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In a move that points to more direct competition between cable companies and Internet services like Google, Time Warner Cable has begun rolling out TransMedia's Glide media sharing, productivity, and storage service to its 7.4 million Road Runner residential customers.
Alex Dudley, Time Warner Cable's VP of public relations, said he was unable to comment.
However, a customer of Road Runner, Time Warner Cable's Internet access provider, provided InformationWeek with access to a Road Runner-branded Glide account to confirm the arrangement.
TransMedia representatives also declined to comment. But when the company launched in November 2005, there was talk about offering Glide as a white-label service to cable and telecom companies.
TransMedia's deal with Time Warner Cable represents a major validation of the New York-based startup's Glide service, which prior to this partnership had about 600,000 users. It also suggests more such deals could come.
Glide is a media-sharing, communications, productivity, and file-storage service that runs on compatible Web browsers using Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows, and on dozens of mobile devices. It provides something in between cloud and desktop computing.
Now in its third iteration, Glide 3.0 offers online applications (free and paid plans) for photo editing, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, e-mail, collaboration, video and text chat meetings, scheduling, contact management, file synchronization, video and music playback, slide shows, and assorted widgets.
And now millions of Road Runner customers have access to these tools as well.
Because ISPs sit upstream from Internet companies like Google, they have the first opportunity to sell services to new Internet service customers. If Road Runner's customers choose to use Glide, they may see no need for similar browser-based applications offered by Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo.
Comcast has been at the forefront of efforts by cable companies to diversify into Internet services. It owns social network Plaxo, a white-label online video service called thePlatform, and online video-sharing site Fancast, among other Internet properties.
Comcast on Wednesday rolled out its DOCSIS 3.0 wideband network. The company's wideband Internet service offers connection speeds of up to 50 Mbps. But what's equally noteworthy is that Comcast is offering its business-class customers Microsoft Communications Services -- e-mail, calendaring, and document sharing.
Over time, Comcast might well expand its relationship with Microsoft, which presumably would be happy to keep users of online applications away from Google Apps.
If Time Warner Cable's deal with TransMedia is followed by other partnerships or acquisitions, the cable company could start looking a lot more like Comcast -- using Internet partnerships and investments to enhance customer loyalty and perhaps to hedge against the unsettling possibility that pay TVs days are numbered.
Time Warner Cable has been held back, suggested Cynthia Brumfield, president of media consultancy Emerging Media Dynamics, by the lack of synergy with its content-oriented parent company, Time Warner. But Time Warner Cable is set to be spun out as an independent company next year, and Brumfield sees that as an opportunity for growth.
Brumfield said that while "no cable company would want to take on Google on its own turf," the cable companies have reason to look to partners that could help them bypass Google.
Time Warner's deal with TransMedia looks like a large step in that direction.
Dudley, however, said there wasn't any core shift in Time Warner Cable strategy toward content creation. He said he expected the company would continue to pursue partnerships.
"We want to provide our Road Runner customers with an excellent experience," he said. "Doing that means we have to live up to certain expectations they may have about service we should have. If in the process that helps us generate some revenue, that's good."