Time Warner Cable’s Sling rebate: Broadband push or broadcast dig?

Time Warner Cable (s TWC) will soon unveil a new promotion that will give rebates for SlingBoxes to its Wideband high-speed Internet customers. In a story first reported by the New York Times, the cable operator said it will subsidize the cost of the $300 set-top boxes. That will not only provide an incentive for users to sign up for the $99 a month broadband service, but it also gives Time Warner Cable a way to offer its TV “everywhere” — without signing deals with the networks to stream their programming online.

EchoStar’s (s SATS) SlingBox allows users to stream live and pre-recorded videos to remote web browsers and a growing number of mobile devices. The set-top box, which has been sold directly to consumers for years, is finally getting more support from service providers. The Time Warner Cable promotion follows the release of a Sling-enabled DVR being offered by EchoStar’s sister corporation and satellite TV provider Dish Network.

Time Warner Cable is making a big push behind high-speed Internet services, with CEO Glenn Britt telling the Wall Street Journal that it’s beginning to think of broadband as its “anchor service.” That push makes sense, particularly as more traditional video subscribers flee the operator.

Over the last several years, while Time Warner Cable has seen a gradual decline in video subscribers, its broadband users have grown. In the second quarter, for instance, video subscribers declined to 12.1 million from 12.7 million a year before. In the same period, the number of people paying for broadband increased from 9.3 million to 9.7 million subscribers.

Giving away a SlingBox for free could provide an incentive for more high-speed Internet customers to upgrade to the Wideband service, which provides a 50 Mbps connection to the Internet. But priced at $99 a month, it’s a pricy step up from Time Warner’s standard 10 Mbps broadband service, which is priced at $29.99 a month.

Not only will the rebate promote its top-tier Internet service, but it could also create some leverage with cable and broadcast networks as Time Warner Cable negotiates carriage fees and rights to distribution of content online. Having a Slingbox will enable Time Warner Cable subscribers to access live and DVR content wherever they are — without the operator having to negotiate TV Everywhere rights to that content.

Time Warner Cable has been aggressive in its efforts to make its programming available to subscribers on a number of devices. The strategy, according to Time Warner Cable Director of Digital Communications Jeff Simmermon, is to make “any content available any time, on any device, anywhere.”

Earlier this year, it launched an app that allows subscribers to stream live shows on an iPad, as long as they’re connected to their home network. That caused a bit of a rift with programmers like Viacom, (s VIA) which sued the cable operator over rolling out the app without securing new rights to its content.

At the same time, Time Warner Cable has been slower than some operators to strike deals with networks to give its subscribers access to TV Everywhere services. While it was the first to make ESPN (s DIS) available for streaming online and on devices like the iPad, it has yet to make a deal for HBO Go content.

As more cable networks and broadcasters like Fox (s NWS) seek higher fees in exchange for broadband and mobile access to their content online and on mobile devices, Time Warner Cable subscribers could use their Slingboxes to get around those restrictions and access the same content anywhere, live or on demand.

Photo courtesy of (CC BY 2.0) Flickr user Fred von Lohmann.