Microsoft formally announced partners for its latest Xbox TV initiative today. In addition to Comcast and Verizon FiOS (two partners that were leaked last week), Xbox owners will be able to access content in varying degrees from Bravo, HBO Go and Syfy in the US, along with BBC in the UK, Telefonica in Spain, Rogers On Demand in Canada, Televisa in Mexico, ZDF in Germany, and MediaSet it Italy.
It’s all well and good to get excited about Microsoft TV, but there’s no major revolution here yet. In order to get Comcast or Verizon video on your Xbox, for example, you have to be an existing Comcast or Verizon subscriber as well. This is not over-the-top cable TV, freely available to anyone with an Xbox. It’s cable testing the waters of IP delivery.
Verizon has had systems in place for a while now that support delivery of linear television over IP. Although FiOS has always used IP for its on-demand content, we heard back in January that it could flip a switch for delivery of its broadcast content as well. Meanwhile, Comcast has steadily upgraded its own VOD architecture for future IP delivery, and is reportedly even testing linear broadcasting over IP on the MIT campus.
The Xbox experiment is a way for Verizon and Comcast (and others) to test out their new delivery systems. Limited adoption – built in by the inherent service limitations – will let them do a controlled introduction of new technology. They’ll stream a relatively small amount of video over IP, and be able to see how their networks hold up. If that goes well, they’ll push the boundaries a bit farther.
The experiment is a good one, and you’d better believe that every other cable operator will be watching closely. But it’s no revolution for consumers. Not yet. On the bright side, getting to IP delivery of video means cable providers will have a lot more flexibility. Once the networks systems are proven, they can start to play with business models. If the rumors of a la carte discussions are any indication, the timing is right.