Should cable subscribers be able to watch Food Network personality Guy Fieri taking a big chomp out of a fried-clam sandwich on their iPads?
If Time Warner Cable is talking, the answer is yes. The big cable distributor has been making Food Network, which carries Mr. Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," available via its new app for the iPad. Time Warner Cable released the app on Tuesday with Food Network and 31 other channels available.
If you're Scripps Networks Interactive, however, and you own Food Network, the answer is the complete opposite. The company "has not granted iPad video streaming rights to any distributor and is actively addressing any misunderstandings on this issue," it said in a statement released last night.
An unfazed Time Warner Cable spokesman said the company believes "we have the rights and continue to include some of their networks in the iPad app."
Welcome to the latest skirmish for control of the entertainment screen. By making streams from various TV networks available on an iPad -- albeit only on an iPad available in a Time Warner Cable subscriber's home -- Time Warner Cable is jockeying for more control over how its customers view video entertainment and blurring the lines between the venerable boob-tube and the new-age mobile device.
Some TV programmers, which get the bulk of their ad revenue -- and, in the case of cable, subscriber revenue -- based on the number of people who watch TV shows and the commercials that support them via a TV set, are pushing back.
At least one media company other than Scripps is said to be fighting with Time Warner Cable, according to a person familiar with the situation. Time Warner's Turner cable unit and Discovery Communications declined to comment on the Time Warner Cable app.
The feeling among programmers, said one person familiar with some of the back-and-forth between cable networks and Time Warner Cable, is that most current content agreements don't cover this sort of usage for programming, which means it needs to be negotiated separately. According to this person, the belief from some TV outlets is that viewership from iPad streaming would have to be monetizable by ad sales or measured by a widely accepted third party such as Nielsen.
Of course, programmers may have their own plans for making programming available via mobile devices, and Time Warner Cable's efforts may wrest away some degree of control over the situation.
For now, at least, things boil down to money. "Everyone wants to be paid more to be enable additional functionality," said BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield in a research note Wednesday.
Time Warner Cable narrowed its selection of channels on iPad down to 15, after the company said Wednesday intense demand for the app caused the technology to crash. A spokesman said the channels were not removed because of demands from other media companies, and Mr. Greenfield said the company intended to make more channels available as circumstances warranted.