Mobile Video

TW Cable Slings a Wideband Play

Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) will use Slingboxes to help juice sales of its 50Mbit/s Docsis 3.0 tier in New York City starting next month.

The promotion is sure to grab the attention of the MSO's programming partners, but TW Cable's effort, detailed Wednesday in The New York Times, will subsidize the cost of the Slingbox Pro-HD, a video place-shifting device that Best Buy sells for $299.99.

An MSO spokesman confirmed the plan, noting that TW Cable will offer rebates to customers who sign up or upgrade to the company's 50Mbit/s down by 5Mbit/s upsteam tier. Existing wideband customers in NYC will also be allowed to apply for the rebate, he said.

TW Cable hasn't set a launch date for the promo, but it's expected to get underway by late September. The operator currently has Docsis 3.0 lit up in 60 percent of its markets and plans to complete wideband network upgrades across TW Cable's footprint sometime in 2012. The MSO's 50-meg tier hasn't been a hot seller with residential subs so far, but the MSO has indicated recently that high-speed Internet services are becoming its "anchor" offering. (See Crossroads for Docsis 3.0 and TWC: Broadband Becoming 'Anchor Service'.)

There's no current plan to extend the Slingbox promo to other TW Cable markets. "It will be a limited-time promotion," the spokesman said. "Then we'll evaluate it. If it goes well, it's definitely likely we'd look to do it elsewhere."

Why this matters
The use of the SlingMedia device pushes TW Cable's TV Everywhere play forward, since it lets customers watch their TV subscriptions, including live and on-demand video, from a wide range of Sling-compatible devices, including PCs, iPads, iPhones and many Android-powered tablets and smartphones.

TW Cable says this is simply a "sales promotion," but it comes into play as the MSO and some of its programming partners try to iron out contentious rights issues tied to a new iPad app that lets TW Cable customers watch live, linear TV channels, though access is limited to within subscribers' homes. TWC and Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA), which runs networks such as MTV and Nickelodeon, are trying to iron out their differences outside the courts.

The Slingbox would sidestep that mess, and give customers access to a technology that so far has avoided copyright entanglements with programmers. This endorsement of sorts from the nation's second-largest cable operator might also encourage other MSOs to follow suit and forge similar deals. (See Why Is Sling Getting a Free Pass? and HBO Exec: Sling Slags Copyrights.)

It's also a significant to EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS), which historically has had trouble selling equipment to U.S. operators partly because of its corporate ties to Charlie Ergen and Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH). EchoStar, which owns SlingMedia, is also starting to pitch "SlingLoaded" set-top boxes to Tier 2/3 MSOs under a product package that also includes advanced navigation systems and access to a library Web-sourced VoD content. (See EchoStar's Cable Target: 1 Million Subs .)

TW Cable's use of the Slingbox indicates that some of those attitudes are loosening, so long as this promotion isn't just a ploy to tweak programmers that are taking a hard line on the MSO's iPad app.

For more
Catch up on cable's live TV streaming efforts and the rights battles that have followed them.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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