Are Comcast and Time Warner ‘authenticating’ themselves right into another failure?

Like others in old media cable companies and media content producers are in a race – a race for survival in a world that they show just about every day that they don’t understand. A perfect example of this is a joining of Comcast and Time Warner to their cable content to the web but under restrictions that are designed to maintain, or increase, the revenue streams for their programs.

Their thinking is that if they provide “television” shows of their choosing from their various networks or cable suppliers under a subscription basis, and as long as you are already a cable subscriber, you will be willing to fork over extra money to watch those shows from the web. This will over course require some sort of authentication method to guarantee that non-cable subscribers will be able to see those same shows on the web.

With the pervasiveness of broadband and easy availability of tools that allow web video to leap onto your television, cable companies see that their video distribution pipes are becoming less relevant. So they want to control how you watch premium content online and want to impose fees via an authentication system. Time Warner and Bewkes have been championing this concept — essentially an authentication system that requires viewers to have cable, telco or satellite subscriptions in order to watch certain premium content online or on other platforms. Bewkes recently said he wanted to launch the system during the second half of 2009. (NewTeeVee has just published a great FAQ on TV Everywhere.) Time Warner spun out its cable business as a separate company. Time Warner owns premium services such as HBO.

Source: Om Malik – GigaOM :: Comcast, Time Warner Team Up to Control TV on the Internet

Authentication. Hmm … I wonder how many times we have heard this battle cry before?

How many different DRM methods, which really is authentication under a different name, have we seen come and go in the last few years. They arrive with much trumpeting and fanfare proclaiming a new era in safe media that can’t be pirated by those nasty consumers out there that want to be able to use the media they pay for as they wish. Then just as quickly those great new methods fail leaving those nasty consumers with unusable media as the authentication engines are turned off.

No matter how many time or how many different ways old media tries authentication, or DRM, won’t work for one simple reason – they no longer control the exclusive access to their products. In the past if you wanted to watch a television show, listen to music or watch a movie the only access you had to that content was through corporate controlled access points. These might have been a television with a cable box, a radio station dictating the playlist, a store selling CD or a movie theater picking what gets played.

The only problem is that now these old media content providers are discovering that just because you make the content it doesn’t mean you control the distribution of that content anymore. All it takes is one person with a TV capture card and access to that show is now Internet wide. Sure it’s illegal but when you place onerous restrictions on content access there are those who will rail against it. As hard as old media might try to control their content the harder the consumer will fight against that control, and today they have tools that are as good as old media’s.

But this is only one reason that old media wants to bring its content to the web because not only can they make increased profits from that addition web distribution but they also increase their profits from the additional demands on their pipes. We have seen an attempt recently to bring back speed and data caps on broadband access. Comcast likes to suggest that even at their top tier no-one would likely every go over those caps of 250 gig but it only takes some simple math to show the bullshit of this idea.

I asked Comcast CEO Brian Roberts if the content being streamed as part of this new effort would be free from the 250GB-a-month bandwidth quota his company has started imposing on this customers.

His answer: No. You’re not going to get close enough to hitting the monthly quota anyway, he said, so why worry? We (and many of our readers) disagree. We feel that while 250GB might look very generous today, it isn’t much when you start streaming or downloading HD-quality video.

Source: Om Malik – GigaOM :: Comcast: TV Everywhere Will Eat Into Your Metered Broadband

A quick check of the file size for a DivX version of an hour long HD television show (which is actually only 40 minutes or so if you’re lucky) can run anywhere from 1.5 Gig to 2.0 Gig. If you move up in video format quality (H.264, HD .ts, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray) you will start seeing file sizes ranging from 2 Gig to over 5 Gig for a regular one-hour television show. All these files sizes count against download cap you might have.

So assume you want to watch your regular television show via the web and on an average of two show a night, 7 days a week, and 30 days a month you would watch a total of 60 shows. Now your watching all these in HiDef at 5 Gig a show only to find yourself now at 300 Gig for the month – you’ve gone over your cap for which you will be charged extra on your Internet bill.

So on top of that nice extra subscription that companies like Time Warner and Comcast what to charge you for the privilege of watching regular television on the web you stand a very good chance of blowing the bottom out of your Internet access bill. For what?

As much as companies like Time Warner and Comcast like to think that their are in the content providers driving seat the fact is – they aren’t. Just as authentication has failed for other types of content providers on the web. In the end the consumer will decide how they want to access their content on the web and if past experience is any indication this is just another attempt that will fail.

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