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Aereo hearts cable

People think of Aereo as a cable competitor, but the company’s real fight is with OTA broadcasters who don’t want to lose retransmission revenue. And if Aereo were to win its war in court, some pay-TV providers might very well decide to partner with the company rather than battle against it.

Jeff Baumgartner reports that the topic of cable partnerships came up this week at the annual NCTC winter conference. The National Cable  Telecommunications Cooperative is made up of independent cable operators, and Aereo’s CEO Chet Kanojia participated on a panel at the organization’s recent event. Reportedly Kenojia said Aereo would “take a very open approach with everyone we choose to work with,” and that he’d be “‘ecstatic’ to work with a like-thinking cable ISP.”

In other words, despite its marketing rhetoric, Aereo – like TiVo before it – would love to break into the cable biz.

Personally, I’m convinced that even if Aereo doesn’t win in court, it has other options for peddling its services. Beyond the now-famous dime-size antennas, Aereo appears to be operating sophisticated transcoding and video delivery technology. I imagine the Aereo solution is similar to what the TiVo Stream or Morega’s DirecTV Nomad device provides, except that the transcoding process takes place in the cloud rather than on a device in the home. The basic transcoding isn’t novel – plenty of companies offer transcoding services – but the ability to do it well and at scale is another thing entirely. Until all television content is transmitted in IP, Aereo has another potential technology ace up its sleeve, and plenty of patents to support it.

ESPN for $7

I love ESPN. I am entirely willing to spend gobs of money on my cable bill just to get it. Even so, my jaw dropped when I read that the licensing fee for ESPN programming is set to go above $7 per month in 2017. That’s the amount pay-TV operators have to spend per subscriber to get ESPN programming, and the amount that gets factored into our monthly cable bills for including the sports juggernaut. For $7 a month, I get ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, the WatchESPN app, and… wait a minute. I get all that for $7?

Yes, I was all set to write a snarky post about retransmission fees and the high cost of programming these days, and then I thought about all that I get from ESPN. Pretty much any sporting event I want to watch that’s not being broadcast on the free networks is available somewhere on ESPN. And that WatchESPN app? Man that’s come in handy when I’ve been away from the living room TV and wanted to catch a college basketball game or two. And it works on both my iPad and my Android phone. Inside and outside my house.

The big catch of course is that not everyone is a sports fan, and most cable subscribers have to pay for ESPN programming whether they watch it or not. On the other hand, I don’t watch a lot of the junk on the “free” networks (morning news programs, terrible reality TV shows, etc.), and I still have to pay for their skyrocketing licensing fees. So maybe all’s fair in love and TV programming. Regardless, there’s no cord-cutting in my future. Cable is expensive, but at least I enjoy what I get for my money.

roku2-epix-aolhd

A random web search turned me on to some interesting Roku job openings, emphasizing content relationships and recommendations. Individually, maybe they’re not so compelling. But from a holistic standpoint, perhaps these new positions shed a bit of light on Roku’s ambitions and decision to turn down an Amazon acquisition in favor of additional funding.

The first role is Roku Programming Director… to be located in Los Angeles. Which, of course, much of the content industry calls home. “The Director will survey the landscape of available content, plans and strategies” to assist “business development prioritize content acquisition efforts. ” Hm. By comparison, the Content Programming Manager will be based at Roku’s Nothern California headquarters and will basically function as a full-time recommendation engine: Continue Reading…

Aereo Headed to Smart TVs

Mari Silbey —  December 6, 2012

Video Nuze VideoSchmooze 2012 Colin Dixon and Chet Kanojia

At yesterday’s VideoSchmooze conference in New York, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia told the audience that his company will soon release more applications for the 10-foot television experience. Aereo is planning to launch apps for a variety of smart TVs shortly, and for adjunct TV devices, including the Roku. Aereo has a private channel for the Roku today, but will release a more complete experience for the device in the near future. Kanojia also noted that “conceptually” games consoles make a lot of sense for Aereo too.

To date, Aereo is still only available in New York City, and it continues to fight for its legal right to exist. Broadcasters want to shut Aereo down because the company gets around retransmission fees by assigning a tiny antenna to each customer and transcoding over-the-air signals for delivery over IP. So far the courts haven’t forced Aereo to close its doors, but the legal battle has only just begun.

Meanwhile, Aereo’s technology is sophisticated enough that I’m still theorizing the company has a back-up plan if its current business model doesn’t survive. Aereo also has an advantage in that its technology costs are minimal. Kanojia threw out one stat yesterday that drove home that point. He said that the cost of transcoding a single stream of video a couple of years ago was around $6,000. Today, that number is in the single digits.

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.

Morega TV quad-stream transcoding demo

Dave digs the TiVo Stream, and has a professional history with Sling, but those guys aren’t the only placeshifting players in town. Morega is another contender, powering the DirecTV Nomad box and with other deals in place for its media networking software. I know this in part because I’ve been doing some indirect work for the company, but also because Morega has been upping its profile in the cable space. I can’t say my perspective is unbiased on this one, but Morega has some cool stuff going on.

First off, the Morega software does streaming and syncing of content coming in through your TV. Depending on how a provider wants to use the technology, you can:

  • Stream live or recorded TV to other devices (locally or beyond)
  • Sync recorded TV to a mobile device for offline viewing

Morega demo media source boxAnd, at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo show last week, Morega showed off quad-stream transcoding, i.e. four streams transcoded at once so that you can be moving lots of different content around to lots of different places. (Shot above shows real-time transcoding displayed on a laptop screen for demo purposes) 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.