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Wide Open West Ultra TV service with Arris gateway

Cable provider Wide Open West (WOW) is beating Comcast to the IPTV punch with a new service called Ultra TV. Not that WOW is delivering TV over IP exactly, but it is deploying the Arris six-tuner IP gateway to combine standard TV delivery with lots of IP entertainment goodness.

WOW joins BendBroadband and Canada’s Shaw Cable in picking up the Arris Moxi gateway. Leasing the gateway will cost you $25 a month, but it comes with two media players for two TVs, and it takes the place of your cable modem and router. You get whole-home DVR service, and the ability to shift content from your PCs and mobile devices to your living-room flat screen. (Hello HBO Go) WOW also includes a Flickr app, news ticker and some basic games.

Thanks to an Arris SDK, WOW could add more custom apps to the Ultra TV service at a later date. Essentially, subscribers are getting a combined cable set-top and Roku box (or any other media extender you could name). If WOW wants to, it could even add Netflix, though there’s little incentive given the MSO’s competing VOD library.

Rounding out the tech specs, the Arris gateway for Ultra TV offers 500GB of storage space, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem and DLNA support, in addition to its six TV tuners. The Ultra TV service includes remote DVR scheduling, and VP Steve Stanfill notes on the company blog that, while self-service install isn’t available today, it may be offered in the future.

Aereo logo and antenna array

Fox network creator Barry Diller introduced a new over-the-top video service yesterday called Aereo. Many are already calling it dead in the water, but there are several reasons I’m more optimistic about Aereo than competitive OTT services launched in recent years.

To take a step back, Aereo is offering a service that delivers broadcast TV stations over IP and bundles them with a DVR. Stations are available on iOS and Roku devices, with Android, PC and Mac browser support scheduled to kick in by mid-March. The service is $12 a month, and is currently invitation-only in New York. Aereo will open up to the public in NYC on March 14th.

In order to be successful, Aereo will have to deliver stellar quality of service. These are free broadcast TV channels after all, which means people can use their own antennas to get the same content at no cost. However, in addition to the DVR add-on (which is pretty compelling in itself for today’s non-cable households), Aereo promises decent picture quality – no need to futz with antenna positioning or manipulate around dead zones. That’s a potential combination of DVR, picture quality and convenience. Not bad.

In addition, I think Aereo’s got a few other things going for it:  Continue Reading…

How Much Is HBO Worth?

Dave Zatz —  February 3, 2012

Ben Drawbaugh, of Engadget HD, has decided HBO just isn’t worth $17/month. Ben’s something of a HD snob, which I characterize in the nicest way possible, and finds HBO “unwatchable” — preferring instead to rent or purchase higher quality Blu-ray discs. And has therefore cancelled his subscription.

By comparison, I’m much more tolerant of perhaps somewhat inferior audio/visual presentation… given sufficiently compelling content along with viewing flexibility. So I find HBO to be one of the best values in home entertainment, primarily due to HBO GO – which provides access to all of HBO’s original programming, think Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire, along with a small rotating selection of mainstream movies. HBO GO was originally streamed to mobile devices like the iPad or iPhone, but has branched out Continue Reading…

While Netflix may or may not have gained paying streaming subscribers last quarter, they’ve clearly given up on the idea of peddling physical video game rentals. But, I have to wonder, if thinking games and given their current emphasis on digital delivery, might Netflix elbow into OnLive or Steam‘s territory at some point?

In regards to Netflix’s core video streaming competency, Amazon is reportedly rethinking their Prime Instant offering, currently bundled with a shipping discount program ($79/year), into something more directly competing with Netflix. From the New York Post:

Jeff Bezos and his team at Amazon are weighing a move to beef up the Web retailer’s video-streaming service — possibly carving it out as a standalone, subscription-based operation

Given the effort currently expended to license content, potential upside, and rumors that Amazon contemplated a Hulu acquisition, this isn’t so far fetched. If so, what might Amazon charge for a dedicated streaming subscription? I can’t imagine Netflix’s $7.99/month is sustainable as content licensing fees increase. Which we suppose is the price of success. And if it’s the likes of Netflix versus cable, the establishment has already won… as content owners such as HBO and ESPN tie arguably more compelling online entertainment to television or broadband packages.

Both Time Warner Cable and Cablevision have announced TV Everywhere updates with promises to bring live streaming to more devices. Beyond iPads, the new platforms they plan to support include laptops, game consoles and select smart TVs.

While I’m all for any extra features the cablecos want to throw at us, an expanded ecosystem of supported devices isn’t top on my list. In Time Warner’s case, how about making more content available? Or for any of the MSOs, how about extending streaming outside the house? Cablevision has hinted that it’s working on opening up the geographic boundaries for its app, but there’s no concrete word on when that might happen. And given the heated retransmission battles that continue elsewhere, I have to wonder if this particular streaming fight with content owners will get solved outside of court.

Meanwhile, I’m also curious to know how much demand there is for live mobile streaming. If I want to place-shift my TV, it’s usually to get access to on-demand shows. Or if there is a live event I want to hit, it’s usually coming from ESPN. (Gotta love WatchNow) Perhaps this isn’t a battle cable companies should even be fighting? How much do we need live TV on the go?

As push back on the overly broad SOPA rages, outspoken investor and reluctant content pirate Fred Wilson once again emphasizes the challenges facing the content industry… and their potential customers.

Making movies is expensive and risky. I totally get that the studios need to make a lot of money on those movies to make their business model work. But denying customers the films they want, on the devices they want to watch them, when they want to watch them is not a great business model. It leads to piracy, as we have discussed here many times, but more importantly it also leads to the loss of a transaction to a competing form of entertainment.

While Fred primarily focuses his discussion on the studio release window (this time), consumer frustration extends to all sorts of global media. And, unfortunately, I doubt we’ll see an expeditious resolution given a still archaic licensing and distribution quagmire that still emphasizes the sale of physical goods.

I do see signs of forward progress, but it’s clearly gonna be a long slog. Like Fred and many of you, I find myself frequently frustrated.   Continue Reading…

Everyone could use a few procrastination helpers this time of year, and Google’s provided another one in the form of brand new custom Santa video messages. The video app complements Google’s other service launched last week to let users send personalized Santa phone calls. The phone calls alone are hilarious, but the video version of the app adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

Here’s how it breaks down. Click over to Google’s Send a Call From Santa page and answer a few questions about yourself and the recipient of your message. Google will customize a short Santa animation incorporating names, characteristics and plot choices from the questionnaire. It’s not only the audio that’s customized either. Certain visual elements change based on your choices – like the gangsta-style Christmas tree that appeared in my first creation. Watch the preview of your message and then send it on to any email address or G+ account you like. You don’t have to use Google+, or even have a gmail address. Any email will do.

Unfortunately I can’t embed my own personalized message here, but you can see Google’s demo on the official Google blog. It’s right up there with the animated Rudolph special gracing TV sets everywhere this time of year.

Reuters dropped a veritable bombshell yesterday when it reported that Verizon has plans to launch a streaming service in 2012 to compete with Netflix. It wasn’t a bombshell because Verizon’s never talked about this before. After all, we got an inkling of the operator’s plans at CES last January. It was a bombshell because the report follows last week’s announcement of a major spectrum deal between the telco and its cable competitors. The combination of news has many speculating about what Verizon plans to do with its FiOS TV service, and all that fiber it’s got in the ground.

First off, here are some of the facts. Reuters says Verizon is currently in talks with prospective programming partners about a new standalone video service. The service would not be tied to FiOS TV, and it would be made available outside of existing FiOS markets. Sources for Reuters say content for the service would be limited, possibly focused on movie packages and/or children’s programming.

Assuming Reuters’ information is accurate, what we don’t know yet is how a new streaming service would fit into Verizon’s overall video and broadband strategy. Some are suggesting that Verizon is giving up on its wireline infrastructure in order to focus on wireless. After all, why not ride someone else’s pipes for video, and dedicate valuable internal resources on developing the company’s newly acquired spectrum? The problem with that theory is that Verizon’s wireline infrastructure – aka its fiber-to-the-home network – is a huge competitive advantage. Not only has it allowed the telco to sign up 5 million FiOS TV subscribers, it’s also given Verizon a huge leg up on cable with Internet delivery.

Going forward, I believe Verizon will use its proposed on-demand streaming service as a way to gain incremental revenue and fill the gaps where it can’t reach subscribers with its FiOS TV offering. It seems likely that the operator will market the new service with its wireless packages, possibly offering discounts for a different kind of bundle when consumers are willing to sign up for both cell phone coverage and streaming content. I believe the new service will buy Verizon new customers and a new revenue stream, but that it won’t negate the value of the company’s wireline assets. Instead, it will give Verizon time to sort out when it should invest in further fiber deployments, ultimately extending the footprint for its full FiOS TV and Internet service.

When it comes down to it, Verizon’s fiber network is the ace up its sleeve. All that bandwidth means better control over video quality, and it means more capacity for consumers who want to download and upload lots and lots of stuff on the Internet. Wireless networks are great, but they have their limitations. Verizon can focus on 4G rollouts now, but that doesn’t mean it should or will abandon any fiber plans for the future. There are too many advantages that come with Verizon’s network in the ground.