Time Warner Cable’s iPad app runs into trouble: the price of popularity

March 16, 2011

Time Warner Cable, the No. 2 U.S. cable operator, isn’t a fancy company. Ever since its spin-off from Time Warner Inc it has photo 2focused on being a steady-as-she-goes friendly neighborhood telecommunications provider with video just being one of the services it carries through its pipes alongside Internet and voice.

Well, perhaps feeling a bit of cable envy as larger rival Comcast got all the press with its fancy digital businesses and fast growing cable networks — and well, NBC — Time Warner Cable decided to venture a little bit more into the 21st Century with its roll-out of a free iPad app yesterday. The app allowed iPad owners to view 30 channels in their homes, which was well received by most technology bloggers and deemed a success.

However, it just might have been too successful.  The company said the app’s popularity “unfortunately overwhelmed the system” meaning some customers could not download it Tuesday evening. To make matters worse Time Warner Cable had to “temporarily” reduce the number of channels to just 15 to ease strain on the authentication process used to verify the user as a paying cable subscriber.

Time Warner Cable President Rob Marcus apologized in a press statement. “While we anticipated that the app would be popular, the demand was overwhelming. We are sorry for any frustration and inconvenience our customers experienced.”

By Wednesday afternoon all 32 channels were back up after resolving the technical issue.

But the story doesn’t end there because trade mag Multichannel News points out that not all of Time Warner Cable’s partners are necessarily happy the cable company is allowing users to view content over wifi on their tablet devices without first renegotiating existing licensing deals. We’ve also heard this is true.  For now it remains one of those industry-type debates between Time Warner Cable’s programming team and their counterparts at the cable networks. Things could interesting if someone decides to blink first and get the lawyers involved.

Or as BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield puts it:

“Threat of litigation did NOT play a role in the decision to offer fewer channels.  We believe cease and desist letters will be coming to TWC in the near-future — stay tuned….”

(Photo: courtesy of TWC)

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