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TWC Scaling Up 'HBO on Broadband'

Jeff Baumgartner
10/17/2008
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DENVER -- Following an initial introduction in Wisconsin, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) is getting ready to expand the availability of an Internet-fed version of HBO to "many millions of customers."

That's according to Peter Stern, the executive vice president and chief strategy officer of Time Warner Cable, who spoke on a tech session here at The Cable Center , which is heading up this week's "Cable Days" events.

The service, called HBO on Broadband, allows customers to access about 1,000 hours of content from the premium programmer via PCs with high-speed Internet connections. Today Time Warner Cable offers access to it to customers in Green Bay and Milwaukee.

Time Warner Cable is backing it with an "entitlement" platform that ties into the MSO's billing system in order to authenticate, authorize, and provide access to the broadband offering. Where it's offered, Time Warner Cable's HBO subscribers will be able to opt into the broadband version for no extra charge. Those customers will also be able to run the HBO on Broadband application away from home using a user name and password.

"It's the right model," Stern said, noting that Time Warner Cable is in the process of scaling the HBO on Broadband service to "many millions of customers," but did not say which systems are next in line or when the next phase of the expansion will occur.

Stern, however, was very clear that Time Warner Cable believes customers should only have to pay once for content, rather than having to pay additional subscriptions for different distribution models, whether that's via the Internet, mobile, or some other means.

Mark Jackson, president of EchoStar Technologies LLC, a tech division that spun off from Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) earlier this year which is developing cable boxes based on the tru2way platform, agreed that TV service providers need to give customers multiple ways to grab content "but not charge additional fees over and over again." (See EchoStar Ready to Split.)

And that's the crux of a debate occurring between programmers and cable operators. Some content owners want to slice up their content and charge separate fees for distribution through TV service providers and mobile carriers, and pipe in shows via the Internet under an advertising model.

As multi-screen strategies go, Stern suggested that consumers want to watch content on the largest, most convenient screen with the best available resolution at any given time. "The TV screen doesn't go away. What is important is the business model. It comes down to: how much do I have to pay for the content? We can only charge customers once for the content."

Time Warner Cable's expansion of HBO on Broadband indicates that the operator is getting serious about playing a more direct role in how video is delivered via high-speed cable modem connections.

In June, TWC CEO Glenn Britt said the operator was developing a new networking device that will capture video sourced from the Internet and make it easy for customers to display it on TV screens.

More recently, the MSO posted a tutorial showing customers how to access broadcast TV programming via the Internet in the midst of an ongoing carriage spat with LIN Television.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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