Tomorrow morning Charter Communications will announce a redesigned version of Charter.net, the company's portal for its broadband Internet subscribers. I got a sneak preview of the press release and the new site along with a briefing with Himesh Bhise, VP &GM of High-Speed Internet for Charter, who oversees the portal.
According to Himesh, this redesign is the first key milestone for three main themes the company is pursuing for its portal: improved functionality and feature accessibility on its home page, increased video availability and more extensive TV listings.
I'm impressed with the direction Charter's taking. Charter's goals of enhancing the value of its bundle of video and online services is right on the money. I've said for a while that cable operators are potentially going to be the biggest beneficiaries of broadband video because they already have longstanding relationships with cable TV networks and video consumers, plus a huge base of broadband subscribers (Charter has over 2.5 million).
Charter's in synch with this thinking. They've done deals with a range of partners from biggies like Nickelodeon, HBO and FX to smaller ones like IFC, ResearchChannel.org and HAVOC. Charter's bringing selected video clips into its portal and will also offer some exclusive premieres of certain programming. Other cable operators like Comcast, Time Warner and Cablevision are already down this road with similar activities. Charter's initiatives add further momentum to this trend.
While I'm a fan of these moves, I would love to see the cable guys step up their broadband video activities even further. For example, Himesh and I engaged in an interested mini-debate about the definition and value of "exclusive" broadband programming. To me there's an terrific opportunity for cable operators to negotiate and obtain the broadband rights, at least for a defined window, for certain programs exclusively for their Internet subscribers. This would mean their subscribers get video they just can't get elsewhere. (Btw, that's kind of the way the cable TV world used to work until Congress stepped in with the "program access rules" in the '92 Cable Act).
Some kind of exclusive broadband programming would differentiate cable's portals from the Joosts and other next-gen broadband aggregators coming into the market. I think it's inevitable we're going to see some jousting for these kinds of rights, especially as things get more competitive.