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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Streaming Wars: AOL CFO Joins Time-Warner Cable

After announcing the layoff of some 500 workers, former deputy chief financial officer and AOL CFO, Arthur Minson, is returning to the cable giant. According to reports, Time-Warner is ending the push for landline services as part of its bundle package. Time-Warner has an estimated 12 million subscribers.

You may have noticed several cable stations holding their content more tightly recently. Happily Divorced is now available only on the TVLand website but at the time of this writing, offers no method for removing it from your queue in Hulu+. SyFy has likewise made all of its Hulu programming Web-Only and is offering far fewer episodes of those shows. SyFy has a Roku channel but it offers nothing of any value; only clips and "web exclusive" (crap) content which serve as nothing more than ads to promote the network. These are feeble attempts at forcing fans to subscribe to cable/satellite plans in order to see their favorite shows.

It appears the cable giants are starting to realize what a tenuous grasp they have on the emerging streaming market and are gearing up for a big push against it. It is certainly premature to call this its "last gasp" but its moves are starting to look ever more heavy-handed and desperate. A spokesperson for HBO even admitted publicly that the network is considering opening up HBO Go to the streaming pay market (only existing cable customers with an HBO subscription can view it currently).

The whole thing is silly since the cable and satellite companies are also the ISPs in many cases and have been pressed by customers to develop plans which allow subscribers to pay only for the channels they wish to subscribe to - which they have steadfastly refused to do so far (although one cable giant recently hinted that such a package may be offered in the future). It's the classic tale of greed run amok and several predict massive hikes in broadband access in the near future - the cable/satellite companies' way to recoup lost profits from faltering subscriptions.

While most streaming channels use either a straight pay or advertising model, Hulu+ forces you to watch commercials despite the fact that you pay for it. Many channels present a third approach: Offering a rental option that eliminates ads. The Powers That Be seem intent on forcing the traditional ratings and advertising game on streaming media - the very model which pushed so many away from traditional TV in the first place! In fact, Nielsen announced plans to include online viewing in its ratings reports starting as soon as this fall.

Amazon recently announced its own set top device, certain to highlight and promote its own pay services above the rest, and Netflix now has more US subscribers than HBO (though HBO still has more subscribers worldwide by an incredible margin). Netflix capitalized on this by releasing original programming in the form of Lilyhammer and House of Cards. Following Netflix' lead, Amazon released 14 pilot episodes for free, inviting viewers to vote for those they believe should be given full season runs. Next month, cult favorite Arrested Development returns with an all new season on Netflix.

Lastly, a startup company that offers rebroadcasts of network TV to a very limited area (New York City only until May 30th, when it branches out into Boston), Aereo, came under legal fire from the industry and won two small victories. Aereo allows subscribers to watch live TV online as well as DVR it for later viewing. What this means for streaming delivery is anyone's guess at this point but it does appear as though cutting the cord is finding some traction - and that makes traditionalists very nervous.

© C Harris Lynn, 2013

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