Archives For Broadband

Back in September I heard from a source that Starz was not only pulling its content from Netflix, but also planning an app on the HBO Go model. Now we have confirmation from Starz President Chris Albrecht that a mobile app is on the roadmap for 2012. Not only that, but Albrecht said at an investor conference in New York yesterday that Starz is also open to offering a service not tied to a cable TV subscription. This may be a warning shot at operators who are blocking HBO Go on the Roku. If premium content providers like Starz and HBO can’t count on their operator partners to get their content to every paying audience, then they have to look at other distribution options.

On the other side of the coin, I have serious questions about Starz’s ability to go it alone. One option Albrecht reportedly mentioned at yesterday’s conference would be to bundle Starz with a broadband connection rather than with cable TV. But I think Starz would need to offer a pretty sweet deal to make that attractive. Does Starz really have enough desirable content for consumers to pay for the content by itself? The a-la-carte model always sounds good, but it would get expensive awfully quick. And there are only a few channels with enough cache to get consumers pulling out their wallets. ESPN and HBO could maybe pull it off, but Starz? I’m skeptical.

Meanwhile, Albrecht did say that Starz is also in discussions with other distributors like Amazon.com and Blockbuster, even if it’s through with Netflix.

Moxi Guide 1

Some of us still mourn the days when Digeo could have launched a credible retail DVR product with its Moxi box, but at least the technology hasn’t gone away. After Arris’ acquisition of Digeo in late 2009, we finally saw the deal bear fruit earlier this year when the company rolled out its Moxi set-tops with Shaw in Canada and BendBroadband in Oregon. Now, product manager Paul Palermo says there’s more in store for the re-branded Moxi Whole Home Solution. Arris will soon make an SDK available so that cable operators can take advantage of the Moxi Gateway’s IP connectivity to deliver their own apps to the TV. In the near future, Palermo says that there will be web browser capabilities in the gateway as well, though whether operators choose to use them is another question entirely.

Lots of cable operators are creating their own apps these days, so it’s no real surprise that hardware suppliers are trying to facilitate the jump from tablets and smartphones to the TV. Initially, though, the cable operators using the Moxi solution are only marketing it as a whole-home DVR. That’s a relatively easy sell for subscribers, who now know what whole-home DVR is, and why they should want it.

Meanwhile, Arris also has the Moxi UI going for it. Cable companies can brand the guide at will, but the interface is recognizable from the Digeo days. Big cablecos will still build their own EPGs of course, but smaller ones are generally happy to let someone else do the heavy lifting. Check out the photos below (shot on site at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo) to see some shiny new updates to pics of the Moxi guide.

Rovi TotalGuide 1

It’s the start of the SCTE Cable Tec-Expo in Atlanta, which means you’re going to see a lot of cable news over the next two days. Among the vendor announcements, Rovi’s put out two customer releases related to the company’s TotalGuide EPG solutions. BlueRidge Communications is now using the white label version of Rovi’s TotalGuide xD application for smartphones and tablets (think Comcast iPad web app, but built by Rovi), and Buckeye Communications is rolling out the TotalGuide on its advanced set-tops.

This may not sound like exciting news, but it is when you consider that Rovi is bringing Internet-sourced content to the cable TV guide experience. Features include an HD interface, unified search, and “six-degree discovery” recommendations linking related content via cast and crew, awards, similar programs and more. When I spoke to Rovi VP Sharon Metz last week, she mentioned that Buckeye specifically is delivering Internet-based guide data using the DOCSIS modem in Motorola and Pace set-tops. Now there may be other applications using that set-top Internet connection by now, but this is the first consumer app I’ve heard of that takes advantage of that connectivity. (We’ll talk about what’s happening on Arris gateways another time.) Rovi’s got other customers on the roster too. This year the company’s announced TotalGuide EPG deals with BendBroadband, Armstrong, Suddenlink and Charter Communications.

roku-hbogo-channel-store

A day or so before HBO GO was released to Roku devices I was tipped off that DirecTV and Comcast wouldn’t offer this service. At the time, I didn’t recognize the implication… but it’s become all too clear. Comcast and DirecTV are willfully preventing access to HBO GO on Roku devices, even though that very same content is offered to their subscribers via mobile devices and web browser.

In corresponding with Roku and HBO, I’m pretty sure this is neither a technical issue nor a licensing issue. So it’s not clear to me why Comcast or DirecTV would deny Roku owners access? My initial thought was that it boils down to fear of an over-the-top future… yet Comcast is bringing Xfinity to the Xbox and, generally speaking, HBO has done right by their partners and only offers HBO GO to HBO cable/satellite subscribers. I asked Comcast to help me understand, but their prepared non-response doesn’t shed any light on the situation.

Every day we’re working to make XfinityTV programming available to our customers in more ways including the Xbox, connected TVs, on websites like XfinityTV and HBOGo, on tablets and other devices.  Today, all HBO content is available on XfinityTV.com and through the XfinityTV app for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.  We will continue to work with our partners to deliver even more choices to our customers in more places.

For now the mystery remains unsolved, with the impotent HBO and Roku encouraging customers to contact their respective providers if they’re not being served. And this marks another day that I’m pleased to be a Verizon FiOS TV customer.

Our growing appetite for high-def video is putting a serious strain on operator networks, and the result is an enemy we all love to hate: bandwidth caps. So bearing that in mind, it’s good news to hear there’s continued progress on the development of a new video compression standard, the High Efficiency Video Coding specification, or H.265. According to Multichannel News, an initial draft of the new spec should be ready in February, with a completed standard due in January 2013.

The H.265 codec is expected to decrease the bandwidth needed to deliver video by 25% to 50%. The bandwidth savings come at a cost of increased processing complexity, but the benefits, particularly for mobile operators, make the cost worthwhile. GigaOM reported not long ago that data delivery will stop being profitable for mobile carriers in about a year and a half. Without increases in efficiency, you can bet your bottom dollar that carriers will raise data rates as a counter-measure. On the other hand, with a combination of network improvements and compression advances, perhaps we can stave off that outcome and continue to enjoy our mobile streaming services.

New video compression techniques will also be put to the test with the advent of Ultra High-Definition Television. UHDTV is said to increase the number of pixels crammed into a video picture by 400% to 1,600%. The ITU settled on an agreement for the basic tech specs in a UHDTV standard with an announcement last week.

4G and the Whispernet Model

Mari Silbey —  October 5, 2011 — 6 Comments

We’re still in the early days of 4G deployments and adoption, and while I’m loving LTE access on my HTC Thunderbolt, the real impact of next-gen mobile broadband won’t be felt for another year or two. When it does hit, we’re likely to see a lot of changes in how mobile devices and applications are developed, managed and priced. According to Tellabs (via GigaOM), carriers are about to lose their data cash cow, and will actually be in the red with mobile data delivery by 2013 if nothing changes. Of course “if nothing changes” is the key clause here. Things will change because no carrier is going to offer a service that can’t ultimately deliver a profit.

One of the more intriguing possibilities for future mobile pricing models is a move toward Amazon’s Whispernet model. The pricier Kindle Touch version is still bundled with free 3G mobile broadband services, but it’s now limited to Kindle store and Wikipedia access. I expect we’ll see a lot more of this – hardware providers bundling mobile broadband with devices, and even app providers bundling access with certain types of applications. There are many mobile activities that can wait for Wi-Fi, but instant gratification can be a powerful draw , and it’s a feature that many are willing to pay for.

For example, the vast majority of my mobile data usage comes from streaming Slacker or NPR. In the future, I could see Slacker 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.

You can see how this would work for video and other services too. Netflix could bundle access with its video service. So could Amazon, either with its Kindle Fire, or with its video streaming service delivered on somebody else’s hardware. When Apple brings its iPhone 5 to market with 4G, it could bundle access to iTunes. Or it could bake mobile broadband access into its new Nano for fitness applications. The possibilities are limitless.

If delivered well, the Whispernet model is something people would pay for. And in a world of 4G speeds, it would make mobile broadband feel unlimited again, albeit in a limited way.

A different day, a different story. Experts are now predicting that connected TVs will be hot this holiday season. Jonathan Weitz, a partner at IBB Consulting says that consumers will buy up smart TVs this winter and beyond, and Parks Associates expects more than a tenth of broadband households to purchase a connected TV in the second half of 2011. That’s a pretty big shift from just a few years ago when the focus was still on upgrading to HD, and even from last year when most people were still asking me if they should buy a 3D TV. However, I have to question how radical the change really is from a consumer perspective. For example, when I spoke to Jonathan Weitz late last month, he pointed out that the vast majority of TVs sold in the next three years will be connected TVs. If connected TVs become the default for manufacturers, then sure, that’s what consumers will buy. It’s kind of like having said in the late 1990s that most people would start buying PCs with embedded modems. Yup, pretty good bet.

So let’s turn instead to the impact of connected TVs on consumer viewing habits. The two assumptions I’ve heard most frequently are that smart TVs will push more people to cut the cord on cable, and that smart TVs will lead to more interactive TV app use. On the cord-cutting front, I don’t think the impact is going to be dramatic. There does seem to be a slow drain on pay-TV subs, but for consumers who want a good selection of TV and movies, there’s still no better option than a cable or telco subscription. Just because you can access a Netflix app on your TV doesn’t mean you don’t want to be able to watch FX, or Discovery, or ESPN too.

Which brings me to the second point. What is it people want to do with their TVs? I’m still convinced that people mostly want to watch television. The apps that are likely to prove most popular on connected TVs? I’m guessing Netflix, YouTube, and other apps that offer more content rather than new functionality. I’ll caveat that by saying I do acknowledge some behaviors are changing. Parks Associates has found that one of the features consumers say they’d prefer to have on connected devices (including smart TVs) is access to Facebook. So maybe consumers do want some interactivity with their TV watching, in which case, advertisers should be all over that opportunity. However, given how many devices we can interact with, I have to question how far the pendulum is really going to swing. When I crash at night, I don’t want to tweet on my TV. I want to turn off my brain and just watch a show.