Netflix Is The TV Content War's New Battleground

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If we're headed toward a la carte television, as my colleague Rocco Pendola has suggested on multiple occasions this week, guess who's going to get stuck with the bigger bills?

No, not cable and satellite customers who get to structure their offerings lists as DirecTV, Comcast, Verizon and others tell content providers like Fox, Viacom, Disney, AMC and The Weather Channel to take their fee complaints walking. There won't be any more back-and-forth between service and content providers or nasty blackouts mixed with snippy commercials. If television goes a la carte, the viewers are going to set the prices themselves based solely on demand.

Nope, the only way content providers are going to be able to jack up their fees and squeeze more money out of deals for their shows is to target the one company in the room that will still be doling out cash for such things: Netflix. The company's recent deal with Comcast for bandwidth and the potential for similar payouts to Verizon and others left Netflix's big, fat wallet sticking out of its back pocket. As most of the content providers already know, Netflix has been robbed by their like before.

This is a company that isn't terribly opposed to making painful compromises for the sake of content. It locked in Disney to an exclusivity deal, sure, but it let exclusive content deals with Epix and Starz slip away to make that happen. It hammered out agreements with Warner Brothers and Sony half a decade ago, but gave away the right to rent or stream anything resembling a new release from either of them.

With the cable and satellite providers in no mood to negotiate soaring fees and Fox, Time Warner and Comcast's own NBC Sports building sports ecosystems to rival that of ESPN and its $5.50-a-month flagship station, the content providers are losing any semblance of leverage they once held.

Except where Netflix is concerned. That company is still concerned with locking in exclusive content and warding off advances by Amazon, bumbling network joint venture Hulu Plus and Verizon's still tiny Redbox Instant collection.

While cable and satellite companies can drop the redundant Weather Channel and a whole bunch of niche networks without batting an eyelash, Netflix would be in serious trouble if its viewers suddenly were unable to binge watch the last episodes of Mad Men or couldn't catch up with the all of CBS' How I Met Your Mother before its season finale.

Netflix has built its streaming service around two core strengths: Television series and children's programming. The movies are nice, but rarely are they exclusive to Netflix and seldom do they stick around for a year or more. By contrast, viewers have just as much access to back episodes of Scrubs and Cheers as they had two years ago and have Disney content joining a network already stocked with DreamWorks, Nickelodeon and PBS kiddie offerings.

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