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Who’s Buying Hulu?

Mari Silbey —  July 10, 2013

Hulu for sale

Someone is buying Hulu, and the list of suitors is down to three. Before the close of bidding last Friday, AT&T jumped in on a joint offer with the Chernin Group. Peter Chernin founded Hulu years ago when he was still president of News Corp., but his company’s bid was likely too low without the additional backing of AT&T. DirecTV and Time Warner Cable are also in the hunt, and rumor has it that the bids are upwards of $1 billion. Variety reports this morning that Guggenheim Digital is out of the race after submitting a bid below what Hulu was willing to take.

Hulu initially put itself on the auction block back in 2011, but backed away from a sale at the eleventh hour. Google and Dish were the leading bidders then, with Google reportedly offering up to $4 billion for the company as long as Hulu was willing to throw in expanded content licensing rights as part of the deal. (It wasn’t.)

Unlike Boxee, Hulu has built a significant consumer fan base, and the company says it earned close to $700 million in revenue in 2012. However, Hulu still isn’t profitable, and the issue of video licensing fees is a thorny one as programmers try to protect as much of their revenue as possible through the existing pay-TV ecosystem. Perhaps given those conditions, it’s not surprising that a pay-TV company – and not an outsider like TiVo or Google – appears set to come out on top when the Hulu sale finally closes.

Who’s Buying Boxee?

Mari Silbey —  June 27, 2013

Boxee buyer

Rumors surfaced earlier this month that Boxee is about to get bought on the cheap. And while details are virtually non-existent on the identity of the buyer, we’ve never let that stop us from speculating before.

So who is the mysterious suitor? I see four potential acquiring types.

Hardware company
With Boxee’s software roots, it’s possible that a hardware manufacturer like D-Link could pick up Boxee’s video guide and DVR applications to bundle with retail boxes. If the price is right, I wonder if even Roku might be interested. Roku doesn’t want to spend the money to license fancy guide software for its super-cheap hardware. But if it could pick up the Boxee assets cheaply enough, the interface upgrade potential could be compelling.

Service provider
It’s hard to imagine that a pay-TV provider would bother with Boxee, given the other software options available, and the fact that the big operators are building their own next-gen UIs. However, maybe a small innovator would consider grabbing the assets just to break away from the standard software vendors and create some buzz. Wide Open West has made hay with the Moxi interface. Maybe somebody else on the tier-two provider list is ready to step up on the multi-screen UI front.

Media company Continue Reading…

hulu-desktop

Amidst Hulu’s identity crisis, their Windows and Mac Hulu Desktop software has gone missing. First introduced in 2009, these apps provided another means of video playback… with the benefit of Apple and Microsoft Media Center remote control support. But they unceremoniously vanished from the web several weeks back, along with all of Hulu Labs. A Hulu support rep indicates they are “investigating the matter” (huh?) and “hope to make the link available again soon.” With no further information beyond guidance for “users to stream off the website” and “soon” having coming and gone, we’re left to wonder if Hulu has pulled the plug on this method of video consumption. Not that we care all that much, having mostly avoided the service since being accosted with two-minute Scientology commercials.

(Thanks Brad!)

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…

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.

Cox Cisco 2013 iPad app

While CES now feels like forever ago, we’re still catching up on some of our notes and leftover photos. Among them are scrawled observations and camera shots covering the “magical” new TV interface introduced by Cisco and Cox. (Yes, someone actually used that word.) I was struck by two things during the presentation that Dave and I attended. First, the Cox Trio TV user interface and accompanying iOS app are beautiful. But second, they don’t do anything that I don’t already expect the next-generation of electronic program guides to do.

The updated Trio HD guide (built by NDS, now Cisco) rolled out to Cox customers in December, but the latest iOS app was unveiled for the first time at CES. (An Android version is reportedly scheduled for Q1.) In addition to cosmetic touch-ups, the Trio HD update includes the ability to establish profiles for individual users, and provides new personalized content recommendations that cut across live TV, future broadcast listings, and video on demand.

cox-cisco3

The new iOS app, meanwhile, works with iPads, iPhones and iPods, streams 90 Cox television channels, and provides access to the full Cox VOD library. It doesn’t use the same UI as Trio, but because the underlying information is delivered from the cloud (that magical place in the sky), it does support the same user profiles. It also relies on the same ThinkAnalytics content recommendation engine accessed by the Trio EPG.

In the future, Cox plans to offer new features that allow subscribers to stream content from a second-screen device to the TV, and to move recorded content in the other direction from a DVR to a tablet or smartphone. Exactly how it plans to enable those features, however, is still in question. Continue Reading…

StickNFind bluetooth stickers

All this talk about an Internet of Things and I still can’t find my keys in the morning. This is the problem I hoped to solve when I visited the StickNFind booth at CES last week. (An eon ago, but we’re still catching up on coverage) Funded by an IndieGoGo campaign (like Kickstarter), the StickNFind product is a small Bluetooth sticker combined with a mobile app for homing in on objects wherever they go. It’s due to ship commercially in March, and it comes with a reasonable price tag of $50 for two stickers.

There are a lot of things to like about StickNFind. The sticker format makes these tracking devices very flexible. They stick on almost anything, and you can track up to 20 objects (or pets, or kids…) at once. There’s also a nifty “virtual leash” feature that lets you know when a sticker is moving out of range. Unfortunately, StickNFind is also at the mercy of Bluetooth’s limitations. The tracking function only works up to 100 feet, and it requires line of sight. Continue Reading…