The blurry divisions among cable TV, content companies and the Internet got a little blurrier Wednesday. But some basic boundaries remain.
The Wednesday deal under which
programming will appear on
high-speed Internet portal isn't just a sign that Disney's Michael Eisner can forgive and forget the mercilessly timed, unwelcome takeover bid that Comcast attempted earlier this year.
The transaction illustrates Comcast's ongoing efforts to build up a package of Internet-based programming, similar to how it has assembled a lineup of video programming over the years for its cable TV customers.
It also illustrates -- to a limited extent -- the inexorable march that television is taking from a medium that operates on its own schedule toward a medium that viewers program on their own schedule.
That progression is speeded up by the popularity of high-speed Internet connections to the home -- spearheaded by Comcast, both the nation's largest provider of broadband home Internet and its largest operator of cable TV systems.
And yet the progression is slowed by broadcasters' unwillingness to fiddle with the advertising-supported, network-scheduled broadcasting business that has been chugging along for decades, no matter how loudly companies like Comcast might be announcing that we're moving to a video-on-demand world.
Putting that video on demand on an increasing video-capable computer screen rather than the living room TV, it would appear, is a compromise that cable operators and broadcasters can easily agree on.
On Wednesday, Disney's shares fell 23 cents to $23.67, and Comcast's fell 12 cents to $28.23.
In a separate deal announced Wednesday, Comcast traded stock in
that it had received when it sold its stake in the QVC home shopping network to Liberty, in return receiving $545 million in cash, certain programming assets and the settlement of a legal dispute with Liberty over fees Liberty alleged Comcast owed it.
Under the terms of the Comcast-ABC agreement -- which the companies termed "one of the industry's most comprehensive broadband content distribution deals to date" -- Comcast will offer its Internet customers a variety of programming from Disney-owned ABC News, accessible on-demand through Comcast's Comcast.net portal, on a delayed basis. That will include segments from World News Tonight, 20/20 and other shows, and the full broadcast of Nightline, each episode available the morning after it airs.
Comcast.net subscribers will also receive, for free, the live, streaming Webcast service ABC News Live. Launched more than a year ago, the news service -- which, among other programming, will offer more extensive convention coverage than the ABC broadcast network -- is elsewhere priced at $4.95 a month on a stand-alone basis.
For children, Comcast will be offering a mix of online games, activities and video from Disney -- some free to Comcast Internet subscribers and some to be offered on a premium basis.
Comcast.net already offers video programming from other news and entertainment sources, such as clips from CNBC's television broadcasts and a mixture of free and premium Major League Baseball coverage.
While Comcast and Disney are enthusiastic about these Internet-based offerings, broadcasters have been more reluctant to offer up programming for TV-based video on demand, fearing erosion of advertising revenues. To drive that point home, Comcast exec Steve Burke last month told reporters an anecdote about
an unsuccessful pitch he made to former
president Mel Karmazin in an effort to get CBS and Nickelodeon content for Comcast's VOD service.