MediaFile

Viacom drags online video into DirecTV dispute

Stephen Colbert looks nonplussed. (Photo: Reuters)

Just as we were getting prepared for the latest round in the increasingly vicious battles between programmers and TV distributors, the Viacom fight with DirecTV took a new twist.

For the first time we can recall, the fight was extended to Viacom’s freely available shows online. The owner of MTV, Comedy Central, BET and many more decided that in order to properly enforce its blackout of TV shows from DirecTV it would “slim down” its Web offerings by blocking the latest episodes of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” These shows are usually available for free soon after airing on TV.

One issue might be that, to date, Viacom shows are ‘free’ in the true sense in that they do not require the online viewer to have a cable or satellite subscription — something that News Corp’s Fox has done. The idea is that you can watch these shows at no extra charge if you can “authenticate” yourself as a paying cable subscriber.

The really awkward part of this is that it affects everyone else who isn’t a DirecTV customer but wanted to catch up with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Viacom isn’t saying anything publicly so far on this part of the dispute but insiders point out there are nearly 5,000 shows available for free online and it had to temporarily pull some shows because DirecTV was pointing its subscribers to the free sites as an alternative for their lost shows. Interestingly, as AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka points out, the blocked shows are still available on Hulu due to a contract loophole.

Intel’s facial-recognition freaks out potential customers

Mine and Yinka Adegoke’s story today on Intel’s proposal to use facial-recognition technology with a virtual TV service and set-top box has raised legitimate concerns about allowing Big Brother into consumers’ living rooms.

People’s reluctance to have a camera keep tabs on who is sitting in front of their TV may be a hurdle that Intel has underestimated as it struggles to convince media content providers to hand over their shows.

When I bought a Kinect for my Xbox last year, I felt paranoid for at least a couple of weeks every time I sat down on my sofa in front of my TV. Each time I turn on my Xbox, a camera — connected to Microsoft and the Internet — sees everything I do.

Discovery Channel upstaged by murderers, stalkers

If the low ratings at Oprah Winfrey’s OWN weren’t evidence enough of viewer disinterest in programming that inspires, then perhaps the massive ratings growth at Investigation Discovery, a network whose shows are almost exclusively populated by murderers and stalkers, can provide convincing.

Investigation Discovery, the crime-themed cable channel that launched in January 2008, is not just getting better ratings than OWN, it is also doing better than the Discovery Channel itself. Over the last two weeks, ID averaged 275,000 total viewers, or 8,000 more than the 267,000 viewers that Discovery averaged, according to Nielsen. OWN, which launched in January 2011, only averaged 180,000 total daily viewers during the fourth quarter.

Given those ratings, who needs to spend millions on shows like “Planet Earth” when you can just air cheesy non-fiction crime programming like “I (Almost) Got Away With It” and “Who The (Bleep) Did I Marry. Those kind of shows have the fingerprints of ID president Henry Schleiff all over them. After all, Schleiff built Court TV into a cable network powerhouse on the back of similar programming.

Verizon, Netflix and those darn bloggers aka Reuters

Lowell McAdam, Verizon CEO

Bear with us a minute while we toot our horn (again) and point to our story on Verizon’s plans to launch an online Netflix competitor next year. Needless to say, we were pleased to get it out there first, but it’s probably unsurprising that Verizon was not ready with a press release as it hammer out deals with programmers.

So it was amusing to hear Verizon Chief Executive Lowell McAdam as he tried to squirm his way around questions about his company’s plans during an interview at the UBS conference.

“I think the jury is out but I do think there is a place for over-the-top here and it will be part of our strategy,” said McAdam.

Comcast brings TV shows to iPad

Xfinity App Image 1

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable operator, is unveiling an app for the iPad that will allow its digital TV customers to watch shows and movies wherever they are.

The Xfinitiy TV app is both a TV guide and mobile video player according to Comcast, and will enable customers to use the iPad as a remote control, search for their favorite cable shows to watch on TV, On Demand, online or on the iPad.

Cable companies, grappling with increasing competition from Johnny-come-latelys like Netflix and Sezmi, are very keen to seek new ways to provide better value to customers for  ever-rising cable bills. The ability to watch what shows you like, when you want – even when you’re on the move — might be one way to provide that value and avoid the mythical or real threat of ‘cord-cutting’.

Blockbuster gets kicked when it’s down by cable companies

Blockbuster storeIt’s a tough time to be a video rental store owner wherever you are, but it’s especially tough if you’re Blockbuster Inc and have 6,500 stores to manage, thousands of employees, expensive debt repayments and a sinking share price.

Yesterday Blockbuster warned for the first time that it may need to file for bankruptcy protection and its auditors at Pricewaterhouse raised doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern.

It doesn’t get any worse than that right? No, it does.

According to a story we spotted today from Hollywood Reporter, movie studios and cable companies are joining forces for a $30 million advertising campaign over the coming months to promote awareness of movies available on cable’s video on demand services.

Time Warner Cable ready to fight high program costs

Time Warner Cable, the normally placid No.2 U.S. cable operator, is getting ready for a fight with its programming partners at the cable networks and broadcasters over rising affiliate fees. In truth, TWC has always been ready for a fight with the programmers. This time, it wants to make the first move and get its 14 million subscribers behind it.

The New York cable operator is launching an ad campaign “on behalf of its customers” to target what it sees as unfair price demands by programmers. It argues that these price demands, which usually come around this time of year at the end of programming contracts, can sometimes be as much as 300 percent increases. TWC says programmers make the demands “secure in the knowledge that video distributors are the ones who have to pass those costs along to customers and take the blame.”

So what’s Time Warner Cable going to do about it? They’re going to launch a website — yes, a website with the catchy URL: www.rolloverorgettough.com. News Corp, Sinclair Broadcasting and cable networks must be quaking in their collective fee-hiking boots.