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In News Corp./Time Warner Cable Battle, the Winner Is ... Spite [Updated]

UPDATE: News Corp. and Time Warner Cable came to an agreement before there was any blackout on TWC systems, though no one so far has spilled the beans on what price per subscriber News got. However to keep this pot boiling, Scripps has pulled its channels, including HGTV and Food Network off of my cable operator, Cablevision. Yes, it turns out that life without "House Hunters" is barely worth living.

In the battle between News Corp. and Time Warner Cable over retransmission fees, there's one clear winner: spite. That's the only interpretation I can come to in reading that TWC is now teaching people how to hook up their PC to their TV so they can pipe broadband versions of their favorite programming -- as in programming from Fox networks -- into their living rooms.

Talk about penny-wise and pound foolish. The language in the video, and on TWC's anti-Fox propaganda Web site, clearly indicates the company is making these instructions available so that consumers will wait the stalemate out by tapping into Hulu or Fancast to watch Fox programming instead of switching to another TV provider.

As I said in an earlier post, it's not good for TWC or News Corp. to let consumers in on alternative viewing arrangements, but in what appears to be an act of spite instead of forethought, TWC is doing just that. The big danger to TWC here is that once more consumers realize just how much content they can stream content for free, they will question whether they really needed cable in the first place. The Hulu habit is pretty tantalizing; according to a post on the Hulu blog yesterday, comScore has tallied monthly streams on the site in 2009 at 924 million, growing 307 percent compared to 2008. That's not a trend that TWC or News Corp., even though it has a stake in Hulu, really wants to play into because the monetization strategies aren't mature yet.

Maybe, weirdly enough, the winner in all this will be consumers, who will become more aware of the viewing options at their fingertips, and enjoy them, for free -- at least for awhile. As my BNET Media colleague Diane Mermigas points out, this battle royale may also be a signpost that the end is nigh. Of free TV, that is.

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