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Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable Opinion
Jeff Baumgartner
3/25/2011
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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 LLC (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



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gconnery
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gconnery,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/5/2012 | 5:42:41 PM
re: Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?


I think media companies want a monthly fee, not a couple of bucks from the $30 purchase price for the iPad app.

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:28 PM
re: Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?


The WSJ digs its teeth into the rights fight in this story dated 3/25 but  posted Thursday, and indications are that this new rights battle is going to be a long drawn-out fight.   TWC thinks its streaming iPad app is "well within our rights," viewing the iPad like another outlet in the home, and arguing that it's on the up and up because the signals are sent over its secure network and not over the open Internet.


Some programmers aren't so sure. HGTV is on the record that views iPad streaming rights as separate, and is something it hasn't granted TWC.  The paper says other content creators, like Viacom, hope to cleare up "any misunderstandings."


So the battle lines are being drawn.  If powerful MSOs are running into static on TV Everywhere rights, that can't bode well for OTT startups that don't have the same kind of muscle and checkbook size. They're going to have a hell of a time getting rights too. JB


 

ycurrent
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ycurrent,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:25 PM
re: Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?


Will be interesting to see if this ends up being about licensing/rights or revenue.  Might be that a revenue share model, might tip the balance.  Don't think that Sling offers that, but it could be a carrot for MSOs to offer.

Lrmooney
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Lrmooney,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:24 PM
re: Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?


Remember when the issue for Sling wasn't the content rights but the bandwidth hogging, they were "freeloading"... did they do something so they dont suck up that much anymore? In a world of Netflix are they small in comparison? Oh wise techo leader shine some light

Cooper10
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Cooper10,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:24 PM
re: Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?


The programming networks objections to "streaming" content are difficult to understand for any network (and that would be all of them) that has licensed content for distribution on U-Verse.  TWC is simply streaming content in IP format for display on devices in the home that require IP format, and "streaming" content in MPEG2 format for display on devices in the home that require MPEG2 format.


UVerse is an all IP network, and therefore "streaming" in IP to devices that require IP format (U-Verse STBs).  A reasonable question is how does TWC streaming an IP formatted stream differ from U-Verse streaming an IP formatted stream?  Also, a U-Verse customer can use an X Box game console as a "STB" with the U-Verse service - did U-Verse need to first get  rights to make their service available on an X Box, much the same as programmers are claiming additional rights must be secured to make their service available on a tablet?

Jeff Baumgartner
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Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:09:22 PM
re: Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass?


Yeah, and I think that's still a technical concern for the cable guys since the upstream environment is still pretty thin.  Upstream channel bonding will help boost capacity there for that sort of thing, but I don't think Sling is what they have in mind in terms of apps they were hoping to utilize it for.  But some tier 2/3 MSOs have shown interest in the Sling approach for TVE, so some may be willing to look the other way a bit if it can get score them a near-term TVE offering.


But as  Sling goes, 256kbit/s is still the recommended upstream speed; whether that's enough to get a super quality experience on a PC or iPad  screen is the question. however, i was testing Sling on my Evo Shift this weekend over the Sprint 3G net, and it was passable if I needed to watch my TV in a pinch. JB


 


 


 

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