Time Warner's "TV Everywhere": Still Going Nowhere

Last Updated Jan 11, 2011 3:32 PM EST

If last week's CES was where the Internet and TV began their delicate tap dance to a merger, it was also the CES in which it became evident just how far the merger has to go before the two sides come together. Case in point was Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes' comments about TV Everywhere, the initiative he's been yammering on about for almost two years in which cable subscribers would be able to get cable content on multiple platforms through a universal authentication system verifying that they have a cable sub.

But, surprisingly, it still looks like a bunch of talk. Per Advertising Age, the system that would make it possible doesn't actually exist, at least not across all of the media companies who say they support it. Can you say vaporware?

Thus, there was Bewkes, putting out a plea to the assembled masses during a special guest appearance at CES; he shared the stage with Verizon CEO Ivan Siedenberg, saying: "We have every distribution network and content company trying to create a uniform approach for this. Let's try to keep it simple. This is the best room in the world to develop the innovation to make this happen."

Since Bewkes has been talking about this for a long time, and there's still not much of a there there, it leads me to believe this is a problem of either coordination, or will -- is building a simple authentication system that difficult? Or is it that, despite protestations to the contrary, many of those in the business aren't as keen on the idea, or as focused on it, as Bewkes is? Less than 15 months ago, Bewkes, in an internal memo, declared:

... we're advancing TV Everywhere even faster than I expected. As you know, TV Everywhere is an industry initiative to allow those who subscribe to TV in their homes to watch their favorite programs at no extra charge on a wide range of other devices. Consumers get more for their money, and the industry benefits from expanding its current business model to the Internet. There are several trials underway with major distributors, with additional distributors and programmers planning to join. We're also developing the technological tools to ensure TV Everywhere is a seamless user experience.
Sounds like he's singing a different tune now, doesn't it? Here's what the issue might be. While it should be possible for a relatively small group of cable operators to agree that the content they distribute shouldn't be available for free on platforms other than TV -- as one commenter on Ad Age's story points out -- by and large, cable operators don't own the content they distribute. Therefore, depending on the contracts content companies have with distributors, this could raise issues. Why, if you're TNT, get Cablevision in the game at all when it comes to letting consumers access the content elsewhere. Isn't it, ahem, yours?

Further, it looks like some industry players are moving ahead even while Bewkes waits for this universal authentication system. Comcast, whose CEO, Brian Roberts, appeared with Bewkes discussing the TV Everywhere concept first launched, spent CES announcing ... guess what? A service that would allow Comcast subscribers to access live content on the iPad.

There's no reason Comcast couldn't do both, but it sounds like TV Everywhere is having trouble living up to its name.