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watch-espn

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.

tivo-anyscreen

From the Cable Show this morning, TiVo announced plans to offer cable companies partner-branded versions of their existing mobile apps. Beyond potential integration with TiVo hardware and services, the apps can also optionally tie into operator billing and account management. Atlantic Broadband, with ~250,000 customers, is the first taker and their “powered by TiVo” app is expected this fall. Unfortunately, what may not be expected this fall is Android support for the TiVo Stream. From the press release:

Finally, when paired with a TiVo Stream and an iOS device, users can stream content within the home network and side-load recordings to take on the road.

Back at CES, TiVo indicated Android support is on docket for 2013, yet TiVo partner RCN is managing subscriber expectations with a note that it’s “coming, but not anytime soon.” As the new owner of a Galaxy Note 2 (and soon-to-be-former owner of a Kindle Fire HD), I remain disappointed in TiVo’s de-emphasis of the Android platform.

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.

directv-geniego-android

geniegoDirecTV’s placeshifting Nomad has been rebranded as the GenieGo. Further, the satcaster has dropped the price from $150 to a more compelling $99. The device initially only transcoded and transferred DVR recordings, but has since expanded its capabilities by also providing (almost) live television in-home streaming – comparable to the competing TiVo Stream and DISH Sling Hopper. However, unlike the TiVo Stream, DirecTV has just released an Android app (which isn’t receiving the greatest of reviews) to go along with their longstanding iPhone support. However, for pure streaming, the Sling Hopper remains best-in-class as Slingbox functionality is baked directly into STB hardware, without requiring a separate box, and content can be beamed both within the home and beyond. But for those with limited or no bandwidth whilst on the move, both the GenieGo and TiVo Stream conveniently provide video offloading functionality… although preparing and transferring the content can be a bit kludgy.

We have no religious issue with porting an Apple app to Android. If it made sense for us to do that, we would do that. #

Apple CEO, Tim Cook

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.

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.

directv-voice-search

According to Variety, DirecTV has been working on a Nuance-powered iPhone app update to bring speech recognition to HR24 and newer set-top boxes. My initial reaction was that it’s nothing more than a clever, but not very practical, application of Siri-like skills. Yet, upon reflection, being able to change channel via station name, rather than researching a corresponding number I probably don’t know, seems quite compelling. Natural language interactivity might even come in handy when attempting to determine when a given show airs. However, I don’t imagine voice control would be the most precise or efficient way to schedule and manage DVR recordings and I’m not particularly interested in finding “a Tom Cruise movie this weekend.”