Archives For Industry

I continue to be fascinated by Yahoo’s  persistence in the connected TV market. Earlier this week, the company announced an expanded, multi-year partnership with Samsung to keep the Yahoo Broadcast Interactivity platform front and center on Samsung TVs. Even while Yahoo’s smart TV features and widgets have failed inspire much interest from consumers, the company is still doggedly pursuing a position in the living room. And it just might have a long-term strategy that works.

Yahoo’s TV play isn’t aimed at consumers. It’s all about advertising, and getting a platform embedded in connected TVs now for future applications. The consumer electronics guys know they need a platform, and by and large they also know they have to find experienced partners to implement one. Yahoo fits the bill, and it has the added benefit of not being as threatening as, say, Google or Apple from a partnership perspective.

That said, Yahoo isn’t the only game in town. Its biggest direct competitor may be Rovi, which is aggressively targeting the CE market and has its own deals in place with Samsung,  Sony and Toshiba. Yahoo and Rovi don’t offer the same features and functions, but they are both going after the same valuable territory in the connected TV market. Count the new Samsung deal as a win for Yahoo’s side.

Right in the middle of Halloween and Hurricane Sandy, my new report for GigaOM Pro on the future of the electronic program guide (EPG) went live last week.

If you’re a subscriber, you can read the whole write-up including market trends, recent technology innovations, company details and predictions for the future. If you’re not, have no fear.  As promised, GigaOM is kindly allowing me to publish an excerpt here. Drop me a line if you have any thoughts, questions, or insightful commentary to add, or if there’s another long-form topic you think I should turn my attention to next.

From What the Shift to the Cloud Means for the Future EPG in the U.S. 

Market Disruptors

…Beyond the traditional service providers, hardware manufacturers, and software companies that make up the television ecosystem, a number of new players are entering the market with disruptive models. On one end are new hybrid service providers, many of which are small operators or startup companies. Then there are the consumer electronics companies, including smart-TV manufacturers and retail set-top providers. Finally there are behemoth companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, which are approaching the television business with capital and expertise built in other industries…

CE companies are attempting several different strategies that range from partnering with guide providers to building their own cloud-based platforms to relying on simple and inexpensive client-based guide software. The connected-TV companies are largely taking the first approach. Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba, for example, all partner with Rovi, although Samsung in particular has stated its ambition to create a connected-TV platform. The retail box providers, however, are more of a mixed bag. Apple licenses Rovi guide technology for Apple TV, and it appears that Google does the same to support its user interface for Google TV, though little has been said about that relationship publicly. Boxee ports its own software onto branded boxes that are made by other manufacturers. And Roku relies on its own inexpensive client-side guide software in order to keep consumer prices down. In each case, these hardware providers have their own branded guides, but the underlying technology sources vary widely.

The final group in the market-disruptors category is the sleeping giants – large companies in different industries that have begun to encroach on the TV-service-provider space. Google and Apple began offering their own retail set-tops years ago, but they have largely maintained those products as sideline businesses, providing access only to web content and not focusing major resources on breaking through in the more traditional television-service-provider space. The big question is whether Google and Apple will change their strategies in the future.  Continue Reading…

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.

Continue Reading…

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:

Continue Reading…

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.