Home Why the iPad is Big Cable’s Secret Weapon Against Its Own Irrelevance

Why the iPad is Big Cable’s Secret Weapon Against Its Own Irrelevance

We’ve been hearing it for a few years now. With the proliferation of Web video and the continued improvement of its quality, the cable business is totally screwed. Many of the most popular shows are streamed on Hulu or the network’s website the next day and if you never get around to checking out a buzzed-about series, it’s okay. The entire thing will be on Netflix before you know it. There’s a small but growing contingent of cord-cutters, as well as a new generation of those who just won’t ever subscribe to cable in the first place.

They may not like to publicly admit it, but cable company executives realize that this looming threat is real, even if it’s not overwhelming just yet. That’s why they’ve taken a series of defensive measures to ensure they they don’t get left in the dust. Lately, it’s the iPad and tablets in general that are serving as big cable’s next battleground for the attention of consumers.

As much television content as people can manage to find online, one thing they can’t easily get their hands on without pirating it is new episodes of HBO shows, many of which are wildly popular. Thanks to HBO’s established relationship with cable companies, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Even the premium channel’s beloved iPad requires a cable subscription to access. No, you can’t sign up for an HBO Go account and pay $20 per month to watch “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire.” You have to have cable.

This week, Showtime joined its premium cable channel competitor in this space by launching its Showtime Anytime app for the iPad. The application offers access to the channel’s library of original content but, again, you need to be signed up for Verizon FiOS or AT&T’s U-Verse to access it.

Cable behemoth Comcast has wasted no time expanding its online and mobile offerings under its XFinity brand (formerly Fancast). Most recently, the company launched a pilot program for something called AnyPlay, which will let subscribers stream live TV to their iPad or Motorola Xoom tablet. This enables people to tune in from anywhere in their home, even if somebody else in the household is currently watching a different program on the bigger screen. This is something the company started testing out last year in an effort to one-up online streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix.

Offerings like this make a cable subscription much more convenient and worthwhile to certain consumers, despite its rising prices and the existence of a host of Web-only content alternatives. For now cable companies retain the upper hand, with millions of subscribers and increasingly aggressive innovation designed to help it avoid the fate of other pre-Web media industries. Whether these efforts succeed in the long run remains to be seen. If not, there’s always money to be made in selling access to the Internet itself.

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