Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?
A new Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) iPad app is getting static from some programmers because it lets cable subscribers stream some linear TV to the new tablet over Wi-Fi in their homes. Reports are surfacing that the MSO has been getting some cease-and-desist nastygrams. (See High Demand Crashes TWC's iPad App and TWC's iPad App Launches With (Some) Live TV.)
In comparison, Sling Media Inc. , the place-shifting pioneer that makes the Slingbox and the tech that drives a new breed of SlingLoaded set-tops from its owner, EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS), has somehow escaped lawsuits from programmers. And Sling doesn't just limit access to the user's home. Sling lets consumers shuttle their signal to just about anywhere in the world so long as you're using an authorized device and have access to broadband.
I've got a Slingbox. It works great, and I'm mighty glad to have it when I'm on the road or just want to access TV on my PC over the home network. And I'd hate to see that taken away.
But it's still an interesting question in the era of TV Everywhere. Why is TW Cable being taken to task, while Sling is seemingly being allowed to skate by?
BTIG Research Analyst Richard Greenfield pondered that one in his blog (registration required) Wednesday.
He holds that TW Cable's app is probably better for programmers because access is limited to a customer's home, but acknowledges that some programmers don't think the MSO has rights to stream their content to iPads and probably want to be paid a bit more for such rights.
As for Sling, a service that redirects video from a set-top box, Greenfield believes the technology falls under the personal use provisions of the landmark Sony Betamax case and, more recently, by the case involving Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)'s Remote-Storage DVR, which requires that customers make their own recording requests and relies on a system that makes individual copies of those requests. On top of that, the RS-DVR only lets individual subscribers who made the recording access the copy for playback. (See Cablevision's Network DVR Debuts in the Bronx and Court Resurrects Cablevision's Network DVR .)
He also cites the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act that, in 2008, called out the Slingbox, noting that it directs licensed programming "without the need for an additional license."
In comparison, TWC's iPad streams aren't redirected out of a set-top box, but, according to Greenfield, represent a second stream that's sent from an MSO-run facility. That, he adds, represents a key legal difference between the two approaches.
But Sling has gotten some attention from programmers over the years. Back in 2006, HBO CTO Bob Zitter questioned whether Sling violated copyrights. More recently, Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that Sling's corporate cousin, Dish Network Corp. (Nasdaq: DISH), doesn't have permission to place-shift its content. (See HBO Exec: Sling Slags Copyrights and Dish Starts Selling 'Sling-Loaded' HD-DVR .)
Discovery hasn't followed up with a formal lawsuit, but the seed has been sown, so Sling's free pass could eventually be subject to possible revocation.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable