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ESPN is spiffing up its WatchESPN app for iOS devices. Starting this summer, the app will include a new live toolbar with interactive features and embedded on-demand videos. VP Damon Phillips describes it as the two-dot-oh version of ESPN’s bottom line, and over time it will evolve even further to include options for customization based on users’ favorite sports teams.

Phillips introduced the updated app with a live demo during a session at The Cable Show last week. In the demo, Phillips navigated between live sporting events by clicking on different options in the toolbar. He also showed how it’s possible to create a split screen with a live event on one side, and a related on-demand video playing on the other. When the live event went to commercial, Phillips enlarged the on-demand clip, and then pinched back to return to split-screen mode.

The new toolbar also offers an option to drill down on detailed stats for live and upcoming games. And in the future, users will be able to create preferences to receive information and video clips on specific teams within the toolbar. As a Redskins fan, for example, I might have an RG3 press conference waiting for me when I open the WatchESPN app.

Phillips let drop several WatchESPN stats during The Cable Show session as well. The app is now available in 55 million households, and ESPN has deals with eight of the top ten video service providers for WatchESPN access.

Eye-Fi Mobi

Eye-Fi has launched the Eye-Fi Mobi, a new camera SD card designed to let you share photos directly from your camera to your mobile devices. This isn’t entirely new, but Eye-Fi claims the set-up process is simpler than ever, requiring “no computer, no account and no cloud.” The price tag is also niftier than before; just $50 for an 8GB card, or $80 for the 16GB version.

We’ve been fans of Eye-Fi for years at ZNF, but I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve used one of their camera cards. The Mobi doesn’t require an Internet connection, but instead directly pairs your camera with a smartphone or tablet. Back in the day, I used my Eye-Fi card to transfer photos automatically to my PC, and then upwards to the cloud as needed. The Mobi doesn’t connect with computers – which is a bit silly – but that may not be a deal-breaker anymore given the proliferation of all things mobile. Users can download the free Eye-Fi iOS or Android app to an unlimited number of devices and share, share away.

For a while I tried to make do with my smartphone for all photo-taking excursions. However, I finally broke down and asked for a real (albeit still inexpensive) camera last Christmas. The quality in most situations is still infinitely better than that of my HTC Thunderbolt. Of course now I just have more digital photos in more places. Perhaps an Eye-Fi Mobi card can help fix the problem.

BELL CANADA - Bell launches Canada's first wireless TV receiver

Bell Canada launched a wireless set-top this week from Motorola as part of its Fibe TV service. Subscribers can connect up to five TVs wirelessly through Bell’s whole home DVR service. The wireless client boxes are available to buy for $199, or to rent for $7 per month.

Bell isn’t the first operator to go wireless. AT&T introduced a similar Cisco box in 2011, and it’s reportedly been popular among U-verse subscribers. I have to admit, though, I find the promoted outdoor use case a bit odd. If I was one of those people on an HGTV show who entertains scores of friends and family every weekend, then maybe I could see installing a set-top on my deck, but the reality is, I’m not. And few people are.

My guess is more people just like the ability to do away with extra TV cords, even in guest rooms, basements, and the home office. If – and it’s a big if – the video quality is reasonable, then why not go wireless?

On the other hand, maybe a tablet serves the same purpose. More and more TV is headed to the second screen. If it’s wireless IP video you want, why not just pick up the iPad? Or even settle back in front of a table-sized PC?

Content plus data bundle

ESPN is considering it. AT&T has discussed it. And now Verizon is jumping on the bandwagon.

At a financial conference yesterday, Verizon EVP and CFO Fran Shammo stated explicitly that we’re likely to see content and wireless data delivery bundled together from certain content providers. In other words, a network like ESPN would cover the cost of video delivery so that users could stream to their hearts’ content without going over mobile data caps.

From the transcript of yesterday’s conference:

So I think you are going to see this ecosystem change, you are going to see some content provider say I’m willing to pay for the content, don’t charge the consumer and when we developed LTE, we developed LTE and our billing system with the capability to segregate that traffic if someone else wants to pay for it.

Now Shammo wants to be clear that this isn’t a net neutrality issue.

Net neutrality is around prioritizing the delivery of content, that’s not what we are talking about, content will be delivered equally across the network. This is just a matter of who pays for the delivery of that content, and I think you are going to see that change and that’s going to open up what can be done on a more seamless basis.

However, by adding in delivery costs, a network like ESPN would be making it harder for smaller content guys without ready capital to compete. Welcome to the world of new media kingpins.

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.)


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…

CW on Apple TV

Internet-delivered TV is a messy market right now, and into the fray, Apple TV has tossed a new partnership with the CW network. The CW will soon have an app on Apple TV devices that shows TV episodes the day after they air on cable. All content will be ad-supported, and no pay-TV subscription will be required.

Apple TV continues to putter along, gathering users, but not particularly breaking through the clutter of Internet-connected media streamers. The launch of a new CW app is noteworthy, however. It marks the first time Apple has offered content from a network outside of the iTunes store and sites like Netflix and Hulu.

From the CW side, the move is interesting because the network is offering cable content as a stand-alone, ad-supported offering. Even ABC is requiring authentication for streaming content, and those shows are (also) otherwise available for free over the air. The CW app is also available on the Xbox and Windows 8 devices.

Apple TV, meanwhile, may get another boost later this year with access to the HBO Go app. There are rumors that Apple and HBO are negotiating terms, though fans can already access HBO content on the Apple TV by using AirPlay to stream video from an iPad.

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.

Archos TV Connect with Google Play Store on Android Jelly Bean

We got a new flat-screen TV for my house in December of 2009, and we’re not likely to upgrade any time soon. That doesn’t top me from wanting to add a little after-market action, however, and for some inexplicable reason, I find that I’m craving an Android TV box for my living room set-up.

Brad over at Liliputing is reporting that TP-Link will soon launch the TPMini in China, and it looks to be similar to the Archos TV Connect announced just before CES. The Archos box hasn’t made it to retail yet, but several hands-on reviews have me wanting to give it a try when the hardware does hit stores.

Both the Archos device and the TPMini run Android 4.1 and let you access the Google Play store on a TV screen (unlike official Google TV hardware). The TV Connect comes with a camera and a funky wireless remote control, and will sell for about $130. The TPMini also comes with a camera, but it uses a mobile app for control instead and is expected to retail (in China) for $56.

Why do I want an Android box? I honestly have no idea. Continue Reading…