Cable operators and networks have been wrangling lately over rights for the streaming of live TV over iPad apps. Both Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have riled cable TV channels with new apps that their respective customers can use to watch a range of programming on the Apple tablet from anywhere in their homes. Time Warner has gone to court seeking a declaratory judgment of its rights to stream network content through its TWCableTV app.
Amid the squabbling between cable companies and content providers, ESPN this month rolled out an app for the iPhone and iPad for catching live sports from its family of TV properties. While it's not clear how the Time Warner case will work out, the broader push by cable operators and networks to directly deliver live programming via apps spells trouble for subscription mobile video providers like mobiTV.
The iPad apps from Time Warner and Cablevision bring the companies a step closer to realizing the "TV Everywhere" concept of letting existing subscribers watch TV across any device, whether at home or not. Comcast's Xfinity TV iPad app for now offers only on-demand viewing by its cable customers, but is expected to make live programming available later this year.
So if cable apps will eventually deliver live and on-demand content on any device used anywhere, why would a cable customer pay extra for a service like mobiTV? And if a mobile user mainly wants to be able to watch live sports, there's now the WatchESPN app. That's not to mention the ability to watch movies and TV shows via apps from paid services like Netflix and Hulu.
"The advent of free live TV service from cable operators on major platforms like smartphones and tablets is definitely a threat to subscription based services especially with the steep monthly cost of $9.99 per month," noted Deepa Karthikeyan, a senior analyst covering the wireless industry at Current Analysis. She suggested subscription-based mobile video services may need to switch to ad-based models to be able to compete with established TV players.
The demise of Qualcomm's FLO TV last year underscored the challenges of making it as a standalone pay mobile video service. In an interview with Online Media Daily late last year, MobiTV CMO Ray DeRenzo said advertising would become a bigger revenue source for the company over time, but that the service would probably never become fully ad-supported.
Asked last week about growing competition from cable TV and network apps, DeRenzo pointed out that besides its own mobile apps, MobiTV also powers white-label video services for major U.S. carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile.
"As a result, we view nearly all content owners and cable operators as potential partners who can benefit from our technology platform's ability to deliver live TV and video-on-demand to any screen, inside and outside of the home, enabling consumers to experience content when, where and how they want to," he said. DeRenzo added the company remains "bullish on the mobile TV space," with mobiTV's audience increasing to 15 million viewers. But with more and more free or comparable mobile TV options, maintaining growth may prove harder and harder for mobiTV.