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How Big Cable Keeps Internet TV at Bay

How Big Cable Keeps Internet TV at Bay
Photograph by Brian Finke

Cable companies have had a good ride, scooping up fat monthly subscriptions for a bundle of TV channels you can’t buy anywhere else. Sure, go ahead, cut the cord—and say buh-bye to last night’s game highlights on ESPN, you sports fanatic. Still, the onslaught of new mobile technologies, and the satellite players, and Google, and the millions who pay Hulu, and the whole Internet revolution—all that was going to change the television paradigm and make the Internet another venue for watching it. Maybe, at some point, you could pay for what you actually watch and not for the 220 other channels.

So far, zilch on those fronts. One reason: Big Cable is forcing TV programmers to keep their content from the kind of Web services envisioned by Intel, Google, and Apple, with incentives such as higher payments and threats to drop certain programming. The Department of Justice has been investigating the cable companies’ arrangements with programmers for at least a year, Bloomberg News reported, but the issue received fresh attention this week when executives at two big cable companies publicly defended the status quo.