Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner (TWX), two of the biggest U.S. cable companies, are pushing ahead with their plan to offer more video on the Web — to cable subscribers only. That’s nice, but how about letting subscribers watch more TV on their TVs?
Next month, the cable giants will start a test with 5,000 customers, who will be able to sign into a Web site with their cable credentials to get access to Time Warner’s programming from its TBS and TNT networks. The idea is that by offering more content on the Web, people will be more likely to keep subscribing to cable, even as free or cheap Internet video proliferates on sites like Hulu.
That’s a good start, assuming the tech and marketing are decent. But how about fixing one of cable’s other big problems at the same time? Specifically, how about making sure that every cable episode and movie that’s available on the new secure Web sites — or on any Web video site — are also available on the cable systems’ set-top boxes?
Many people are happy to watch some TV on their computers. But most still want to watch most of their TV on their living room couch. Cable subscribers shouldn’t have to plug their laptops into their TVs to catch up on old episodes — they should be able to get everything on-demand, in hi-def, on their set-top boxes. That’s the whole point of the cable networks owning the pipe that runs into your living room and the set-top box plugged into your TV.
Getting stronger on the Web is one priority for cable networks and providers. But fixing their terrible cable box user interfaces and on-demand offerings should be another one.