The Cable Show has returned to DC and while the NCTA’s annual convention is winding down, our coverage is still rolling in. Mari, who hosted the Navigation Station panel (shown above), is writing under the Light Reading masthead and I’m preparing a story that touches on the cable industry’s complex and evolving corporate relationships with two scoops from familiar faces thrown in for good measure. Beyond that, I’ve got a couple more interesting products/solutions to share in the coming days. But, until then, here’s a sampling of my Cable Show tweets: Continue Reading…
Archives For Industry
At a financial conference yesterday, Verizon EVP and CFO Fran Shammo stated explicitly that we’re likely to see content and wireless data delivery bundled together from certain content providers. In other words, a network like ESPN would cover the cost of video delivery so that users could stream to their hearts’ content without going over mobile data caps.
From the transcript of yesterday’s conference:
So I think you are going to see this ecosystem change, you are going to see some content provider say I’m willing to pay for the content, don’t charge the consumer and when we developed LTE, we developed LTE and our billing system with the capability to segregate that traffic if someone else wants to pay for it.
Now Shammo wants to be clear that this isn’t a net neutrality issue.
Net neutrality is around prioritizing the delivery of content, that’s not what we are talking about, content will be delivered equally across the network. This is just a matter of who pays for the delivery of that content, and I think you are going to see that change and that’s going to open up what can be done on a more seamless basis.
However, by adding in delivery costs, a network like ESPN would be making it harder for smaller content guys without ready capital to compete. Welcome to the world of new media kingpins.
Microsoft has been a frenemy to the pay-TV industry for a long, long time. So now that the company is taking over TV interfaces with its Xbox One HDMI pass-through feature, I thought it worth looking back over the company’s (sometimes torturous) history with pay-TV providers. (Note: Nothing on Media Center PCs or WebTV here. That’s another story.)
2003 – Microsoft TV Foundation Edition Launches in June at the National Show
Microsoft’s software platform for the cable industry includes an interactive program guide that operators can use to create “On-Demand Storefronts”
2004 – Microsoft and Comcast do a deal to bring the Foundation software to subscribers in Washington state
Microsoft gets its big break in the cable industry
2006 – AT&T launches U-verse IPTV service with Microsoft inside
U-verse is the first major IPTV service in the U.S., and it runs on Microsoft code
2007 – Comcast gives up on Microsoft’s Foundation software
Microsoft’s short (and not sweet) dance with Comcast ends
There was a big story out last week that a lot of people missed. According to The Wall Street Journal (as reported by electronista), ESPN is weighing the idea of subsidizing users’ wireless data for mobile streaming of ESPN video. That would mean that the sports network would pay for bandwidth used by consumers to watch ESPN content on mobile devices in order to keep them below monthly usage caps.
Let’s reflect back for a moment.
In 2011, I wrote the following:
In the future, I could see Slacker (the Internet radio service) bundling mobile data access with my monthly subscription to give me unlimited music streaming. I get that now, but only through a grandfathered unlimited data plan with Verizon, which I don’t expect to last forever. I wouldn’t want to pay an unlimited “tax” on every application, but if there are only one or two that threaten to put me over my monthly limit, I would seriously consider an application-specific broadband fee.
There are a few applications that present a compelling proposition for bundling delivery fees with the price of the actual service. Whether a content provider subsidizes those costs, or consumers pay them out of pocket, certain applications are so tied to their delivery mechanisms, that the economics grow harder and harder to separate.
Amazon has used the bundling model with Whispernet, the network service that allows users of certain Kindles to download books at will… without paying a separate data fee. Initially Amazon opened the network service up to any kind of consumer Internet activity, but in 2012 the company began capping service so that users can only use it for Amazon and Wikipedia access beyond a certain data threshold.
If ESPN ultimately does look to bundle data service with its content, there will be new net neutrality issues to wade through. However, unlike the situation with Comcast separating out its own IP-delivered video from monthly usage caps, at least in this case ESPN doesn’t own the mobile networks its riding on.
That’s a point in ESPN’s favor.
You know how annoying it is when your on-demand session times out and you have to start a show over from the beginning? Oh, and then you find out fast forwarding has been disabled? Well, fear no more. The cable gods are hard at work fixing the problem.
The SCTE, a standards body for the cable industry, has just created a new standard letting operators apply trick-play functions to select portions of a video stream only. That means they can still prevent you from fast forwarding through ads, but if there’s some regular content you want to skip through, go right ahead.
Operators can also disable rewind and pause functionality within a stream, or restrict fast forwarding to twice the normal playback speed.
Related – remember how Time Warner Cable filed a patent last year for disabling trick-play functions on home DVRs? Yeah, still hoping that one doesn’t drop.
Hillcrest Labs stopped working on its HoME interface for smart TVs close to seven years ago. And yet the UI is still better than most you’ll see on the market today.
I stopped by the Hillcrest Labs HQ earlier this month, and, as part of the visit, got a full demo walk-through of HoME. The reference TV UI includes web apps, movie cover art, a beautiful zooming motion, and easy drill-down options for content discovery across TV and personal media. Kodak used the design in its Kodak Theatre HD player, but unfortunately that product launched in 2008… just before the financial crash, and just as Kodak was starting to slide into bankruptcy.
The HoME interface isn’t used anywhere today, and Hillcrest has decided to back-burner the technology. However, the company still holds numerous patents in the space. While Hillcrest execs have turned their focus to motion-sensing software (more on that another time), they also aren’t closing the door on future TV UI development efforts. HoME could make a return someday.
In the meantime, check out another photo from my Hillcrest visit. My favorite is the photo library from CES 2005. That happens to be the first year I ever made it out to the Vegas show. Bill Gates was keynoting, and the Ojo video phone was making its rounds. Good times.
Aereo has been super savvy in grabbing headlines of late. If you’re not caught up on the story so far, the start-up TV company has expanded to a few new markets, won another round in court against broadcasters, and left Fox, CBS and others frothing at the mouth and threatening to move free programming over to a paid service model.
The thing about Aereo is, while the conceptual disruption is huge, the impact of the actual service is still vanishingly small.
- Aereo is a Big Deal because broadcasters make bundles of cash from retransmission agreements, and the Aereo model creates a workaround for any service provider that wants to distribute free broadcast channels without paying a licensing fee.
- Aereo is a Big Deal because, as I wrote recently for Light Reading, it opens up the debate over whether there will continue to be a role for free TV in the Internet era.
- Aereo is Not a Big Deal because the service itself has serious limitations. In addition to being available only in a few markets, the service is getting poor marks for video quality.
- Aereo is Not a Big Deal because it is only one of several disruptors on the television scene. Start-ups and stalwarts alike are experimenting with new services and pricing models – from Simple.TV, Skitter, and NimbleTV to Dish, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable.