Online Cable Debate Heats Up As Execs Embrace Streaming Tech, Bicker About Programming Model

Even as the cable companies seemingly embrace online cable programming, there seem to be as many unanswered questions today regarding this new path as there are answers.

One of the first being, if cable companies are seriously considering a headfirst dive into the world currently being cultivated and pruned by the likes of Hulu, Netflix Watch Instantly streaming, and Amazon on demand, what of their dubious arguments about the Internet not having enough bandwidth and throttling user's usage? Complete bollocks, as we all thought from the beginning?

Another is new rates and fees. Or those infamous "bundles" that land in our mailboxes every month. What will they be? Will there be any? As the New York Times pointed out this weekend, the CATV companies have no real precedent to work with. Many consumers merely use the cable as a delivery method, preferring to get their content free, with ads, from services like Hulu. How much would you pay your cable company to see your favorite programming, anywhere or whenever you want? Would you even want to? Or, should streaming be included in your subscription price, like it's been done with Netflix users who watch videos on their PCs or Xbox 360s? Again, many questions.

A final question, raised by a commenter at the NYT, asks why some people have to pay three separate, marked up fees for TV, internet and phone, when what they're actually paying for is one thing: data traveling through the network. Will the new cable model, whatever it is, change all this?

What we do know is most, if not all, "cable guys" are talking about online programming. Why, just today we received a press release talking about the Verismo VuNow set top box, and how cable execs recently "foamed at the mouth" at the CableLabs Forum over its uncanny ability to stream cable content to a TV screen without a PC middleman. We also know that while the execs were in agreement on the hardware, everything else going on between the major players like Time Warner, Comcast and other programming companies regarding this issue is "tense," according to a report in the WSJ. A resounding "no shit" seems appropriate here.

Personally, I have 200+ cable channels, watch 12 of them, and catch a large portion of my shows after the broadcast date on DVR or online. And I'll soon be canceling a large part of my programming because I, like many people these days, cannot afford to just piss money away like that on dormant channels like we all did in the free-wheeling days of yesteryear.

Whether this kind of behavior starts to take hold with the average Joe Cable Watcher remains to be seen. So far the data says it hasn't, but give it time. That Hulu Super Bowl ad was clever, and some TVs have firmware upgrades these days. It's all but inevitable. [New York Times]