Archives For Broadband

Reuters dropped a veritable bombshell yesterday when it reported that Verizon has plans to launch a streaming service in 2012 to compete with Netflix. It wasn’t a bombshell because Verizon’s never talked about this before. After all, we got an inkling of the operator’s plans at CES last January. It was a bombshell because the report follows last week’s announcement of a major spectrum deal between the telco and its cable competitors. The combination of news has many speculating about what Verizon plans to do with its FiOS TV service, and all that fiber it’s got in the ground.

First off, here are some of the facts. Reuters says Verizon is currently in talks with prospective programming partners about a new standalone video service. The service would not be tied to FiOS TV, and it would be made available outside of existing FiOS markets. Sources for Reuters say content for the service would be limited, possibly focused on movie packages and/or children’s programming.

Assuming Reuters’ information is accurate, what we don’t know yet is how a new streaming service would fit into Verizon’s overall video and broadband strategy. Some are suggesting that Verizon is giving up on its wireline infrastructure in order to focus on wireless. After all, why not ride someone else’s pipes for video, and dedicate valuable internal resources on developing the company’s newly acquired spectrum? The problem with that theory is that Verizon’s wireline infrastructure – aka its fiber-to-the-home network – is a huge competitive advantage. Not only has it allowed the telco to sign up 5 million FiOS TV subscribers, it’s also given Verizon a huge leg up on cable with Internet delivery.

Going forward, I believe Verizon will use its proposed on-demand streaming service as a way to gain incremental revenue and fill the gaps where it can’t reach subscribers with its FiOS TV offering. It seems likely that the operator will market the new service with its wireless packages, possibly offering discounts for a different kind of bundle when consumers are willing to sign up for both cell phone coverage and streaming content. I believe the new service will buy Verizon new customers and a new revenue stream, but that it won’t negate the value of the company’s wireline assets. Instead, it will give Verizon time to sort out when it should invest in further fiber deployments, ultimately extending the footprint for its full FiOS TV and Internet service.

When it comes down to it, Verizon’s fiber network is the ace up its sleeve. All that bandwidth means better control over video quality, and it means more capacity for consumers who want to download and upload lots and lots of stuff on the Internet. Wireless networks are great, but they have their limitations. Verizon can focus on 4G rollouts now, but that doesn’t mean it should or will abandon any fiber plans for the future. There are too many advantages that come with Verizon’s network in the ground.

Time Warner Cable was the first operator to bring live TV to the iPad earlier this year (apart from Dish with its Sling solution), and now TWC has added an Android app to its arsenal. Multichannel News reports that TWC hit the Android market yesterday with an app that enables remote DVR programming, channel tuning, and filtered program searches. There’s just one catch. The Android app doesn’t include any video streaming. That’s right – no live or VOD content.

I got a glimpse of the new Time Warner app at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo earlier this month, and it looks pretty much like what you’d expect from a tablet-based TV guide today. However, the fact that there’s no video streaming is a big disappointment. Time Warner’s iPad app already confines live streaming to the boundaries of a subscriber’s home, but at least the service offers a simple in-house place-shifting option. The Android app’s limitations are more significant, and one has to wonder if they’re a result of the  legal battles Time Warner is currently fighting over streaming rights. Viacom took Time Warner Cable to court in March over its iPad app, and TWC pulled several channels from the service as a result. Negotiations and judicial debates are ongoing.

For those who are still interested, the new Time Warner Cable Android app is available to all subscribers running the “Navigator” program guide on their set-tops. The app has specifically been certified for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the Motorola Xoom, but it’s designed to run on any Honeycomb tablet.

UPDATE: Richard Lawler points out that TWC says it will bring live streaming to Android with Ice Cream Sandwich. Stay tuned.

Microsoft Xbox Fios TV live streaming

Verizon has a press release out today detailing plans for the launch of its FiOS TV service on the Microsoft Xbox. The service is still listed as “coming soon,” but all reports suggest general availability will happen before the end of the year.

It’s worth noting again that the new Xbox content (Microsoft is also partnering with Comcast) isn’t representative of a major shift in TV distribution models. Users still have to be subscribers of FiOS TV and Internet service to get access to the new Xbox FiOS app. However, it does illustrate how the shift to IP delivery is slowly taking place. Verizon currently delivers its VOD service over IP to subscriber set-tops, but its live television streaming happens over a QAM-based system. Several cable operators have started to deliver linear TV over IP to mobile devices, but although it was one of the first MSOs to promote the idea, Verizon still only has VOD content available for mobile viewing. I believe the Xbox app marks the first live TV streaming over IP that Verizon has introduced. Continue Reading…

Everyone wants in on the EPG business. That’s one of the conclusions I took away from the SCTE Cable Tec-Expo event earlier this month. Even as CE manufacturers are pumping up the volume on connected devices with their own video interfaces, vendors in the cable TV world are pushing a range of solutions that tie the electronic program guide into larger content management systems for pay-TV operators. I talked about Rovi’s TotalGuide EPG a couple weeks back, and there’s Arris’ Moxi guide, but those two are far from the only players in this game. Here’s a sample of three other companies touting their own guide solutions.

Clearleap

Clearleap is perhaps better known in the world of Internet delivery than it is in the cable industry, but the company is rapidly carving out a niche among MSOs. Speaking with CTO John Carlucci at the SCTE event, I learned that Clearleap has a hosted, white-label guide on the market, and that it offers media services to help operators manage, encode and deliver video to connected devices. Clearleap’s solutions are strictly IP-based, but they’re already being used by Verizon for its VOD platform, and Carlucci says the company’s in trials with “four of the top five” operators for its media services. As for the guide specifically, Clearleap’s solution could be a compelling one for tier-2 and tier-3 operators. The service runs on a pay-as-you-go model, and Clearleap is rapidly adding advanced features. The company recently integrated with Great Lakes Data Systems (GLDS) to add options for a-la-carte transactions that are tied back to a subscriber’s monthly cable bill. (Think additional IP content purchases on top of the monthly subscription) Carlucci says social features are on the way. Orbitel, a small cableco out of Arizona, launched the Clearleap/GLDS solution in October to create a branded VOD experience on subscriber Roku boxes.

Motorola

Motorola showed up with a reference EPG back at the Cable Show in 2010, but that’s as far as the company had ventured into the guide world until this fall. Continue Reading…

Back in September I heard from a source that Starz was not only pulling its content from Netflix, but also planning an app on the HBO Go model. Now we have confirmation from Starz President Chris Albrecht that a mobile app is on the roadmap for 2012. Not only that, but Albrecht said at an investor conference in New York yesterday that Starz is also open to offering a service not tied to a cable TV subscription. This may be a warning shot at operators who are blocking HBO Go on the Roku. If premium content providers like Starz and HBO can’t count on their operator partners to get their content to every paying audience, then they have to look at other distribution options.

On the other side of the coin, I have serious questions about Starz’s ability to go it alone. One option Albrecht reportedly mentioned at yesterday’s conference would be to bundle Starz with a broadband connection rather than with cable TV. But I think Starz would need to offer a pretty sweet deal to make that attractive. Does Starz really have enough desirable content for consumers to pay for the content by itself? The a-la-carte model always sounds good, but it would get expensive awfully quick. And there are only a few channels with enough cache to get consumers pulling out their wallets. ESPN and HBO could maybe pull it off, but Starz? I’m skeptical.

Meanwhile, Albrecht did say that Starz is also in discussions with other distributors like Amazon.com and Blockbuster, even if it’s through with Netflix.

Moxi Guide 1

Some of us still mourn the days when Digeo could have launched a credible retail DVR product with its Moxi box, but at least the technology hasn’t gone away. After Arris’ acquisition of Digeo in late 2009, we finally saw the deal bear fruit earlier this year when the company rolled out its Moxi set-tops with Shaw in Canada and BendBroadband in Oregon. Now, product manager Paul Palermo says there’s more in store for the re-branded Moxi Whole Home Solution. Arris will soon make an SDK available so that cable operators can take advantage of the Moxi Gateway’s IP connectivity to deliver their own apps to the TV. In the near future, Palermo says that there will be web browser capabilities in the gateway as well, though whether operators choose to use them is another question entirely.

Lots of cable operators are creating their own apps these days, so it’s no real surprise that hardware suppliers are trying to facilitate the jump from tablets and smartphones to the TV. Initially, though, the cable operators using the Moxi solution are only marketing it as a whole-home DVR. That’s a relatively easy sell for subscribers, who now know what whole-home DVR is, and why they should want it.

Meanwhile, Arris also has the Moxi UI going for it. Cable companies can brand the guide at will, but the interface is recognizable from the Digeo days. Big cablecos will still build their own EPGs of course, but smaller ones are generally happy to let someone else do the heavy lifting. Check out the photos below (shot on site at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo) to see some shiny new updates to pics of the Moxi guide.

Rovi TotalGuide 1

It’s the start of the SCTE Cable Tec-Expo in Atlanta, which means you’re going to see a lot of cable news over the next two days. Among the vendor announcements, Rovi’s put out two customer releases related to the company’s TotalGuide EPG solutions. BlueRidge Communications is now using the white label version of Rovi’s TotalGuide xD application for smartphones and tablets (think Comcast iPad web app, but built by Rovi), and Buckeye Communications is rolling out the TotalGuide on its advanced set-tops.

This may not sound like exciting news, but it is when you consider that Rovi is bringing Internet-sourced content to the cable TV guide experience. Features include an HD interface, unified search, and “six-degree discovery” recommendations linking related content via cast and crew, awards, similar programs and more. When I spoke to Rovi VP Sharon Metz last week, she mentioned that Buckeye specifically is delivering Internet-based guide data using the DOCSIS modem in Motorola and Pace set-tops. Now there may be other applications using that set-top Internet connection by now, but this is the first consumer app I’ve heard of that takes advantage of that connectivity. (We’ll talk about what’s happening on Arris gateways another time.) Rovi’s got other customers on the roster too. This year the company’s announced TotalGuide EPG deals with BendBroadband, Armstrong, Suddenlink and Charter Communications.