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DirecTV Explores Providing Subscriber Content Online

March 4, 2009

As cable companies and dish networks move toward expanding programming online, DirecTV Group said on Tuesday it is exploring options to allow subscribers access to television shows that have never been available online in the past, the Associated Press reported.

Chief Executive Chase Carey said at the Deutsche Bank Securities Media and Telecommunications Conference that web content should be an extension of a customer’s satellite TV viewing experience and not a competing platform.

He suggested the growing demand for online video should be embraced rather than rejected, noting that in the past, companies that try to block or stop something from happening usually fail.

Providers already considering exclusive access to cable TV shows online include Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., Time Warner Inc., General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal, Viacom Inc., News Corp. and others.

Many cable operators have voiced concern over paying programmers a monthly fee per subscriber for content that is available for free over the Web. Some believe that over time, viewers could bypass them in favor of watching shows on the Internet.

However, networks can’t afford to jeopardize the flow of cable TV programming fees provided by cable, satellite and phone companies.

The move would only concern television shows available to subscribers of TV services from cable, satellite or phone companies – such as those on the Sundance or Discovery channels – instead of free, over-the-air broadcast shows.

So far, both cable and networks are working on an agreement that would only give people access to cable TV shows online if they can prove they’re paying subscribers.

“TV Everywhere” is Time Warner Inc.’s new experimental program to test such a service through its HBO network and cable spin-off, Time Warner Cable, in the Milwaukee area. HBO has plans to expand the trial to more markets.

“On Demand Online” is a similar effort by Comcast, which includes an opportunity for shows from cable TV networks such as Showtime and Comedy Central to be bundled into a subscriber-only area on Fancast.com, its free site for viewing TV shows and movies.

Some cable operators could choose to send subscribers to exclusive areas on Web sites run by the cable networks, but plans are in the preliminary stages and the whole model could change.

The goal is to provide subscribers access without charging extra fees, meaning no additional charge to about 90 percent of U.S. households – those who buy TV from a cable or satellite company.

Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes said at the Deustche Bank conference on Monday that everything on television should become available to customers on broadband free of charge.

“You can take it with you on a mobile device. You can see it on a PC. You can watch it on your television.”

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