into question what rights are implied in their legal agreement. Time Warner believes that the rights to exhibit in the home extend to streaming devices; Viacom, home for MTV, Nick, Comedy Central and others, believes those are additional rights with additional fees required. "Viacom says the rights are technology and device specific to be negotiated with each distributor and that it 'has always negotiated rights to distribute our content based on specific technologies and devices to ensure that the unique business issues, such as security, product quality and audience measurement, are properly addressed.'” And while Viacom networks were removed from the TWC App, the desire is to have as much robust content available as possible.

And these streaming rights truly represent a slippery slope for operator and programmer alike. While it is nice to extend live and on demand viewing on streaming devices INSIDE the home, the real effort is to enable these same streaming devices to authenticate and receive the full channel line OUTSIDE the home. Hence, the line in the sand by Viacom.

Add to that the fact that they are receiving payment by other over the top distribution platforms, like Hulu and Netflix, demonstrates to the programmers that another revenue distribution stream exists. Giving cable operators this stream for free would seem to hurt that business model. The cable operator's concern is that customers will forsake their cable subscription for over the top. They argue that programmers may gain streaming media revenue but lose out on their cable subscription license fee. But programmers are not seeing it as a zero sum game and believe that it will indeed bring strong revenue growth.

So the fight for streaming rights will be headed to court. Most likely a settlement will be struck and this argument will continue to be negotiated between operator and programmer. Ultimately programmers want to be paid for each platform and cable operators may have to pay and also reduce their profit margin to retain their customer base.

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