TW Cable, Cablevision iPad plays push content-owners' buttons, and that's good

Jim O'NeillNAB is just around the corner, and it'll be interesting to see what dominates chat on the floor and at the, let's just call it "the water cooler," after the close of the show each evening.

At last year's show, I brought my new Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad that had arrived the Saturday before I flew out to Vegas. I was a minor deity on the flight out, as fellow cattle, flight attendants and even one of the pilots dropped by to oogle the iPad. I'm pretty sure it was the only iPad on the flight to Vegas. Interest on the show floor was almost as universal. It sparked conversations whenever I pulled it out and was such a good ice breaker that I took to carrying it outside my bag... people would just stop me and ooh and ahh over it. On my way to Streaming Media West last month, I wasn't the the only one on the plane to San Jose with an iPad; I wasn't even the only one in my row.

I traded my original iPad for the promise of an iPad 2 two weeks ago at a Best Buy. I'm still waiting for my iPad 2, and I haven't been able to check out either Time Warner Cable's (NYSE:TWC) new iPad Play or the beefed up Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) Live TV iPad app, which have hit the streets with a bang.

Which brings us right back to NAB and what I think is going to be a constant topic of conversation: Content and the desire by pay-TV operators, and the content industry, to get more content in front of more eyes... and what role the iPad (and other tablets) play.

Both Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have run dead into the content-owner buzz kill--threats of lawsuits and claims that service providers don't have the rights to push content to devices like the iPad; even when, as Cablevision was so careful to do, they call iPads what they really are in many people's hands, additional television screens. TWC and Cablevision made sure content couldn't be watched outside a subscribers' home, and they took pains to make sure only authenticated subscribers could access content. It hasn't been enough for content owners, who generally have been very reluctant to push forward.

TWC launched its iPad app with 32 channels, it dropped a dozen after a few uttered the "L-word," lawsuit, then convinced more than two dozen other content owners to throw in with their initiative.

Cablevision, as it is, wont according to CEO Jimmy Dolan, who said "to hell with lawsuits" and rolled out almost its entire service on the iPad; almost 300 live channels and more than 2,000 pieces of VoD content. The MSO has said it will continue to add VOD content until it's all available. It's audacious, and I love the company for its willingness to brave the pitchforks of the content owners. And yes, I know, the lawsuits and threats are coming, but it's going to be interesting to see how Cablevision, which has had its share of run ins with content owners in the past, handles the batch that comes from this play.

TWC and Cablevision's aggressive push onto the iPad does, however, raise another question: When will AT&T's (NYSE:T) U-verse and Verizon's (NYSE:VZ) FiOS TV services roll out their own live TV iPad apps? Remember that Verizon teased a live TV app to the iPad back in August (which seems like years, instead of months, ago). Calling it a "software set-top box" and promising to initially keep viewers tethered to their home service didn't seem to appease content owners then, either. There were rumblings of goings on at AT&T, but they--so far--haven't materialized.

TWC and Cablevision are pushing buttons, and that's a good thing. I only hope they manage to keep pressing the ones labeled "Go," and not "Stop." Oh, and I still miss my iPad. -Jim