UPDATE 12/9/13 9:00 PM (ET)
DirecTV was not among the providers with affiliation agreements when Watch TCM launched on November 6, and today’s announcement means that the number of households with potential access to the TCM app increases substantially – from around 60 million to around 80 million.
With more than 20 million video subscribers, DirecTV is the second-largest multichannel video programming distributor (M.V.P.D.) in the country, just behind Comcast and its Xfinity service. Today’s announcement means that TCM now has digital rights deals in place with 23 of the top 25 providers.
Still absent from this list is former sister company Time Warner Cable, with more than 12 million video subscribers in the U.S. The other holdout is Bright House Networks, a leading cable provider in Central Florida. Bright House was formerly part of the Time Warner Entertainment – Advance/Newhouse Partnership, and their carriage deals are often tied to those of Time Warner Cable.
According to Reuters, Time Warner Cable announced on October 31 that they had lost 304,000 video subscribers in the third quarter of 2013 alone, blaming the mass customer exodus on the month-long blackout of CBS earlier this year. TWC management also indicated they were open to deals.
I have a great suggestion of a deal they can start with – offering Watch TCM to their subscribers.
UPDATE 12/10/13 5:30 PM (ET)
“We don’t have an agreement at this time, but we remain open to discussions with Turner,” Maureen Huff, Vice President of Public Relations for Time Warner Cable told me in an email message.
Source for M.V.P.D. subscriber data - National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
The following was originally posted on 11/6/13:
Today, Turner Classic Movies quietly debuted their long-awaited streaming service, accessible on the TCM.com website and via a newly designed smartphone and tablet app (for iPad, iPhone and Android phones). Dubbed Watch TCM, the service emulates TCM’s on-air feed, and adds a “second channel,” an online-only West Coast feed, for live streaming. This will allow viewers in the Pacific time zone to watch TCM’s primetime schedule in primetime, for the first time, albeit not on their TVs. (Unlike most national networks, TCM lacks an actual broadcast feed for West Coast viewers, though general manager Jeff Gregor announced at the TCM Film Festival in April that a second feed was under consideration.)
In addition, TCM will also offer full-length films on-demand for unlimited, commercial-free, online streaming – with on-air introductions from hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz (where extant). The network says “nearly every title playing on TCM is available to watch On Demand,” though, at launch, the service only appears to offer 65 selections at a given time, with a streaming window of seven days from the film’s most recent broadcast. For example, THE CONQUEROR WORM (1968) aired on the channel on November 1. Streaming access to that title expires on November 8. And, as titles cycle out of the availability window, new titles will cycle in. TCM says films will be available on-demand roughly three hours after airing “if we have the digital rights to play the movie.”
“We’re excited to bring TCM to you wherever you are,” Ben Mankiewicz says in a tutorial video embedded in the app and posted on the website’s help page. “We’ve created a one-of-a-kind classic movie environment with great films, in-depth information, hands-on content, and much more.”
With two different live TCM streams, as well as on-demand access to films you may have missed on-air – or want to watch again, for the 100th time – that’s certainly true.
But it’s not true for everyone. Watch TCM is available only to existing cable or satellite subscribers who already get TCM at home, and whose providers have chosen to participate. If you subscribe to Cox, Comcast Xfinity, Verizon FIOS, AT&T U-Verse, Cablevision’s Optimum, Dish Network, Charter, Suddenlink Communications, and a host of other smaller providers, you’re in. If you don’t, you’re not. (Sorry, cord-cutters.)
Conspicuous by its apparent absence from this list is Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second largest provider and a former sister company to TCM. (Time Warner Cable was spun off from parent Time Warner in 2009 and no longer has a corporate affiliation with Time Warner-owned channels, like TCM). For 12 million Time Warner customers, including me, Watch TCM is still an activity we can only engage in at home, on our TV sets. (At least, as of now.)
Predicting the questions that will likely arise from the launch of an application not all viewers can use, Mankiewicz leads viewers step-by-step through the authentication process on video, and consoles the unlucky few who will miss out (at least initially) on what is arguably the best thing to happen to classic film fans since TCM’s launch nearly two decades ago.
“Some of you may not see your TV service provider on our list. Unfortunately, that means we don’t currently support access to Watch TCM content for you at this time,” he says, gently breaking the bad news. “But, check back with us often, as we are adding new providers frequently.
After scrolling down the provider list one more time, just to be doubly sure Time Warner wasn’t perhaps mis-labeled as “Warner, Time” or “Place Where I Mail All My Disposable Income,” I clicked on “Provider Not Listed” and was greeted with this message:
“We’re sorry! Watch TCM is currently not available from your TV provider. We encourage you to contact your TV provider and demand Watch TCM to get access to our live feeds and feature films.” (Bolded text is my doing, not TCM’s.)
For those of a certain age who once called cable companies and yelled, “I want my MTV!” this may bring back some fond memories.
The message goes on to remind me and the other unlucky TCM fans whose cable providers have not yet negotiated streaming agreements with Turner Broadcasting that, “Even if you cannot access our feature films, Watch TCM Mobile is full of amazing content.”
And this is true. The mobile app will allow for access to the more than 10,000 assets in the TCMdb library, including photographs, movie posters, and more than 1,000 video clips that will available (not all at once, or course) for unrestricted viewing. There’s also a two-month schedule that allows users to set alert notifications, and a blog reader featuring links to fan-authored classic film sites, including favorites like Once Upon a Screen and The Classic Film & TV Café.
But the “killer app” in this app is the streaming, obviously. And, though it was originally due “Summer 2013,” it looks like it was worth the wait. TCM appears to have done streaming right, with an intuitive interface, stylish design, and the opportunity to customize your user experience. Available on-demand titles can be selected as thumbnail images or in a text list, with at-hand data on production information, duration, and date of availability expiration. There’s also an elegant home page, with all available titles collaged to form the image of a classic film star. On Day 1 it was Vivien Leigh, who is currently (posthumously) celebrating her centenary.
On-demand films on the website are categorized five ways: by title, actor, director, genre, or theme. Initial themes are tied to current (or recent) broadcast blocks such as THE STORY OF FILM (7 titles available at launch), the 100th birthday tribute to Vivien Leigh (6 films), TCM’s birthday salute to Gig Young (8 films), the selections from recent guest programmer Gilbert Gottfried (2 films), and weekly blocks like Friday Night Spotlight (3 screwball comedies) and the Sunday late night TCM Imports series (1 film). (Initially, in the smartphone version of the app, you can only select by title, genre, or theme.)
Users can also “subscribe” to favorite stars, add films to an electronic watchlist, get alerts when selected films become available on-demand, share links of entire films to social media sites, and buy the film on DVD or Blu-ray with a click-through to the TCM Shop. There’s also an opportunity to comment on the on-demand titles using a function TCM is calling “Fan Feed,” where viewers post using their Twitter or Facebook identities.
Today’s kickoff appears to have been a soft launch, considering that TCM has not issued an official announcement regarding the app or the availability of streaming functionality. I’m hoping this has to do with eleventh hour negotiations with Time Warner Cable, but that may just be wishful thinking on my part.
In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be looking for the phone number for Verizon.