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Cable’s Living the Stream

TV Everywhere got two different pushes
forward last week: While Comcast’s moves are aimed at
reinforcing the traditional cable model, Viacom played a
potential cord-cutter card with Hulu.

Comcast inked an expanded online distribution deal
with Time Warner Inc., to cover hundreds of shows and
the live feeds of some networks, and also upgraded its
Xfinity TV app for Apple devices to provide some 3,000
hours of video.

Meanwhile, Viacom reconnected with Hulu. The deal
will put Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
and The Colbert Report back on the free Hulu.com site
— after nearly a year hiatus — as well as bring MTV’s Jersey
Shore and other current Viacom shows to the premium
Hulu Plus service 21 days after air.

A big force propelling the industry toward such deals
is Netflix, which has already stolen a share of time spent
watching video by racking up 20 million users in short order,
according to Forrester
Research principal analyst
James McQuivey.

“Everyone is scared of
Netflix,” he said. The willingness
of distributors like
Comcast and Hulu to pay more for online rights than they
have in the past is “a dramatic turn.”

“The big fight a year ago was that the operators said, ‘We
want your content to remain competitive.’ The media companies
said, ‘OK, you’ve got to pay more,’ ” McQuivey said.
“What you really got is a promise from Time Warner that
when Netflix is up for renewal then Netflix will have to
pay more.”

But to some observers, Comcast’s fattened-up TV Everywhere
buffet still won’t be enough to fully shield the industry
from online competitors like Netflix.
“To be a meaningful threat, we need to see more than three old episodes of Lopez Tonight and five episodes of
The Closer, a dramatic increase in basic-cable networks
participating, and Xfinity needs to be made available on a
wide array of devices,” BTIG Research analyst Rich Greenfield wrote in a blog last week.

Under Comcast’s expanded deal with Time Warner
Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting System, cable subscribers will
get access to “hundreds” of hours of movies and TV shows,
both online and on cable video-on-demand — including,
later this year, live streaming over the Internet.

The TV Everywhere distribution rights are included as
part of a broader agreement reached between Comcast
and Turner, the companies said. The agreement covers
shows and movies from Turner networks, including TNT,
TBS, CNN, HLN, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon
Network and Adult Swim. Comcast also plans to offer live
streaming of some Turner channels later this year, subject
to certain rights restrictions and conditions, though
details on this front are still sketchy.

“We envision that Comcast will likely begin making CNN
available on an authenticated basis in the near future,”
Turner spokeswoman Misty Skedgell said. “You’ll see others
from our entertainment portfolio in the near-term.”

The deal builds on the agreement Comcast and Time
Warner reached in mid-2009 to collaborate on the industry’s
first national “TV Everywhere” trial.

Turner shows available to the cable operator’s customers
this year are to include: The Closer, Men of a Certain
Age, Southland, Conan, Lopez Tonight, The Venture Brothers,
Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, Meet the Browns and Piers
Morgan Tonight
.

Shortly after airing on Turner networks, the content will
appear on XfinityTV.com, Comcast’s On Demand service,
various Turner websites, and Xfinity- and Turner-branded
iPad, iPhone and Android-based tablet and phone applications.

Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes — who
lately has downplayed Netflix’s clout at seemingly every
opportunity — said the “landmark” deal with Comcast
“really pushes forward the concept of giving consumers
more access to quality on-demand content on any device
they choose.”

Also last week, Comcast updated its Xfinity TV app for
iPads and iPhones that lets customers stream TV shows
and movies from HBO, Turner, Showtime Networks, Starz
Entertainment and BBC America. Currently, though, no
material from NBC Universal is part of the service, even
though Comcast now owns a controlling interest in NBCU.

The streaming feature is available over any Wi-Fi connection.
Th e MSO plans to launch a 3G-enabled version in
an upcoming release.

Viacom’s deal with Hulu will certainly improve the
appeal of the Hulu Plus $7.99 monthly subscription service,
by adding current episodes from networks including
Comedy Central, MTV, BET, VH1, Spike TV and TV Land.
Shows are to include Jersey Shore, Hot in Cleveland and
Teen Mom 2; notably, Nickelodeon content is not covered
under the Hulu deal.

In addition, Viacom will make more than 2,000 episodes
of library content available through Hulu Plus, including
Chappelle’s Show, Reno 911!, Beavis and Butt-head, The
Real World
and Punk’d.

Hulu anticipates signing up more than 1 million paying
customers in 2011. By this fall, Hulu Plus will have an
annual revenue run rate of more than $200 million, CEO
Jason Kilar wrote in a blog post.

“A key element of Hulu Plus is that we are able to
compensate content owners more per-user, per-month
than anyone else for the same body of content,” he
claimed.

Kilar’s blog pointedly described traditional TV as having
too many ads and failing to deliver on consumer expectations
— reportedly raising the ire of Hulu’s media
company owners, the Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and
NBCU.

Ultimately, each of the deals represents an effort by
large media companies to reinforce their dominance,
McQuivey said.

“It’s no surprise they’d try to create a situation
where they all still have the same seats at the table,”
he said.