Archives For Industry

Microsoft Xbox One as TV

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.)

Timeline

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”

2004Microsoft and Comcast do a deal to bring the Foundation software to subscribers in Washington state
Microsoft gets its big break in the cable industry
Microsoft TV Foundation guide for Comcast
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

2006 - Microsoft announces the Xbox Video Marketplace
New video store cements the Xbox as a Trojan Horse in the living room

2007 – Comcast gives up on Microsoft’s Foundation software
Microsoft’s short (and not sweet) dance with Comcast ends

Continue Reading…

Watch ESPN devices

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.

VOD Gets Fast Forward Back

Mari Silbey —  April 25, 2013

TV Remote Control

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 HoME TV UI 1

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.

Hillcrest HoME TV UI 6

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 logo and antenna array

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.

Continue Reading…

Google Fiber TV

There’s been a flood of video news over the last two weeks, and mostly your friends here at Zatz Not Funny have been too busy to cover the excitement. We promise to do better, but in the meantime, here’s a quick round-up of happenings.

Austin gets Google – It won’t happen until 2014, but Austin is the next city on the list for Google Fiber, and Google Fiber TV. Exact pricing isn’t nailed down yet, but execs say it should stick close to the Kansas City deployments where gigabit Internet service is $70/month, and Internet plus TV rings in at $120 per month.

Vdio launches – The founders of Rdio have introduced Vdio, a new streaming VOD service. It’s no Netflix killer, however, as Vdio comes without a monthly subscription option. Like Amazon VOD or iTunes, everything you want to watch through Vdio requires an individual paid transaction. For now, you also have to be an existing Rdio subscriber.

Simple.TV gets funding – The folks at Simple.TV have branched out from their Kickstarter roots and raised a very official-sounding sum of $5.7 million. Dave says that “by incorporating just a single OTA tuner and requiring owners supply their own USB storage, [Simple.TV] remains the province of geeks.” But the company apparently has bigger plans for its DVR streamer. The founder says the company wants to add cable and OTT content, and extend the software to third-party hardware. Continue Reading…

ACA Summit Matthew Polka Ajit Pai

ACA President Matthew Polka with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai

You know how a lot of consumers are fed up with rising cable bills, excessive program bundling, and limited access to TV shows? It turns out independent cable operators feels the same way.

Over and over and over at today’s American Cable Association Summit – a policy-driven event put on by the independent cable organization – I heard frustration about the state of the pay-TV business from small cable companies who feel outgunned in a market where the content bills just keep going up. Indie operators have two main complaints, and they’re both related. First, they have no leverage in licensing retransmission agreements because content owners can threaten TV blackouts. Second, in some markets, broadcasters are working together to set licensing fees, a practice the cable operators consider to be collusion. According to Wide Open West CEO Colleen Abdoulah, collusion is taking place in 20% of TV markets and is driving up retransmission costs by at least 22%. Continue Reading…