Time Warner Cable's plans to offer live television through Apple's iPad have hit a major roadblock.
The cable giant, which has almost 15 million subscribers, dropped a dozen popular channels — including MTV and Comedy Central — from its recently launched iPad application after complaints from programmers, which argued that their content was being put on the iPad illegally.
At issue is whether the deals that Time Warner Cable has to carry programming extend beyond the set-top box on the television to new platforms such as the iPad. Time Warner Cable thinks it does; several entertainment companies, including Viacom Inc., News Corp. and Discovery Communications, think otherwise.
After getting complaints from those three companies, Time Warner Cable said Thursday that it was removing their networks from the iPad service. Other channels dropped include FX and TLC.
Time Warner Cable said it still believes it is within its rights to offer content to its cable subscribers via the iPad in their homes and indicated it might take legal action.
"We will continue to fight to ensure that our customers have access to the content they pay for, no matter which screen in their home they choose to view it on," the company said in a statement.
Channels that remain available on the app include Time Warner Inc.'s CNN, Bravo and MSNBC, which is owned by Comcast's NBCUniversal, and ABC Family, which is owned by Walt Disney Co. The Food Network, which is owned by Scripps Networks, is also still available, but that company has publicly said it does not believe Time Warner Cable has the right to offer it via the iPad.
Time Warner Cable has launched an aggressive advertising campaign, promoting its iPad application and how it will enable viewers to enjoy television in the rooms in the house where they don't have a TV. One ad shows a woman taking a bath and watching her iPad.
Programmers contend that Time Warner Cable is double-dipping, saying the cable company paid for content for use on one platform and now is offering it on another without compensating the programmer. Time Warner Cable has countered that since the signal never leaves the home, it does not matter what platform it is delivered on.
The fight between Time Warner Cable and programmers comes as the entertainment industry is struggling to adjust to new content platforms and protect existing revenue streams.
One problem programmers have with the iPad application is that viewing on the platform is not measured by Nielsen, the ratings service. If viewers start migrating from TV to the iPad and Nielsen isn't tracking it, then networks fear they won't get paid by advertisers for all the eyeballs they are delivering.
Cable companies Comcast Corp. and Cablevision have similar apps in the works.