Cable television leaders look to Net, wireless

Executives at some of the largest media companies said Thursday that they're willing to offer cable programs on the Internet and mobile devices for free to people who already subscribe to cable or satellite — at least on a test basis.

"There's a middle ground that we're trying to follow," Viacom viab CEO Philippe Dauman said. "You get incremental (payoff) if you do it right." Ratings for Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart "continue to rise although it's one of the most downloaded and streamed shows that we have."

Time Warner twx CEO Jeffrey Bewkes introduced his TV Everywhere concept last month, and it has grabbed the imaginations of cable leaders here this week for the industry's annual trade show. Up to now, many programmers feared that putting shows online would alienate cable operators who pay hefty fees for channels.

"We're just saying that if you use the Internet for free, you should just get what you've already got in your home," Bewkes said in a panel discussion. "We ought to be taking the ad model from cable networks and move it to broadband."

Disney dis CEO Bob Iger, in a speech earlier in the day, seemed open to taking a more relaxed approach to the Web. "Preventing people from watching any shows online, unless they subscribe to some multichannel service, could be viewed as both anti-consumer and anti-technology and would be something we would find difficult to embrace."

He added, though, that if online usage can be limited to existing cable and satellite subscribers, then "streaming full networks online would be an interesting and potentially compelling feature for consumers, and we are certainly open to exploring that possibility."

In other developments:

•News Corp. nws CEO Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, said that newspapers soon will have to stop offering their stories online for free. "Everyone's looking at new models," he said. "The first inkling is the Kindle (Amazon's popular e-book). What we're investing in and others are investing in, is a bigger panel that looks like a real newspaper in four colors. If people really want to read things on screens, that's a very viable thing."

•Cable executives say that holding their trade show here has helped awaken lawmakers to the industry's broadband services. "Some views of cable aren't based on what the industry is today," Cox cci President Pat Esser said. "Telemedicine is happening. With education, we want to move into the classroom and the home."

More than 100 members of Congress visited the show, including Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va.; Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; and Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Many industry initiatives are "hard to talk about but easy to see," Comcast cmcsa Executive Vice President David Cohen said.