Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Disney and Cablevision Leave the Web Out of Their Fee Fight

Why does this week’s Disney-Cablevision fight feel familiar? Because it is: “Cable Fee Fight” is TV’s most annoying show, but it never goes off the air.

The characters change, but the script is always the same. A programmer wants more money from a cable provider and threatens to pull its shows. See: Viacom (VIA) versus Time Warner Cable (TWC), News Corp. (NWS) versus Time Warner Cable, Cablevision versus Scripps Networks (SNI), Etc. Etc.

Spoiler Alert! The conclusion is always the same too: Both sides compromise, and cable subscribers get to watch their shows–in exchange for paying ever-increasing fees.

My interest here is whether either side wants to use the Web as a weapon in the fight given that the Internet is an increasingly plausible alternative for TV watchers who don’t want to pay for cable. Last year, for instance, Time Warner Cable showed its customers how to get Fox shows–and everything else–onto their TVs via the Internet (you can still see those instructions here).

The problem, of course, is that by highlighting the Web option, both sides run the risk of undermining their market power in the long run. If couch potatoes really do get used to the idea of consuming their shows using their PCs, it makes it easier for them to tell both programmers and the cable guys to pound sand.

For now, though, both sides are leaving the Web alone while they rattle their swords.

Disney (DIS) reminds Cablevision’s three million New York-area viewers that they’ll still be able to get ABC shows via an old-fashioned TV antenna. But the network doesn’t mention or Hulu, its joint venture with Fox and GE’s (GE) NBC. And Cablevision (CVC), at least so far, hasn’t brought up the Web either.

Both sides are clearly betting this gets resolved before Sunday night when ABC is set to broadcast the Oscars–not coincidentally, one of the only programs you really have to watch live.

Here’s Disney’s opening salvo:

[Image credit: Alexindigo]

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik