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NDS Snowflake guide 1

The SCTE Cable-Tec Expos is an engineer’s show, but there are always a few hidden gems with broader appeal. One of them this year was the NDS HTML5 Snowflake guide. You can’t find it anywhere in the U.S. yet, but UPC has deployed it in the Netherlands with the new Horizon service. And now that NDS is part of Cisco, there may be a better chance that some version of Snowflake will end up with a cable, telco or satellite provider near you.

There are a few key things to know about Snowflake. First, even though it’s HTML5, it doesn’t have to run on an IP box. NDS creates an abstraction layer on top of existing set-top software to support the guide, which is actually hosted in the network. (A handful of other companies are doing this too now, by the way.) Second, while your set-top doesn’t have to be an IP box a la the AT&T U-verse model, the fact that the guide is IP-based means it runs on tablets and smartphones too. Third, in addition to the pretty UI, web-based guides like Snowflake can add in a whole lot of new information – think personalization, content recommendations, and eventually targeted advertising.

Continue Reading…

Well that was fast. Within weeks of Anthony Wood prognosticating about virtual MSOs, Bloomberg reports that Dish is working on a new stripped-down TV package to be delivered over the Internet. According to the news agency, Dish is in talks with Viacom, Univision and Scripps. The satellite operator would also bundle broadcast content in with a new Internet-based service, much like Aereo is doing in New York City. There is no word/rumor yet on pricing except that the new offering would be cheaper than a standard pay-TV subscription.

It makes sense that an incumbent player would jump off the bench to offer a new Internet TV service, and that Dish would be one of the first to try it. Between its use of Sling tech and the introduction of the Hopper, Dish has become quite the stirrer of pots. Dish also partnered recently with Roku to offer Internet-based international content in an app for the retail streaming box. It’s likely Wood had more than a crystal ball handy when he suggested a virtual MSO service was on the way.

There are about a thousand and one implications to consider with the potential new Dish service, many of which we’ve covered here before. They include (but are not limited to):

Of course, Dish hasn’t announced anything yet. Could this be timed for a holiday launch? CES? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Amid new Roku apps and the launch of the Roku Streaming Stick, company CEO Anthony Wood also let slip this week that Roku “has been in talks” with companies about introducing new lower-cost, broadband-only TV services. Wood said at a recent industry event that he expects a new virtual MSO to pop up in the next 12 months. Such a company would offer a limited channel line-up delivered entirely over the Internet, and would target consumers unwilling to shell out major cash for cable TV.

We’ve heard people forecast the rise of virtual MSOs before, but the timing was never right. Today, however, consumers are well accustomed to watching TV online, and both content and service providers have had time to experiment with different models of Internet delivery. We’re also already seeing companies like Aereo and Skitter test out hybrid television models, suggesting that there’s a market for cheaper TV service.

It’s important to note, though, that Wood doesn’t expect some new start-up to jumpstart the virtual MSO market. Says Wood: “A lot of this is about getting access to the content, and that requires a lot of money and experience to structure it well.” That means we’re looking at an industry incumbent to be the source of a new online TV service. And it also means that any future venture is only going to move forward in a mode of extreme caution. Incumbents want to protect their existing revenue sources. Any new service will operate with that premise at its core.

Does Aereo Have a Back-Up Plan?

Mari Silbey —  September 17, 2012

Broadcasters aren’t giving up on shutting Aereo down. A new court brief filed on Friday has several programmers fighting a judge’s ruling this summer that Aereo is legally in the clear (for now) to continue operating. The new filing claims that the ruling ignores an existing statute which requires licensing payment “whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or different times.”

We’ve always known that Aereo has an uphill battle ahead of it, but one thing that’s occurred to me more recently is that the company may have a back-up plan. CEO Chet Kanojia was the star speaker at last week’s Multichannel cloud TV event, and I had a chance to ask him afterward if Aereo is working on an alternative business model in case the current one doesn’t work out. Kanojia was adamant that the company is only focused on the here and now, but he also agreed that there are other applications for Aereo’s technology. Personally, I wonder if Aereo’s tiny antennas and transcoding tech could be repurposed for something other than just broadcast content. The entire TV delivery system is changing after all. Could Aereo help other TV service companies move to a cloud-based distribution model?

It’s also interesting to note that Kanojia has serious street cred in the cable industry. He worked with Time Warner Cable on its Maestro solution. Maestro didn’t pan out, but Cablevision picked up the idea and ran with it for its RS-DVR service. So Kanojia is no stranger to this space.

The FCC yesterday released its latest pricing data on pay-TV services. In the twelve months leading up to January 1, 2011, the average cost for “expanded basic” service increased 5.4% across the country to $57.46 per month. The price for expanded basic service is defined as “the combined price of basic service and the most subscribed cable programming service tier excluding taxes, fees and equipment.” Oddly, however, the FCC also points out that average costs increased slightly more in competitive communities than they did in non-competitive communities. The difference was 5.7% to an average monthly cost of $58.47 in competitive communities versus 5.2% to an average monthly cost of $56.82 in non-competitive communities.

The findings here are highly counter-intuitive. Why would pay-TV service cost more in communities with reasonable service provider competition?

There’s no simple answer to that question, but there are a few critical things to point out about the FCC data. First, the FCC isn’t including equipment fees in these numbers. Continue Reading…

In one very big, but very early battle between start-up Aereo and its broadcast TV opponents, a judge ruled yesterday that the hybrid TV service provider is not violating copyright law and can continue to operate without paying retransmission fees. The judge denied broadcasters’ request for a preliminatry injunction by noting that:

  1. Aereo uses a separate antenna for each broadcast signal it receives and redistributes,
  2. The programming that Aereo stores is not materially different from the content Cablevision stores with its Remote Storage DVR service.

There is a huge amount of money at stake with the Aereo lawsuit because of the growing importance of retransmission fees in broadcaster revenue models. While over-the-air networks used to bring in the bulk of their money from advertising, they now rely heavily on the fees paid by pay-TV providers to retransmit their content. Aereo threatens that revenue stream by sidestepping licensing deals, taking advantage of free OTA signals, and then converting broadcast programs into IP in order to stream them to paying subscribers.

You can bet there will be appeals on the Aereo decision, but in the meantime, the company has demonstrated it has some legal ground to stand on, and that means it can further explore how much interest there is from consumers in a hybrid OTA/OTT service.

Speaking of hybrid services, I’ve written before about Aereo counterparts Skitter and NimbleTV. But I also had a chance to talk recently with the CEO of Entone, which has its own model for hybrid TV delivery. Entone itself is a topic for a much longer post, but for now suffice it to say that there are a lot of companies testing out the market for hybrid TV. Whether Aereo ultimately wins its legal battles or not, it looks like we’re only at the beginning of a new wave of pay-TV services. We’re up to four new players, and counting…

HBO may be making it harder to transfer shows from TiVo hardware, but it’s expanding users’ other mobile options with the HBO GO app. Time Warner Cable let the cat out of the bag in a blog post stating that HBO GO would be available starting today on nearly every Android device, and the updated app’s arrival in the Google Play store confirmed the news.  (Hat tip: Richard Lawler and Engadget) Supported OS iterations include Ice Cream Sandwich, Honeycomb, and most versions of Gingerbread. (No Jelly Bean yet) Supported hardware includes phones and tablets with screen sizes anywhere between 3.5 and 11 inches.

It may seem odd that Time Warner Cable is touting HBO’s news, but given that the cable operator was one of the last to make a deal with the cable network in January, it’s likely trying to make up for lost time with subscribers. Meanwhile, on other mobile fronts, Time Warner has been more of a pioneer. The company was the first cable provider to stream live TV to the iPad, and it added Android support for live streaming in April. The live video feature is limited to your home broadband network, but we remain hopeful that retransmission negotiations will change that restriction in the not-to-distant future.

Meanwhile, HBO Go continues to gain momentum even two plus years after launch. Once again the programmer proves that content is still king, no matter what how the distribution channels change.