Archives For Industry

Microsoft announced at a financial conference yesterday that it plans to offer live TV on the Xbox in time for the holiday season. It’s like deja vu all over again. It was in January of 2007 that Microsoft first made this promise, and the company has dangled the possible integration at every Consumer Electronics Show since.

Once again, the would-be TV provider isn’t naming any partners, but does say it will have “dozens or hundreds of additional video content suppliers,” and that it will bring this service to market through the network operator channel (i.e. your cable provider). This follows last year’s launch of Xbox-as-a-set-top for AT&T’s U-verse service, which includes an unfortunate $99 fee to cover the necessary hardware upgrade. It also comes on the heels of Jinni’s recent announcement that Microsoft is licensing its “semantic discovery technology for personalized, holistic discovery of video entertainment.” Perhaps this reference guide Jinni touted earlier in the month is the basis for Microsoft’s new Xbox TV interface?

We’ll wait and see what Microsoft actually brings to the table, but in the meantime, here’s a timeline of the company’s efforts to make the Xbox a Trojan horse in consumer living rooms. Note, this doesn’t take into account various other Microsoft TV attempts including the ill-fated Microsoft TV Foundation Edition program guide. Yeah, Microsoft’s been at this for a while.

Starz is pulling its content from Netflix in early 2012, and the ripples are being felt throughout the entire video distribution ecosystem. Can Netflix recover? How expensive will content licensing get? What does this mean for over-the-top video as a whole?

With potentially 300 million dollars on the table in a Netflix/Starz renewal deal, it is reasonable to assume that the decision from Starz to pull out of the relationship has to do with more than just direct revenue. I’ve heard from one source that Starz wants to go it alone and follow an HBO Go model. It’s already made its bed with the cable companies, and, like HBO, it sees that it can drive viewership and continuing revenue through that established model. It can’t, however, provide its content through a cheap Netflix subscription to consumers and continue to expect people to see more value in a cable package that costs a lot more. In other words, by licensing content to Netflix, Starz undermines its more lucrative partnership with the cable companies.

So the Netflix/Starz break-up is about more than just money. Or rather, it’s about more than just a one-time licensing deal. It’s about programmers deciding that the OTT free lunch program is over. You know all the concern and hype about cord cutting? I wouldn’t be so worried for the cable companies. The content folks know where their bread is buttered.

Now here’s a surprise. Using as a monitor, I can get better downstream results from my mobile broadband connection than I can from my Wi-Fi connection delivered over a FiOS-driven home network. I’m a Verizon 4G LTE subscriber for mobile broadband, and a Verizon FiOS Extreme customer (25/25 package) for Internet at home. I tested both networks using my HTC Thunderbolt to avoid any device-specific issues, and the tests took place in Takoma Park Maryland, just outside of Washington DC.

As you can see above, I got throughput of more than 35 Mbps downstream in the 4G test, while the Wi-Fi test rang in at just under 30 Mbps downstream. (still more than my promised FiOS speed) These tests took place one minute apart, though later tests showed 4G coming in as high as 39 Mbps.

I’m feeling pretty lucky with my mobile broadband coverage at the moment. An unofficial test on AT&T’s brand new LTE network now live in Chicago brought back a downstream result of just over 12 Mbps. DSLReports covered the AT&T news (original source: Boy Genius Report), and a reader shot back in the comment thread with his own result of more than 16 Mbps downstream using T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. Verizon’s results in my area put both those numbers to shame. Yes, wireless caps and data sharing are a problem, but for speed alone, I’ve got nothing to complain about with Verizon’s 4G service.

ZNF regular Chucky routinely proclaims that we live in the Golden Age of CableCARD. While I had my doubts in the FCC’s ability to enact reform, I stand corrected and believe that era has indeed arrived. Most large cable providers now provide CableCARDs with simplified pricing and without requiring a truck roll. Further, staff finally seems to understand what CableCARD is all about.

I’d break down the evolution of CableCARD into three distinct periods — after its rather lengthy gestation period. The first age featured a variety of single stream capable devices (’04 – ’06) including televisions from the likes of Samsung and a pair of retail Sony DVRs. Unfortunately, the manufacturers largely beat the cablecos, who were ill-prepared to support a product the vast majority of consumers knew nothing about.

Next was the period of great (retail) stagnation where TiVo and Windows Media Center were largely the only game in town. Although it was also during this second act that cablecos were forced to eat their dog food by utilizing CableCARDs within their own hardware – enabling the rank and file to actually begin learning something of the tech. Further, multistream M-Cards were introduced, to support  multiple simultaneous tuning, along with that awful SDV Tuning Adapter hack – to (partially) overcome a lack of two-way communications. Lastly, we also witnessed the birth and death of tru2way (as far as the retail marketplace is concerned).

And here we sit at the beginning of Act Three. As of 8/1, where acquiring and pairing a CableCARD is easy as pie. So the theory goes. And, in my experience this week, it truly was an efficient and painless process to pick up and successfully activate a new M-Card. I swung by the Verizon store in the mall, for a grand total of only 11 minutes, and registration at home was a mere 5 minute online procedure. No muss, no fuss. Unfortunately, there’s still a lack of consumer knowledge and, more importantly, a lack retail cable devices. Although some solid new offerings are arriving for Windows Media Center and the quad-tuning TiVo Premiere Elite is expected this fall. Yet, that’s really only two new platforms. I’m hopeful the CE manufacturers reevaluate their previous CableCARD abandonment in light of this new-found acquisition and activation ease. Yet that may require the realization of the AllVid home cable hub concept. Something I wouldn’t bank on. Surely no time soon. So this Golden Age of CableCARD may only be appreciated by a select few.

ESPN started the practice back in 2009 of tying online content access to a pay-TV subscription. And while it’s taken a while to catch on, the trend is starting to gather serious momentum. HBO has extended its campaign of streaming content behind a subscription-based authentication wall, and now Fox is getting in the game by pulling new episodes away from free websites, including its own Peter Kafka of All Things Digital reports that ABC may be next in line.

Here’s the thing. While ESPN and HBO have always been premium channels, Fox and ABC are part of the free broadcast television line-up, and the idea of paying for online access is a bit hard to swallow. If I own a computer instead of a TV (think dorm room), why shouldn’t I still be able to watch prime-time television?

The problem is that the business dynamics today are far different from what they were when cable television first entered the scene. First, online video delivery costs money above and beyond what it takes to broadcast OTA content. Second, cable (and telco and satellite) retransmission fees are a big part of programmers’ revenues, which means they have every incentive to make pay-TV subscription packages more valuable with exclusive content. And third, consumers can get free or cheap entertainment in a lot of different ways today, which means broadcast television really does align more closely with premium content than it did back in the 1980s and 90s.

I don’t like the idea of having to pay (directly or indirectly) for Fox content online any more than anyone else, but from a business standpoint, the programmer’s decision certainly makes sense. At least it does unless and until Fox starts to lose audiences. The question is, do consumers want their Fox content today as much as they wanted their MTV 20 years ago.

On Motorola and Google TV

Mari Silbey —  August 15, 2011

There are a thousand and one ways Google could move forward with today’s announced acquisition of Motorola Mobility. Certainly Google will use Motorola’s mobile assets to further its Android ambitions, and this is a big shift in the landscape for mobile players including Samsung, HTC, and Apple. However, I’m far more curious about what this means for Google on the IP video front. Last year I posted my skepticism about the Google TV launch over on the Motorola blog. Read the excerpt:

I believe that Google may have a chance at being successful in TV, but not ultimately by offering only an over-the-top solution… On the other hand, could Google make a go of it in TV by working within the cable and telecom model? It’s certainly possible. Particularly since that model is moving toward IP (not Internet) delivery. In my very personal opinion, Google is experimenting on the retail front, but that doesn’t mean that’s where it will stay.

Google has a fascinating opportunity now to become a serious player on the pay TV front if it so chooses. Motorola’s cable/telco network technology, consumer hardware base, and software solutions all give Google a working platform in the TV biz. Perhaps even more importantly, Motorola’s relationships in the traditionally insular cable industry give Google a new place at the table. Throw in Google’ Gigabit network experiments, and you’ve got a tantalizing combination of assets. It’s certainly a far different picture today than Google presented just last year. Talk about a Google TV reboot.

A recent study concluded that many DVR and set-top box configurations are saddled with energy requirements that exceed those of  “a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems.” Which does seem somewhat extreme when presented in that fashion. Of course, given all my gadgets, I’m sure I exceed my fridge’s estimated annual energy usage (615 kWh). In fact, a few years back we took a Kill A Watt around the house to get a read on the energy vampires… And, sure enough, my Series 3 TiVo was the worst offender – drawing 42 watts.

In response to this new report, GigaOm wondered how current streaming alternatives fair and enlisted a Belkin Conserve energy monitor to put several recent players to the test (see above). As you might expect the diminutive Apple TV and Roku were the most miserly in their wattage consumption. Although, Roku doesn’t have much in the way of a standby mode – drawing measurable power 24/7. The larger and more powerful (on paper) Logitech Revue and Boxee Box draw considerably more power, yet still clock in significantly less than a hard-drive-spinning DVR.

Interestingly, as our home entertainment configurations evolve, my iPad will essentially replace both a television and set-top box… providing not only newfound convenience but also the benefit of energy conservation.


Sprint added 1.7 million WiMAX subscribers in Q2 (mostly wholesaled from Clearwire), while Verizon added 1.2 million LTE subscribers in the same time period. Long-time analyst Paul Kapustka tracked the WiMAX win over at Sidecut Reports, but he’s the only person I’ve seen report the comparison. Instead, most of the press has focused solely on Clearwire’s announcement that it’s planning to add LTE services to its portfolio. That’s great. Fantastic. But reporters have been using it to pit LTE against WiMAX, and to extend the odd “WiMAX is dead” narrative. WiMAX is not dead. And not only is it not dead, but there are several reasons to applaud the technology’s success.

  1. WiMAX was first out of the gate in the US. I started using it in Philly back in 2009.
  2. Competition is good. Even though Clearwire is shifting away from retail sales, it pioneered the no-contract 4G service, which was enough to get me to give 4G a trial run. And Sprint maintains an unlimited data plan with its WiMAX service, something other carriers have refused to do.
  3. The Sprint/Clearwire push for WiMAX deployments has sped up network upgrades across all US carriers, bringing us more 4G access on a faster timeline than we would have had otherwise.
  4. Although we focus on mobile WiMAX here in the States, fixed WiMAX technology has been a boon in numerous emerging markets around the world, particularly in areas where wireline broadband connectivity isn’t available. (The WiMAX Forum reports there are currently WiMAX deployments in 150 different countries.)
  5. There is overlap in WiMAX and LTE technology, which means lessons learned in WiMAX development can be applied in further LTE rollouts. Even as Clearwire starts adding LTE services, it will rely on much of the technology it’s already deployed with WiMAX.

So why all the WiMAX haters? I don’t know. LTE is great, but WiMAX continues to play an important role in American and global network upgrades to 4G. And that’s worth a little recognition.