TV on portable devices, the real war begins

the great media warA battle is brewing between cable companies and program owners over the use of streaming television via iPads, and it threatens to sidestep the value proposition of Mobile Digital Television (MDTV). Time-Warner has released an iPad app — and launched an advertising campaign about it — that allows subscribers to watch 32 cable channels via streaming to their Apple tablets. I’m a Time-Warner subscriber, and I can tell you that the thing is nice. I can watch basic cable anyplace in my home via my iPad. Why would I want to do that? You’d be surprised.

But the idea isn’t sitting well with channel owners like Viacom or Scripps Networks, who view streaming as a contract violation, because they see the dollar signs that streaming could produce. So far, Time-Warner isn’t giving them any more cash to stream their wares, with Melinda Witmer, an executive vice president at Time Warner Cable, saying “I already bought these rights.”

Brian Stelter wrote for the New York Times that other cable companies are coming out with their apps, too.

Legal threats were made last week, and the dispute was brought into public view on Monday when Time Warner Cable introduced a Web campaign that promoted “more freedom to watch on more screens” and asked, “Why do some TV networks want to take it away?” The television industry is, in effect, joining book publishers in being unsettled by the iPad and the new era of tablets. There is little doubt that people will be watching more TV on tablets in the future. (Imagine a son watching “SpongeBob SquarePants” on an iPad while his father watches basketball on the big-screen TV.)

What is undetermined is whether people will be watching through an application provided by their cable company, an individual channel’s app, or through a paid service like Netflix.

Larry Kramer of Business Insider says what has happened here is the beginning of “the great media war.”

To many of the top cable networks, TWC’s actions are nothing less than a land grab, or rather a spectrum grab. The networks, owned by parents like Viacom and Scripps networks, have claimed that TWC’s actions are violations of their contracts, and that if TWC wants to put their shows on a form of distribution other than cable TV, they have to pay for that privilege.

This all goes to the heart of convergence. Suddenly the video world is in the midst of a content platform convergence that promises to be as confusing and unsettling as everything that has happened in the newspaper, book, magazine and music worlds.

This is going to get really nasty and so far, there’s one voice that’s been missing in the mix, that of the Mobile Digital Television (MDTV) industry. Broadcasters have a huge dog in this fight, and its name is MDTV. Equipment providers are supposed to begin adding the MDTV chips this year, and soon consumers will have another choice when it comes to TV on their portable devices. Is Apple planning on adding the chips to iPads? I don’t know. Are other tablet manufacturers going to do likewise? I’m guessing some will. What about smartphones?

I’ve been trying for the past two days to get somebody in the MDTV world to comment for this piece, and so far, everybody has declined. I understand it’s a hot potato, but to keep quiet at this time is pretty pathetic, for MDTV has a significant dog in this fight. The silence, however, suggests otherwise. Are we really going to let Kramer’s “great media war” go on without throwing even a punch?

I certainly hope not.

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