By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES, May 30 (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co plans as early as next week to launch a mobile application to let Comcast Corp cable TV subscribers watch the Disney Channel on the go, Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger told investors on Wednesday.
Comcast customers will be the first to make use of the app, which would be similar to Disney’s WatchESPN service, which allows cable subscribers to receive ESPN programs on mobile devices, Iger told a conference sponsored by securities firm Sanford C. Bernstein.
The service would be limited at the outset to subscribers of Comcast, who would be “authenticated” to access the family friendly channel through their TV subscriptions.
The cable industry calls mobile services “TV Everywhere” and see them as key to keeping subscribers from dropping their service and opting instead for online programming.
Iger said Disney is launching on Comcast first because the cable company secured expanded TV rights as part of an agreement in January to renew a 10-year contract to carry the Disney Channel, ESPN and other channels.
WatchESPN was first offered by Time Warner Cable Inc , Iger said. In early May, Comcast began offering the sports service for mobile and online use to most of its 22 million TV subscribers, which increased the number of people with the capability to receive it to about 40 million.
Iger said Disney also intended eventually to offer apps for some of its other TV properties, including its ABC network and ABC Family cable channel, but did not say when those would be available.
The CEO of the largest U.S. entertainment conglomerate also criticized satellite operator Dish Networks Corp and its “Hopper” DVR.
Iger said the new device, which allows viewers to skip TV commercials from network programs, “is harmful to the broadcast industry.”
It “has a bit of the feeling of biting the hand that feeds you,” Iger told the investor conference.
Dish introduced its Hopper DVR on May 10, which gives its subscribers the option to use “AutoHop” technology to record and watch network programs the following day, without advertising.
Iger did not say whether Disney, ABC’s parent company, intended to join lawsuits filed by the parent companies of CBS , News Corp’s Fox and Comcast’s NBC to stop the service. The three contend in separate lawsuits that Hopper deprives networks of the means to fund programs that Dish transmits.
Dish has counter sued, arguing that its customers pay for network programming through fees the satellite operator pays to the networks to carry them.
Although he did not mention the lawsuit specifically, Iger said “he was confident in our position legally.”
“You have to question what (the Dish ad-skipping service) does to the ability to invest in programming,” Iger added. “They don’t seem to care about that.”