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Live TV (almost) everywhere

When Time Warner and then Cablevision recently launched TV apps for the iPad, we moved a step closer to what many consider to be the holy grail of mobile entertainment: live TV, anytime, anywhere.

Of course, we have been able to watch TV shows and movies on mobile devices for quite some time using Web-streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Apple TV. But having immediate access to a wide range of live TV programming has proved more elusive, bogged down by copyright disputes and a fear of lost advertising.

However, it now appears that some of the major TV providers are not prepared to wait any longer. Spurred into action by the success of those very same Web-streaming services – and reports of increasing numbers of subscribers “unplugging” their cable service – Time Warner and Cablevision have introduced apps for watching TV on the iPad.

Time Warner was first, with an app that was firmly tied-in to its existing customer base. Its free app only worked within a Time Warner Cable customer’s home when the iPad was connected to the Internet through the company’s own broadband service.

However, this was still too much for some of Time Warner’s network partners, who disputed the cable company’s rights to distribute their programming in this fashion. Less than two weeks after launch, the app’s lineup of 32 live channels had been reduced to twenty. (Time Warner has since fought back, adding 17 additional third-party channels and three more of its own.)

Next up was Cablevision with a far more ambitious plan. Its free “Optimum App” is also restricted to existing Optimum subscribers watching in their own homes, but this time there is a choice of over 300 channels, and iPad owners don’t need to use a Cablevision-provided Internet connection.

“It gives our customers the additional flexibility and convenience of watching television throughout the home, in places where set-top boxes might not be ideal or even practical, like the kitchen, bathroom or workroom,” said Tom Rutledge, COO of Cablevision Systems.

Cablevision argues that it already has the rights to distribute live programming to any screen within its customers’ homes and doesn’t need any additional approvals from the networks. Cablevision’s bullish approach appears to have paid off, with the YES regional sports network currently the only channel to officially protest its inclusion in the app.

It’s clear that the iPad is only the starting point in the battle between the cable companies and the networks over who owns the rights to TV-on-the-go. It won’t be long before consumers used to carrying their iPad TV into the bedroom will want to take their live programming on the road.

Although some consumers may be horrified at the thought of iPads and other tablets propped up on restaurant tables during March Madness or the World Series, that day is not far away. The technology is already there; as always, it’s just a question of money.

Are you in favor of live TV programming on iPads and smartphones? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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