This is probably the right decision, business-wise. But it’s a lame move from a customer’s point of view.
When Time Warner Cable rolled out the app earlier this month, it was the first time we’d been impressed with a cable company since we first watched a baseball game in HD almost a decade ago.
The app, if you’re not familiar, basically lets you use your iPad as a secondary TV, capable of live-streaming a handful of basic cable channels — commercials and all — from within your house.
We’ve been using it pretty much every day to watch a little TV before going to sleep, and it’s a great bonus service to have. We probably wouldn’t pay extra for it, but it definitely makes us feel fuzzier about being Time Warner Cable subscribers.
And now they’re taking a big chunk of it away.
As we reported last week, the networks are not happy with the iPad app. Some have sent cease and desist letters, and have threatened to sue over it.
Why? It’s not that they don’t want us to be able to watch TV on a small screen, or have to rent another cable box to watch TV in another room. It’s that they think they can establish new rights and maybe new fees for it, because they think “iPad streaming” is a new experience, and not part of cable TV. Lawyer stuff.
But instead of really standing up for its customers and its cool new product, Time Warner Cable — which should have seen this coming long before it launched the app — is running away. (Nice spin job, though!)
Instead of doing something gutsy and cool, like buckling down and putting all of its channels on the iPad app, TWC execs decided to remove the channels whose owners are doing the whining — Fox, Viacom, and Discovery.* (See below for update.)
And while the cable company cleverly says it will “focus our iPad efforts on those enlightened programmers” who aren’t threatening to sue, that doesn’t help with the fact that we were able to watch “Tosh.0” on Comedy Central on the iPad last week, commercials and all, and now we can’t.
Now, as we said at the beginning, this is probably the right business move for Time Warner Cable.
Find us an online video service that hasn’t had to disappoint its customers at some point.
No one’s going to cancel their cable TV subscription because the TWC iPad app doesn’t have the Spike channel anymore. Sure, some 300,000 people downloaded the app, but even that’s just 2% of TWC’s video subscriber base. It’s going to be a long time before tablet apps mean a thing for any of these companies’ incomes.
And lawsuits don’t help anyone, because they just slow everything down and make everything more expensive. So it’s a good idea to avoid them.
Meanwhile, the networks look worse than Time Warner Cable here. Seriously, Fox, Viacom, and Discovery, you stink. The fact that this is affecting your viewers at all should be an embarrassment to you. Don’t worry, we’ll just find something else to watch.
But it’s still lame. Stand up for us sometime, maybe, Time Warner Cable? Or we’ll keep looking for ways to find our entertainment elsewhere.
*Update: Friday, Time Warner Cable announced 20 new channels for the iPad app. But they aren’t as good as the ones that are being taken away — 3 of them are CSPANs, etc. But give TWC credit for bouncing back. More here.