The program, often referred to as "TV Everywhere," will require users to authenticate that they're paying customers. Initially, the companies will roll out the initiative to 5,000 users.
The move is widely seen as the cable companies' answer to cord-cutting -- or canceling subscriptions in favor of watching video for free. But whether the initiative will clear potential legal and regulatory hurdles isn't clear yet.
On one hand, content owners have every right to decide whether to post their programs online or not. And there's no current law that would prevent companies from charging people to view TV episodes. Indeed, many already do so at iTunes, Amazon and other sites.
Still, when companies like Time Warner and Comcast join forces to develop a paid subscriber wall, watchdogs raise their eyebrows. "What we have here is a classic case of two industry cartels (the MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor]/broadband access cartel and the content providers) working together to shut out potential new competitors and keep prices for all services to consumers high," writes Public Knowledge's Harold Feld.
Public Knowledge today called on the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department to investigate whether the initiative violates "Internet openness principles" as well as whether it's an "anti-competitive and anti-consumer practice."
"Limiting access to programming is straight out of the cable playbook, going back to the days when Congress had to act in 1992 to allow the satellite programming distributors to have access to cable programming," Public Knowledge co-founder and president Gigi Sohn said in a statement. "This new version raises substantial anti-competitive issues by restricting the availability of programming to the favored distribution methods."