ESPN offers live TV streaming over iPad, iPhone

While some cable TV channels are paranoid about the iPad and live streaming, ESPN is fully embracing it.

The leading sports entertainment network has launched an app called WatchESPN, which gives users untethered, live access to ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU, as well as the Web channel It’s available now for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

But before you get too excited, this app does not let you cut out the middle man (the cable company), as it’s only accessible to customers who have an existing cable TV account with Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, or Verizon Fios.

The idea of offering TV channels to consumers directly has been flirted with before, but most shy away from it so as not to upset the cable and satellite providers, which pay for a good chunk of their revenue.

In other words, cable and satellite carriers don’t seem to be at too much risk because they are highly institutional companies. The bigger story that is emerging is the reaction of individual TV networks to the online streaming phenomenon.

For example, Time Warner Cable launched an iPad app that lets users stream live TV, but only if they have a TWC account and TWC-powered Internet. The app only works if users are in their own home and connected to their TWC Internet connection. It’s very restricted.

Nevertheless, Viacom is outraged and demanded Time Warner remove its channels from the iPad app. Viacom would be an example of a company that is not embracing this digital streaming movement.

It’s the completely opposite case for ESPN, which sees a lot of value in it.