Cable companies and TV networks go to war over the iPad

Screenshot of the Time Warner Cable iPad app.

Time Warner launched its iPad app recently. The app lets people who already get both cable and Internet from Time Warner get channels for free on their iPad. Time Warner's position is that such usage is implicit in a customer's subscription. But Viacom didn't see it that way. They figure it's another use of their product and if they're not being paid for that use, it's just not fair. Last week, they sent a cease and desist letter and Time Warner subsequently took down Viacom channels like MTV and Comedy Central. Late Friday night, Time Warner added a bunch of channels (apparently without clearing it first), including CNN, A&E and ESPN News. Over the weekend, cable company Cablevision debuted its own app, offering even more channels than Time Warner's.

We're going to be hearing about these apps for a while and it looks like it could be some time before it's figured out whether they're fair use, patently illegal or somewhere in between. The conflict has to do with money, of course, but it also has to do with the rapid emergence of the tablet computer. They're great to watch TV on but they are neither web-based (the shows run through apps, not browsers) nor television sets. Agreements in place between the entities that bring you your shows were all made before the tablet computer existed. Retrofitting old laws into new technology can be dicey and, it seems, acrimonious.

We talk to Andrew Wallenstein about all this; he's the TV editor for Variety. He says this is all heading for the courts, in part because the iPad app model doesn't have a system for measuring which shows are more popular and that makes it impossible to set ad rates. Wallenstein says these apps are being watched closely by the whole entertainment industry. We also talk to Southern Illinois University professor Paul Torre.

Also in this program, if you're looking for reality TV stars who are decidedly non-salacious, we suggest the eagles of Decorah, Iowa.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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