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QOTD: Studios Versus Citizens?

Dave Zatz —  October 27, 2010

Today’s question of the day comes to us by way of David B., PA:

Any thoughts on how Boxee Box may be affected by the recent news that the major networks were blocking Google TV?

I’ve got a Logitech Revue Google TV in my possession, so I’ve seen the fallout firsthand (above). My overall thoughts on the GTV product and experience are still coalescing, but this is an interesting question I wanted to address now. While the studio blockade is a real pisser, I’m certainly not surprised. For folks who are, I imagine the Google TV value proposition has been severely reduced — despite the fact that television-based web browsing is merely a stop-gap until the studios and networks decide how to best present monetize their content. And, of course, that’s the bottom line. At the end of the day, it’s their property and, until told otherwise, they’ll provide it (or not) as they see fit. So prepare yourself for all sorts of browser- and transport-based discrimination. The Boxee Box will not be immune and, in fact, Boxee was one of the first services schooled by the system when network pawn Hulu shut them down. By the same token, Boxee also has the most experience in overcoming these limitations via technological means… should they choose to continue down that path. All will be revealed November 10th?

Not only is Comcast planning to launch a TV remote app “very, very soon,” but CableLabs is making it possible for other cablecos with fewer resources to do the same. At the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo last week, CableLabs execs were talking up a proof of concept the organization has developed for smaller companies who want to get in on the iPad action. The technology uses an IP remote web server (SOAP in this case) to communicate to an EBIF application in a consumer set-top. It’s very similar to the Comcast implementation, but I was assured that the same functionality could be developed using any kind of web services protocol, and could even be accessed on the set-top through something other than EBIF. (OCAP/tru2way optimists live…) The remote application includes the ability to surf an integrated program guide on the iPad, search for program information, and change channels directly from the touch screen.

Setting aside whether one wants to use an iPad as a remote control, the new technology does provide an easy way for operators to push out a better electronic program guide to their subscribers. An iPad EPG not only looks better, it adds features that are sorely missing from most existing guides: the ability to merge linear and on-demand listings, more intelligent search, and greater programming detail. Operators want you to think of the iPad as a TV companion device – one that you won’t only use to watch subscription Netflix streams.

Thanks to Hulu, an obvious studio pawn acting on Fox’s direction, we got a brief glimpse into what a non-neutral network future might look like. As you’ve probably read (or possibly experienced) Cablevision and Fox-parent News Corp are renegotiating retransmission terms. And, as Mari suggested last week, these battles have gotten nasty. With the current dust up resulting in a total Fox television blackout for New York Cablevision customers. To exert additional leverage, Fox/News Corp took the battle to a different medium by presumably, selectively blocking regional Cablevision network addresses from accessing Fox content on

Some choice quotes from Multichannel News

Public Knowledge: “Blocking Web sites is totally out of bounds in a dispute like this.”

Free Press: “This discrimination against Cablevision high-speed Internet customers is particularly egregious because all other online viewers who do not purchase any cable television service currently have unfettered access to Hulu and content.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve called Hulu out on these sorts of practices. Although, when I wondered where Hulu would draw the line, we went ’round and ’round the comments discussing what exactly ‘net neutrality‘ is… and how it might be abused. I’m not sure we’ve found that line yet, but some at Hulu or News Corp apparently decided they weren’t quite ready to open this particular can of worms, as online access was restored within a few hours yesterday. However, I give them credit for mentally preparing us for the possible dynamics of a non-neutral network future.

Later today, TiVo subscribers will gain the ability to re-order, transfer, or delete their Season Passes online at Which is quite powerful when combined with the pre-existing web scheduling capabilities and To Do List functionality. This may seem like a minor feature, and perhaps it is in the grander scheme, but I can tell you it’s infinitely more efficient and practical to handle these tasks via computer than remote.

In addition to effectively segregating his and hers DVRs, as we have above, the new online Season Pass manager is also good for quickly cleaning up shows you’re no longer interested in (or the networks have removed for you). And it should even allow you to migrate all your Season Passes to a new TiVo – assuming they’re simultaneously active for a time.

Deleting and copying Season Passes is pretty straight forward. Check the shows, click the button. Reprioritization is done via some slick AJAXy drag and drop functionality. While I’ve had access to the feature for a few days, I haven’t actually been home to track how quickly changes are propagated from the cloud down to our actual TiVo hardware. However, I’m told it should happen in under 15 minutes. And, in some cases, Season Pass modifications may even appear near instantaneously.

To address some concerns that have cropped up in the forums… No, this is not solely limited to Premiere hardware. And, yes, it’s not quite the whole home (automated) cooperative scheduling many of us have been pining for. But it’s a solid start. (Plus, in my case, cooperative schedule may not help much – we attempt to record “must have” shows on both TiVo units as our Cisco tuning adapters regularly flake out.)

Click to enlarge:

Cloud Engines, Inc, has unveiled the new PogoPlug Pro ($99), their latest version of the multimedia sharing device.

Pogoplug allows users to easily and securely access, share and stream their media content from anywhere without uploading.  The Pogoplug device provides a way to connect your external USB drives and other devices to your network and then access content on those devices over the web.  They also provide apps for iPhone, Android, iPad, BlackBerry and Palm as well.

This hardware refresh provides users of the new Pogoplug Pro all features of the earlier generation Pogoplugs, plus the ability to connect up to four USB drives and print from any mobile device. The Pro also adds built-in wireless connectivity along with a nice, new non-pink enclosure.

I use one of the first generation Pogoplugs along with a few hard drives that no longer “fit” in my HTPC server.  It’s a great solution for my use that just works.

This post republished from GeekTonic.

We can’t say Zatz Not Funny really needs custom link shortening. But it’s kinda cool in a vanity plate sort of way. And at only $35/year (for .tv Tuvalu domain registration), why not?

I’ve been a long time proponent as a way to shorten links for sharing on Twitter, given their high availability and pretty analytics. Now, due to the recent .ly domain dust up, I’ve learned that also white labels their shortening services for others – which is how sites like the Washington Post, Amazon, and TechCrunch provide unique and concise links. Fortunately, in addition to their enterprise class solution (~$1k/mo), there’s a free Pro tier available to those of us working with smaller budgets.

At our level, the customized service provides two ways to leverage our new domain. First, anyone who uses to share a ZNF link will end up presenting a string. Second, any link from any site that I choose to share will also feature our brand:

Setting up Pro was a pretty simple affair. I updated the A DNS record to point to and uploaded a HTML file to ZNF to prove it belongs to us. Going with a .tv domain over .it (Italy) or .me (Montenegro) cost us double or triple, but it’s in line with our blog personality and these are relatively small sums of money. Lastly, Pro isn’t the only game in town if you’re interested – I did uncover a few roll-your-own scripts and other hosted services, like Stumble Upon, that offer similar custom link shortening. Although I can’t imagine anything simpler to implement than

U-verse Xbox 360 AT&T IPTV

Microsoft has promised IPTV on the Xbox for nearly four years now, and while the mothballs have collected on that pledge over time, Microsoft has dusted off the concept to roll out the Xbox-as-set-top here in the US starting on October 15th. As Dave described it back in January, the Xbox in this scenario acts as a thin client for a primary AT&T U-verse box. AT&T is using HPNA to network a traditional set-top to a subscriber’s Xbox console. And therein lies the catch. As of today, you can’t get U-verse TV on a retail Xbox unless you’re also in AT&T’s footprint for U-verse service. That’s because AT&T still needs to use its own network for IP delivery (as opposed to the congested Internet), and presumably also because licensing and regulatory issues would make a national pay-TV service impossible right now.

Interestingly, AT&T is pushing the boundaries with a new U-verse mobile app also announced today. Even if you’re not a U-verse subscriber, you can get the new Windows Phone 7 app for $9.99 per month. It allows you to “download and watch hit TV shows on your smartphone.” Details of what those hit shows might be are scarce. But no doubt we’ll hear more from users before long.

As far as U-verse on the Xbox goes, this is a promising first step for the country’s only all-IP TV service. (IP, after all, is supposed to make it possible for us to access content on lots of different devices.) And Microsoft finally gets to make good on its Trojan horse in the living room.

From the press release:

Using your Xbox 360 as a U-verse receiver, you can receive chat and game invitations from friends through Xbox Live while watching live TV and switch seamlessly from game to TV mode without switching video inputs on your TV screen. You will enjoy virtually the same U-verse TV experience and features available today, including the ability to watch live TV, manage and play back DVR recordings and access interactive apps, your program guide, the On Demand library and more. U-verse TV on Xbox 360 also allows customers to avoid an extra box on their entertainment center and the need to pay a monthly rental fee for an additional receiver.

New customers can order the $99 Xbox kit at 1-800-ATT-2020 when they subscribe to U-verse, and a U-verse technician will load U-verse software on their Xbox 360 during their service installation.

The retransmission battles between content owners and pay-TV providers typically get covered in two ways. There’s the angle about how consumers might miss an important football game because of corporate bickering, and the one about about how higher programming fees are translating into higher cable bills. What doesn’t get covered as often is why retransmission fights are getting nastier by the day. According to analyst Rich Greenfield in a Bloomberg report, we’ve already had five TV blackouts this year affecting about 19 million subscribers as a result of licensing disagreements; the highest number in a decade. And at least part of the reason for this, in my analysis, is the growth of TV on the Internet.

Producing television is expensive. Cable has done so well because it’s created predictable revenue for a large number of studios to develop content. Unfortunately, the same awesome disruption that is bringing us things like Hulu and Google TV is also making content owners and distributors increasingly skittish. Content owners want more money from pay-TV operators because they’re worried about losing cash from consumers who are spending more time online. And pay-TV operators want to pay less money because their TV subscription numbers are headed south. In other words, since there’s very little money to be made from free TV on the web, the studios and content providers are arguing more ferociously to make up the difference. According to the same Bloomberg report, programming fees have gone up about ten percent in the last year, while cable bills have increased around eight percent according to SNL Kagan.

I’ve always said there’s no free lunch when it comes to TV. We’ll either pay for it in higher cable bills or pay for it through new online subscriptions. But at least we’re getting new features now – like mobile access and more on-demand content. It’s progress. With some mud-slinging along the way.