Harvard students get all the best television without a television: on any given day at any given hour they can open up their laptops and watch HBO without paying a cent for a cable package—it's the streaming TV dream in action. Because Harvard is paying for a service called Tivli, which debuted last summer, the Ivy Leaguers can burn through HBO's Girls, Game of Thrones, and a bunch of other cable TV content for free, according to Bloomberg's Alex Sherman. And if that sounds like exactly the kind of programming program every other college student person in America would love, that's because it is. Unfortunately, the ultimate student streaming model doesn't sound like it's built for the rest of us.
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Cable companies like Time Warner Cable specifically partner with Tivli and universities because college is full of all those scary cord-nevers who don't pay for TV in school (because their bank accounts aren't built for cable bills) and might never ever pay for it as a result. TWC hopes to get them addicted while they're young, as The New York Times's Brian Stelter reported last summer: "We think people just want TV delivered to them in a convenient way, whether it’s in their dorm or on computers, tablets and mobile," Christopher Thorpe Tivli's president told Stelter. "People who are getting what they want won’t cut the cord." While the Tivli package only provides some of cable's wonders — all those March Madness channels and the NFL Network and HBO, to name a few — it focuses on the stuff that these cable companies think college kids will want. "HBO," writes Sherman at Reuters today," sees Tivli as a way to directly market its programming to college students." The idea is that young consumers will learn to love the stuff they'll have to pay for on, say, Time Warner Cable some day, instead of learning to torrent too much or go an pay for Hulu Plus when they graduate.
But that's flawed thinking. Harvard students aren't really paying for the cord; Harvard is. When they get out into the real world of bills, will they want to add a bloated cable package that requires a television and includes lots of channels they don't want? Probably not. Not to mention that a lot of cable companies don't have nice computer friendly interfaces. Some don't even offer much in the department of streaming content. If anything, the Time Warners of the world have accustomed these budding money-makers to the kind of television eco-system that it fears most: one that provides only the right kind of TV in all the right places, and none of the flab. These kids better enjoy the set-up while it lasts because—especially with Spotify getting into the video game—it's a harsh, cruel cable world out there. But, hey, maybe they'll like the free DVR.