Time Warner Cable has an iPad app. Through that app you are able to stream channels that you would have in your cable package if you were one of their 15 million subscribers. However, they took some flak from major studios when they did that and so pulled some dozen channels. Included in those channels are MTV, Comedy Central, TLC, FX and others from Viacom, News Corp and Discovery Communications who all rebuffed the cable operator over it.

This inevitably leads one to an interesting question. If they are streaming channels through their data pipes now, why can’t they stream it to an iPad app instead of a TV and/or set-top box? In fact, where is the line? If the computer is in the home, could it not get that programming anyway? Why are they up in arms over the iPad app?

Time Warner has stated they have yet to decide if they will take legal action against the entertainment companies over the matter. I have to agree with them on this one. Why can’t they stream that content to iPads that are at home, on the Time Warner network?

If you haven’t got a TV in say, the kitchen (or the bathroom of course) and you do have an iPad the Time Warner app is perfect as it lets you stream the channels to a more portable format that you could watch while say, cooking, or lying in the tub relaxing. It also doesn’t really seem any different to me than if I were to actually be watching the TV. Sure, there are other ways to do this and stream the content to an iPad, but with Time Warner’s iPad App it was all there for you so long as you are a subscriber.

The others say that this is a case of Time Warner is basically stealing money from them as they pay for content on one platform (presumably the TV) but are now offering it to another (effectively a personal computer). But this is something that many of us do anyway via streaming servers anyway. So do they honestly think that we would pay a monthly fee to have a Viacom iPad app that gives us access to their content? Surely they can’t be that naive. We already pay for access to their content via their licensor, Time Warner Cable, why should we then have to pay extra to transport it from one screen to another? After all, we could get the content on our PC, record it and then stream it to our TV or other screens anyway and we’re not paying extra for that.

I think this is not just about money, but as Joe Flint of the L.A. Times pointed out, about ratings.

One problem programmers have with the iPad application is that viewing on the platform is not measured by Nielsen, the ratings service. If viewers start migrating from TV to the iPad and Nielsen isn’t tracking it, then networks fear they won’t get paid by advertisers for all the eyeballs they are delivering.

So then, shouldn’t they be pushing Nielsen to get moving and have an API that plugs in to these sorts of apps and can track? Or, really since it’s Nielsen, they just have to start asking their panelists if they have iPads and iPhones, if they use them to watch TV and how much they do so. Then determine the best way to get tracking in place. I don’t believe it should be all that difficult or complex.

But I digress, this is about the transmission of data. If Time Warner Cable is pushing the streams through their cables to their subscribers who then have the option to watch the content on their TV or iPad, isn’t it really the same thing? Is the standard set-top cable box not just a digital tuner that is a combination of hardware and software?

If that is the case, then is not the iPad and iPad app just a new form of the digital tuner? Since it’s all digital nowadays, in the end both are receiving a stream of zeros and ones so I don’t see how there is any difference and any judge in the modern age should be able to see the same thing. It’s not like Time Warner is allowing people to get the app and then stream channels that they’re not subscribing to, nor are they even allowing people to use the apps off of their network, so in effect, all the bandwidth is going through them, to people who are subscribed to the channels already.

Sounds legit to me. What do you think?

Here is the app description from iTunes:

Now you can watch your favorite networks on your iPad in your home! If you are a Time Warner Cable video subscriber, the FREE TWCable TV app turns your iPad into another TV screen and lets you watch selected live cable TV channels with your home WiFi connection. Watch Bravo from your bedroom, take Food Network with you to the kitchen, or catch up on CNBC news from the breakfast table. Watch selected live streaming TV channels now, and stay tuned for future releases with additional channels and expanded app functionality from Time Warner Cable.

and the very specific requirements:

  • iPad with iOS 4
  • Time Warner Cable video package at the Standard (Expanded Basic) level or higher
  • WiFi connection to Time Warner Cable Internet Service (Road Runner Standard or higher recommended for best experience; Earthlink High Speed or Earthlink Cable Max is supported)
  • Time Warner Cable username and password

Note that you have to have a specific TWC package, it can only be used ad home and you need a username and password to access it. If I were Time Warner Cable, I would certainly send this one to the courts and let them decide. Then again, it all depends on the exact wording of the contracts they have. If it simply says “digital delivery of television programming to subscribers’ homes” well, that sure sounds like a win for TWC to me. Even if it doesn’t have the word digital in there, it is still a win I think.