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ActiveVideo CloudTV Guide October 2012

On the one hand, with more HTML5 program guides in the works, the TV UI is going to get a lot prettier and a lot more functional. On the other, if Dave’s ticked off now about the ads on his Panasonic Viera TV, just wait until these web-based guides really get going as new ad delivery platforms. In case you hadn’t noticed, television is going the way of the Internet. And that means aggressively targeted ads will soon be the norm.

We’ve still got a few years before the connected TV ad transition takes hold, but HTML5 guide development is already well underway. In addition to the NDS Snowflake guide at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo last week, I saw web-based UIs from ActiveVideo, Rovi and Arris. The first two were of ActiveVideo’s CloudTV interface, which is already deployed by Cablevision*, and the third was an ActiveVideo proof-of-concept VOD guide. The fourth was Rovi’s web-based guide, and the fifth and sixth were an HTML5 guide from Arris.

NDS Snowflake guide 1

The SCTE Cable-Tec Expos is an engineer’s show, but there are always a few hidden gems with broader appeal. One of them this year was the NDS HTML5 Snowflake guide. You can’t find it anywhere in the U.S. yet, but UPC has deployed it in the Netherlands with the new Horizon service. And now that NDS is part of Cisco, there may be a better chance that some version of Snowflake will end up with a cable, telco or satellite provider near you.

There are a few key things to know about Snowflake. First, even though it’s HTML5, it doesn’t have to run on an IP box. NDS creates an abstraction layer on top of existing set-top software to support the guide, which is actually hosted in the network. (A handful of other companies are doing this too now, by the way.) Second, while your set-top doesn’t have to be an IP box a la the AT&T U-verse model, the fact that the guide is IP-based means it runs on tablets and smartphones too. Third, in addition to the pretty UI, web-based guides like Snowflake can add in a whole lot of new information – think personalization, content recommendations, and eventually targeted advertising.

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Entone Magi cable TV gateway

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Entone, but the TV set-top company is ready to start raising its profile. Entone announced today that it’s introducing the Magi Hybrid CATV Media Gateway in conjunction with the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo show this week. The Magi is Entone’s first product specifically for cable, and it combines live TV, DVR and web-based video delivery under the FusionTV brand name

CEO Steve McKay says Magi boxes will ultimately come in multiple versions. A high-end Magi box will include many tuners, and full video transcoding capabilities in addition to DOCSIS, CableCARD, MoCA and Wi-Fi support. Lower-end boxes will skip the transcoding function and offer fewer tuners for a more basic service.

Interestingly, when I talked to McKay, he noted that Entone, which has traditionally focused solely on the IPTV space, would never have considered making cable hardware even a few years ago. He said that, “at that time it was suicide for a small company to compete with Motorola and Cisco.” Things have changed, however. McKay pointed out that cable networks are starting to look a lot more like telco networks, and that there’s huge uncertainty now about the two big set-top providers; Motorola because of the Google acquisition, and Cisco because of its greater focus on software with the purchase of NDS.

Entone Magi FusionTV interface for cable 1

Meanwhile, the entire pay-TV industry is finally starting to warm up to the idea of hybrid services, and to the reality of consumer demand for streaming video. Consider:

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Well that was fast. Within weeks of Anthony Wood prognosticating about virtual MSOs, Bloomberg reports that Dish is working on a new stripped-down TV package to be delivered over the Internet. According to the news agency, Dish is in talks with Viacom, Univision and Scripps. The satellite operator would also bundle broadcast content in with a new Internet-based service, much like Aereo is doing in New York City. There is no word/rumor yet on pricing except that the new offering would be cheaper than a standard pay-TV subscription.

It makes sense that an incumbent player would jump off the bench to offer a new Internet TV service, and that Dish would be one of the first to try it. Between its use of Sling tech and the introduction of the Hopper, Dish has become quite the stirrer of pots. Dish also partnered recently with Roku to offer Internet-based international content in an app for the retail streaming box. It’s likely Wood had more than a crystal ball handy when he suggested a virtual MSO service was on the way.

There are about a thousand and one implications to consider with the potential new Dish service, many of which we’ve covered here before. They include (but are not limited to):

Of course, Dish hasn’t announced anything yet. Could this be timed for a holiday launch? CES? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Verizon Fiox Media Server concept from Motorola

Now that the industry has come to grips with the fact that consumers want to watch TV on multiple screens, there’s growing momentum behind video gateways. (Gateways combine regular television with IP video, and allow users to share content across a home media network.) The big winner to date has been the Arris six-tuner super box, with customers including Shaw, Wide Open West and BendBroadband. However, there’s new confirmation that Verizon plans to launch a Motorola gateway, dubbed the FiOS Media Server, in the coming months.

I hear it’s likely we’ll only see a managed field trial of the Media Server before the end of the year, but at least Verizon is moving in the right direction. After early talk of porting FiOS TV to mobile devices, we’ve had precious little action from Verizon on the mobile access front. The new Media Server isn’t likely to allow placeshifting outside of a subscriber’s home network, but frankly I’d love just to be able to watch an NFL game on my iPad out on my porch, or upstairs while sorting the laundry.

As for what we know about the new box (which Dave first wrote about last December), it reportedly has six tuners and one terabyte of storage. There is an eSata port, but no word on whether that will be enabled or not. There’s also the ability to transcode up to four video streams for playback on different mobile devices.

Does Aereo Have a Back-Up Plan?

Mari Silbey —  September 17, 2012

Broadcasters aren’t giving up on shutting Aereo down. A new court brief filed on Friday has several programmers fighting a judge’s ruling this summer that Aereo is legally in the clear (for now) to continue operating. The new filing claims that the ruling ignores an existing statute which requires licensing payment “whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or different times.”

We’ve always known that Aereo has an uphill battle ahead of it, but one thing that’s occurred to me more recently is that the company may have a back-up plan. CEO Chet Kanojia was the star speaker at last week’s Multichannel cloud TV event, and I had a chance to ask him afterward if Aereo is working on an alternative business model in case the current one doesn’t work out. Kanojia was adamant that the company is only focused on the here and now, but he also agreed that there are other applications for Aereo’s technology. Personally, I wonder if Aereo’s tiny antennas and transcoding tech could be repurposed for something other than just broadcast content. The entire TV delivery system is changing after all. Could Aereo help other TV service companies move to a cloud-based distribution model?

It’s also interesting to note that Kanojia has serious street cred in the cable industry. He worked with Time Warner Cable on its Maestro solution. Maestro didn’t pan out, but Cablevision picked up the idea and ran with it for its RS-DVR service. So Kanojia is no stranger to this space.

5 phones walk into a bar…

Dave Zatz —  September 6, 2012

In case you missed it, a gaggle of smartphones was introduced yesterday — a trio of Motorola RAZR Android devices, and a pair of Nokia Windows Phone Lumia handsets. And they generally look pretty good (although it is somewhat perplexing that a Google-owned company can’t deliver the latest Google software). But without a single release date in sight, you have to wonder if these showy displays were simply meant to head off Apple’s iPhone 5 announcement next week.

From Moto’s press release

  • “available before the holidays”
  • “More details on timing and pricing will be made close to availability dates.”

From Nokia’s press release

Both phones will be available in pentaband LTE and HSPA+ variants and are expected to start shipping in select markets later in the year. Nokia will announce pricing and specific roll-out dates country by country when sales are due to begin.

Compare that to Apple’s likely approach of providing international pre-orders along with their product unveiling. Of course, being first to market doesn’t make you best. Just ask Apple who was arguably late to the smartphone party. But it seems no other company is in their league when it comes to launching a product. Continue Reading…