By the end of this year, Comcast will launch a new service via its Fancast website that makes all of its cable content available online on stream. Just one catch: You have to be a subscriber.
Karen Gilford, senior VP of interactive for the cable provider, told PC World every cable subscriber will, for no additional charge (for now at least) get a login and password to watch programs on Fancast. Most notably, they won't just be cable networks that already stream on their own website or on Hulu, like Comedy Central and TNT. It looks like it will include some that don't -- even pay channels like HBO. As PC World notes, "[W]ith its long-standing relationships with virtually all major video content producers (the networks, HBO, CNN, etc.) [Comcast] is in a unique relationship to provide a single omnibus video site that has a broad range of content and a consistent way of viewing it all. Those relationships might allow Fancast to feature a lot of content that other online video sites don't have."
The greatest fear of television executives (besides greenlighting the next "Do Not Disturb") is that more of us will follow the small but growing number of young people who cancel their cable/satellite subscriptions and get all their TV via the Internet, either on a PC or by using one of a number of devices that put the Web on a TV. With no cable carriage fees and a fraction of the ad revenue they get on-air, their business models would be destroyed.
But if you have still subscribe the old-fashioned way (or with a new-fashioned Internet plan) to get the good stuff, executives would be fine with it. Then we're just transferring the old business model onto new technology. Quick and easy. No pain. That's why Bewkes recently said a model like Comcast's is necessary.
A senior television executive recently told me in an interview that he feels forces (like Bewkes) pushing against online TV and he could foresee a day when the only free stuff online is promotional clips and library content. If Comcast's technology works and if consumers take to it, you've got to wonder whether a lot of television executives won't be pushing to make that day come faster.
Or will they have to accept that the only way to compete with free piracy is with free, but ad-supported, streaming?