Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Pay-TV Guys Tell Customers How to Watch TV Without Paying. Again.

If DirecTV and Viacom were more considerate, they’d have their fight in mid-August, when things really slow down and we’ll write about anything.

Still, free content providers can’t be choosers, so: No need to provide details on this fight, because it’s just like every other pay-TV programmer versus pay-TV provider fight. Which means that once the two sides figure it out, pay-TV customers will end up paying more. The end.

But from this corner, the interesting part of these fights is the way the two sides use digital video. Because the Web is increasingly important, at least rhetorically, in these disputes.

Pay-TV providers, for instance, often gripe that programmers are increasing their prices at the same time that they’re giving away their stuff online. Or, in the case of Dish Networks, gripe about them selling their stuff via Amazon, iTunes and Netflix. Meanwhile, Fox (which, like this site, is owned by News Corp.) briefly tried to pull some of its shows off the Web when it was feuding with Cablevision a couple years ago.

Most interesting to me are the moves that pay-TV programmers make to convince their customers that they really don’t need to pay for TV, after all. Because they can get all the shows they like on the Web.

Time Warner Cable tried this in 2009, when it was fighting with Fox, and offered up a handy instructional video on cord-cutting. Now DirecTV is telling its customers how they “can continue to enjoy your favorite Viacom shows online.”

This one’s not very visually stimulating: Just a couple of drop-down menus that explain that you can watch episodes of “Jersey Shore” on MTV.com, or via iTunes, etc. Or that you can watch “Tosh.0” on, um, Tosh.0. And to be fair, it isn’t overtly suggesting that you dump cable: It gamely suggests, for instance, that if you miss seeing Jon Stewart on your TV, perhaps you could find something to watch on TBS.

Update: As BTIG’s Rich Greenfield notes (registration required), Viacom appears to have responded by pulling down some of its full episodes from its sites — a move that affects not just DirecTV customers but everyone on the Web. (See video below.)

And again, neither DirecTV or Viacom thinks the blackout is permanent. This is just the part of the negotiating phase during which DirecTV’s customers don’t get the TV they’re paying for. Which is followed by the part where DirecTV’s customers see their bills go up.

But wouldn’t it be something if DirecTV’s customers actually took the company at face value and decided that they didn’t need to pay the TV guys to watch TV anymore?

Maybe one day they will.


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