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HBO, Sony reportedly look for special streaming deals with ISPs

Richard Lawler, @Rjcc
March 19, 2015
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According to the Wall Street Journal, as TV services shift from the traditional outlets (antenna, cable, satellite) to the internet big names like HBO, Showtime and Sony are worried about their services running into congestion and bandwidth caps. A possible way around that, is negotiating with ISPs to have their content delivered as a "managed service", like cable-provided phone service and video on-demand. If you're thinking "isn't that what net neutrality was supposed to stop?" you're not alone -- Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch is quoted calling the potential setup a "mockery" of the rules that will go into effect soon. Even Comcast is reportedly leery of running afoul of the regulations, and it's the one that already got into a dust-up with Netflix a couple of years ago by doing exactly this with its TV app on the Xbox 360.

The idea is that ISPs might be able to bundle streaming services with their internet packages and also take a cut of the revenue, but in past years negotiations over that kind of split haven't resulted in a deal. Add on the fact that customers have repeatedly and vocally come out against anything that would turn internet service into the same kind of bundle deal we've seen on cable TV, plus regulatory pressure and outcry from competing services, and it seems even more unlikely. According to WSJ sources, even some cable executives claim setting up such an arrangement could cost "hundreds of millions" for a single company. Whether or not the media companies would pay straight up for the arrangement hasn't been confirmed.

The issue remains: more HD video is about to get squeezed through connections, and avoiding annoying "buffering" or "out of bandwidth" messages could require some creative solutions. Netflix has tried to address this with its Open Connect system, but that's just one service and it's not linked up to every ISP, while T-Mobile has given certain music services relief from bandwidth cap restrictions with the Music Freedom package. The possibility of someone making one of these assuredly-controversial deals for video, for now, will land on the net neutrality to-do list, just like the anticipated lawsuits from industry groups.

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