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Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  April 5, 2012

A periodic roundup of relevant news… via our other outlets:

Comcast subscribers may soon get HBO Go on the Xbox
The fact that Comcast has blocked HBO Go on some devices has been a major point of contention in recent weeks. Reports say that Comcast and HBO are closing in on a deal to make the HBO Go app available to Xfinity subscribers on the Xbox and the operator may unlock access as early as this week.

Comcast plans the X3, its first all-IP HD set-top
In addition to building out the Xcalibur platform, Comcast has several other IP initiatives in the works. In February the operator introduced Streampix, an on-demand Internet-based service that’s been compared to an early version of Netflix’s (Nasdaq: NFLX) streaming service. Then there’s the Comcast Xfinity app on Xbox

Google reaches halfway mark with new fiber huts in Kansas and Missouri 
Time Warner has been dismissive of Google’s plans so far. A spokesperson told the Kansas City Star, “This [Google Fiber] is a product that doesn’t exist on a network that doesn’t exist.” Google, however, says it will begin offering service on the new fiber network later this year.

Rovi signs new wide-ranging licensing deal with Sony
Rovi announced that it has signed a technology and patent licensing agreement with Sony covering components of Rovi’s interactive program guide (IPG), which is currently in use by Panasonic, Toshiba, Charter Communications, and Suddenlink, among others.

Google has rather quietly launched a catalog app for the iPad. After it’s last ill-fated attempt to digitize catalogs bit the dust two and a half years ago, the new tablet app (coming to Android devices soon) seems to be the right move at the right time. Even if you don’t enjoy shopping – or feel, like Engadget, that catalogs are best suited for starting fires in the fireplace (fair enough) – the new app has relevance. This is what retail and magazines should be like on a tablet. Digital periodicals have had a rough road so far, but there’s still a lot of potential in the medium, and if you add in an easier way to make money, the business should get a boost. The click-to-buy function gets at that powerful instant gratification impulse, and by couching it in an experience that’s fun, interactive, and playful, catalogs and publications should have an easier time drawing consumers in.

From a purely personal and frivolous standpoint, I love the new Google app. You can page through a range of catalogs with a swipe of the finger, zoom in on images, click to purchase, save favorites to a single location from different stores, share stuff with friends, and even create your own collages pairing together items from all over the place. It’s way cooler than the analog alternative, and much easier than opening up multiple windows on your PC to compare products. There are still a limited number of catalogs available in the app, but that will surely change. I expect we’ll see a big jump before the holiday shopping season. In the meantime, I’m happy with what I can get. It’s about time the tablet shopping experience got a makeover.

AOL, Google, The News, & I

Dave Zatz —  February 21, 2011

In the last couple of days, two respected Engadget editors have resigned (details here & here). Amongst their publicly disclosed grievances, both cited the AOL Way – which appears to favor assembly line content. Quantity over quality, current, and search engine optimized. While Engadget hasn’t yet been subjected to the AOL Way, these defections make many wonder if the writing’s on the wall. Instead of continuing to evolve as a largely independent (and loved) entity, will Engadget be consumed Borg-like into newly appointed Huffington’s AOL media empire?

Along with this discussion is a renewed debate over ‘blogs as journalism’ and eHow Google might deemphasize the likes of low quality content farms. From a blogger with stints at Mashable and Engadget:

Almost everyone uses Google to find out more about news that’s happening right now, whether it’s tech industry stuff, celebrity breakups, or political revolutions. Unfortunately, the rules Google uses to determine which websites gain strong rankings — and thus frequent traffic, high impressions and strong ad revenues — betray journalists and the people who need them at every turn. Google’s algorithms and the blog linking customs built around them favor those who write first, not those who write accurately. I have no qualms about producing entertainment and other products to meet demand. But journalism must not function this way if it is to remain useful.

And it certainly seems like many pander to Google. For example, TechCrunch (another AOL property) was once a blog purely dedicated to Web 2.0. They were extremely successful and I was a regular. But I suspect it’s been even better for business to expand their reach by covering Apple’s every move.

Yet, building a business around Google’s indexing and oversized influence shouldn’t necessarily be burdened with negative connotation Continue Reading…

Verizon FiOS TV CES 2011 3

When Verizon launched FiOS TV, it launched it as a hybrid QAM/IP service – using QAM for broadcast television, and IP for VOD services and widgets. That’s about to change. Quietly, and very much behind the scenes, Verizon has been running an overhaul of its infrastructure in order to be able to deliver everything over IP. This is not IP as in the free-and-clear Internet, but IP as in a managed IP network used to deliver both multicast and interactive content.

In a meeting with Verizon exec Joe Ambeault here at CES, I learned that the company is very much committed to moving everything to its new IP platform. Consumers watching traditional FiOS TV should never see a difference, but by transitioning to IP, Verizon will have an opportunity to deliver its television service to a wide range of web-connected gadgets in the form of an app. In other words, FiOS TV will become just another service you buy in an app store – accessible across multiple screens and delivery platforms. In theory, consumers could even bring their own broadband to the table (FiOS or otherwise) and just layer FiOS TV on top.

The implications for this paradigm shift are a bit overwhelming, but in the short term, we can think of it just as a way to get access to content on more devices. If FiOS TV is an app, there’s no reason subscribers can’t access their shows from a tablet, smartphone, or laptop. The content doesn’t get delivered as part of a parallel TV-Everywhere system, but as a single IP solution that goes across every screen that consumers might want to use. We’ve seen hints of this in the new FlexView brand, but the model goes much further than anything we’ve seen deployed yet. As far as Verizon is concerned, the technical challenges have pretty much been solved. Again, in theory, consumers who don’t have access to FiOS Internet could get the television service added on to an existing non-Verizon ISP contract. That won’t happen any time soon, but the reasons are purely commercial, not technological. And the commercial situation is changing all the time. Continue Reading…

The big TV manufacturers are all pushing 3D very hard, consumer sentiment be damned. But they’re also all getting on board with their own smart TV offerings, including services with app stores, and content that can be place-shifted to different devices. Yesterday Samsung and Panasonic both showed off their own TV app markets: Media Hub for Samsung, and Viera Connect for Panasonic. Samsung is touting TV episodes that can be accessed from mobile Galaxy devices, as well as an app ecosystem that it’s currently building out with developers. Panasonic showcased apps for Hulu Plus, MLB, BodyMedia, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Withings, and Ustream during its event.

As the TV manufacturers jump into the app space, how will it change the landscape for both pay-TV operators and over-the-top box companies? (Not to mention the likes of Yahoo…) It will be interesting to watch.

If you’ve been missing CBS shows on your various connected devices, cheer up. “America’s Most Watched Network” is now coming to more gadgets courtesy of new licensing deals with Boxee and Samsung. The Samsung deal was announced yesterday at the company’s packed press conference and will bring CBS shows like CSI, NCIS, The Good Wife, and Survivor to Galaxy S smartphones and Galaxy Tab devices. (A new Wi-Fi-only Galaxy Tab was also announced yesterday, but that’s a different story.) Samsung announced the Media Hub service late last year for its Galaxy devices. It’s currently available with T-Mobile and Sprint, and “coming soon” to AT&T and Verizon.

Meanwhile, Boxee’s news came out this morning, with GigaOM reporting that Boxee users will soon be able to purchase both current and older CBS TV episodes on demand. GigaOM points out that this makes Boxee soon to be the only startup able to nail down agreements with all four major broadcasters. Interestingly, the shows cited by Boxee as CBS examples were Hawaii Five-O and MacGyver. Does this mean Boxee will have different content from Samsung? Probably not, but it’s interesting to speculate how the broadcasters could be doling out their content rights.

While Comcast and Verizon have been the most vocal about connecting the TV experience with tablet devices, AT&T announced a new technology today that shows the U-verse operator isn’t letting the TV/Tablet trend pass it by. According to reporting from Engadget, the new tech uses Wi-Fi to connect mobile devices to AT&T set-tops. It supports DLNA and adds in authentication, a TV interface, and application context. And in a twist, the operator is opening up the technology to let developers create their own U-verse applications. AT&T’s sample application, ComplemenTV, gives you remote DVR scheduling on the iPad, and program guide info with connections to Amazon and Home Shopping Network for product purchases. Now this is interactive TV.

We learned last fall that Comcast had some new tricks planned for the Xfinity TV app, and an announcement this morning provides a bit more detail. (Business Insider SAI posted the news first.) Comcast will launch a new “play now” feature later this year for the iPad that gives access to “nearly 3,000 hours” of on-demand content. In addition, Comcast will add live streaming to the Xfinity TV app for in-home live TV watching on an iPad. Yes, we’re talking in-home only on the live streaming, but it still makes a nice place-shifting feature when you want to watch TV while cleaning the dishes or organizing your closets. Both the play now and live streaming functions will also reportedly be ported to Android tablets this year.

It’s interesting that Comcast has decided to make some noise during CES despite not having an official presence here. (No doubt there are plenty of back-room meetings taking place.) Part of the reason has to be the fact that Verizon is making a big splash at the show this year, though most of that will be on the wireless side rather than from the FiOS division. Another part of the reason is likely Comcast’s upcoming merger with NBCU. As The New York Times reported this morning, CES is turning into a can’t-miss event for media companies. All these new gadgets are great. But many of them are only as good as the content they provide.