Peter Kafka

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Scripps, Rainbow Join the Authentication Bandwagon

madmen-770111I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of information out of Time Warner and Comcast at their joint press conference today, but the two still underdelivered. They formalized the old news that Time Warner (TWX) would offer up some shows from its TNT and TBS channels for Comcast’s (CMCSA) coming “OnDemand Online” trial and…well, that was it, really.

Time Warner did announce a set of principles for its “TV Everywhere” program, and if you’d like, you can read those at the bottom of this post. And Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts did get into some philosophical/optical discussions with us reporters.

For instance, was the cable industry being “defensive” or “offensive” as it rolled out its authentication plan, which is supposed to give pay TV customers–but only pay TV customers–Web access to all the shows they get on TV? Offensive, declared Bewkes. He also decreed that authentication was a “free gift” to TV watchers.

But authentication is going to involve a whole lot of coordinated effort by a lot of different players, and that means details matter at least as much as philosophy.

For instance: Who else is joining Time Warner when Comcast rolls out its first authentication trial next month? Roberts wouldn’t talk about that–“today’s about Time Warner,” he said–but word is still leaking out. Scripps Networks, for instance, said today that it would play along. Here’s the statement from Lynne Costantini, who runs affiliates sales for the network.

“Scripps Networks’ media brands, such as Food Network and HGTV, enjoy a strong connection with a passionate base of consumers who likely would find value in this type of service. We are committed to providing viewers with content on the platforms on which they engage with our brands, in a manner that adds value to the viewing experience and enhances our current business relationships with distributors. Our participation in the Comcast authentication pilot will help us make some initial assessments regarding this innovative platform.

Also confirmed: Cablevision’s (CVC) Rainbow Media, which owns networks like AMC and Sundance. This one makes particular sense because Cablevision has been more vocal than other networks about not putting its programming on the Web without getting paid for it. I’m also told that A&E Television networks, co-owned by Hearst, Disney (DIS) and GE’s (GE) NBCU, is expected to participate, but haven’t heard back from those folks yet.

None of these buy-ins are huge moves by themselves, of course. They’re commitments for the trial only, and it’s unlikely that any of the companies are going to offer up their best shows at the start. For instance, I’d be (happily) surprised if AMC’s “Mad Men” makes the cut. And we’re likely to see a dribble of announcements over the rest of the year as more programmers dip their toes in and as competing/parallel authentication efforts that the likes of Time Warner Cable (TWC) and the telcos roll out.

In the meantime, in lieu of hard facts, here’s what Time Warner has to say about its intentions:

These principles were developed to ensure the TV Everywhere model is consumer-friendly; pro-competitive and non-exclusive.

•    Bring more TV content, more easily to more people across platforms.

•    Video subscribers can watch programming from their favorite TV networks online for no additional charge.

•    Video subscribers can access this content using any broadband connection.

•    Programmers should make their best and highest rated programming available online.

•    Both networks and video distributors should provide high quality, consumer-friendly sites for viewing broadband content with easy authentication.

•    A new process should be created to measure ratings for online viewing. The goal should be to extend the current viewer measurement system to include advertiser ratings for TV content viewed on all platforms.

•    TV Everywhere is open and non-exclusive; cable, satellite or telco video distributors can enter into similar agreements with other programmers.

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