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Skitter and Aereo

They sound like bad comic book character names, but Skitter and Aereo are two of the latest companies to jump into the video service game. Instead of trying to offer premium content, however, the two start-ups are going old school. They’re both selling traditional broadcast content over the Internet and optionally combining it with a DVR. (Skitter’s DVR service hasn’t launched yet, but is in the works.) On the plus side, you get decent-quality transmission of the prime-time networks, access to TV across a bunch of connected devices, and all the benefits of being able to pause live television, fast forward through commercials, etc. On the minus side, you have to pay a chunk of change every month (around $12) for content that’s supposed to be free.

Whether you like the idea behind Skitter and Aereo or not, the fact that they exist (for now) is an interesting commentary on the state of television. Both companies are offering a very basic content package with a few extra goodies. It reminds of my household circa 2008 when we steadfastly held on to analog cable and combined it with a subscription-free ReplayTV DVR. Most of our TV watching was still focused on the major networks, but the ability to get ESPN and decent reception had us paying a monthly fee to Comcast. Fast forward to today and we pay a much larger monthly bill to Verizon for TV. Granted that bill includes HD channels, a FiOS DVR, VoD, and a much wider selection of linear content, but it’s still tough to stomach when the invoice clears are mailbox every four weeks.

And so Skitter and Aereo enter the scene. Continue Reading…

Now that most of industry’s original interactive TV companies are dead and gone, Comcast may be looking to revive the one thing those iTV enterprises promised above all else – a way to access the web on your TV.

FierceCable’s Steve Donahue uncovered a patent application today detailing how Comcast might enable web-based search engines and TV-based commerce on cable set-tops. In the application, Comcast also notes that it could link its iTV platform to content from other video service providers, potentially knocking down a wall or two around the cable garden landscape. From the patent application summary:

The present invention is directed to content searching of various databases in an interactive television network; caching programming for rebroadcasting to interactive television network subscribers; and interactively offering goods and services referred to in broadcast programming to interactive television network subscribers.

There are certainly plenty of roundabout ways to do a little web browsing on your living-room TV set today, but it’s hardly common practice. In fact, the main reason connected TVs are growing in popularity is not because people want to surf Facebook or play Angry Birds, but because they want access to more content on the biggest screens they own. Presumably, Comcast is using this latest patent application to further its own content ambitions – not just opening up access to other video services where necessary, but making its own growing library of on-demand content available on a platform with increased interface flexibility, access to new distribution channels, and greater room for continued content growth.

The new patent application also falls in line with Comcast’s Xcalibur initiative and its overall transition to IP-based television. Comcast is currently testing the Xcalibur service in Augusta, Georgia, and reportedly has an all-IP set-top – something that would pair nicely with a new iTV platform – on its product roadmap.

Last week a number of Comcast subscribers had a serious hardware problem on their hands. Netgear modems in California suddenly stopped working. Specifically, owners of the Netgear CMD31T lost Internet service, and subscribers were given a lot of confusing information about why they were being left out in the cold.

Industry analyst Mike Demler first reported the issue on EE Daily News, and noted that he was told by a Comcast technician that his Netgear model was not designed to work in California. Demler’s modem had been working for two straight months, however, and a quick search on the Internet found a data sheet saying the modem should work for all major providers except Time Warner. A trip to the local Frys Electronics store confirmed other Comcast subscribers were having the same problem, and Demler quickly escalated his investigation by reaching out to the PR departments at both Comcast and Netgear.

Fast forward to today, and it turns out that the faulty modem problem is an IPv6 issue. Here’s the statement from Comcast:

Comcast is in the process of deploying IPv6 nationally, as noted on this site in great detail. We recently identified that the retail NetGear CMD31T device ships with and runs an uncertified version of firmware that exacerbates a critical IPv6-related defect. To ensure Comcast customers with these devices will continue to have uninterrupted Internet service, we have rolled back IPv6 temporarily in some parts of our network to give NetGear more time to address the issue. Comcast anticipates NetGear will soon address the issue for their retail devices, which we will test and deploy on an emergency basis.

Of course the Comcast/Netgear problem makes one wonder what other glitches we’ll see as the IPv6 rollouts continue. Comcast plans to have IPv6 deployed in half of its network by the second half of this year. Here’s hoping the migration progresses as (relatively) smoothly as the digital TV transition. I had concerns then too, but ultimately the shift proved largely uneventful.

Wide Open West Ultra TV service with Arris gateway

Cable provider Wide Open West (WOW) is beating Comcast to the IPTV punch with a new service called Ultra TV. Not that WOW is delivering TV over IP exactly, but it is deploying the Arris six-tuner IP gateway to combine standard TV delivery with lots of IP entertainment goodness.

WOW joins BendBroadband and Canada’s Shaw Cable in picking up the Arris Moxi gateway. Leasing the gateway will cost you $25 a month, but it comes with two media players for two TVs, and it takes the place of your cable modem and router. You get whole-home DVR service, and the ability to shift content from your PCs and mobile devices to your living-room flat screen. (Hello HBO Go) WOW also includes a Flickr app, news ticker and some basic games.

Thanks to an Arris SDK, WOW could add more custom apps to the Ultra TV service at a later date. Essentially, subscribers are getting a combined cable set-top and Roku box (or any other media extender you could name). If WOW wants to, it could even add Netflix, though there’s little incentive given the MSO’s competing VOD library.

Rounding out the tech specs, the Arris gateway for Ultra TV offers 500GB of storage space, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem and DLNA support, in addition to its six TV tuners. The Ultra TV service includes remote DVR scheduling, and VP Steve Stanfill notes on the company blog that, while self-service install isn’t available today, it may be offered in the future.

Aereo logo and antenna array

Fox network creator Barry Diller introduced a new over-the-top video service yesterday called Aereo. Many are already calling it dead in the water, but there are several reasons I’m more optimistic about Aereo than competitive OTT services launched in recent years.

To take a step back, Aereo is offering a service that delivers broadcast TV stations over IP and bundles them with a DVR. Stations are available on iOS and Roku devices, with Android, PC and Mac browser support scheduled to kick in by mid-March. The service is $12 a month, and is currently invitation-only in New York. Aereo will open up to the public in NYC on March 14th.

In order to be successful, Aereo will have to deliver stellar quality of service. These are free broadcast TV channels after all, which means people can use their own antennas to get the same content at no cost. However, in addition to the DVR add-on (which is pretty compelling in itself for today’s non-cable households), Aereo promises decent picture quality – no need to futz with antenna positioning or manipulate around dead zones. That’s a potential combination of DVR, picture quality and convenience. Not bad.

In addition, I think Aereo’s got a few other things going for it:  Continue Reading…

How Much Is HBO Worth?

Dave Zatz —  February 3, 2012 — 36 Comments

Ben Drawbaugh, of Engadget HD, has decided HBO just isn’t worth $17/month. Ben’s something of a HD snob, which I characterize in the nicest way possible, and finds HBO “unwatchable” — preferring instead to rent or purchase higher quality Blu-ray discs. And has therefore cancelled his subscription.

By comparison, I’m much more tolerant of perhaps somewhat inferior audio/visual presentation… given sufficiently compelling content along with viewing flexibility. So I find HBO to be one of the best values in home entertainment, primarily due to HBO GO - which provides access to all of HBO’s original programming, think Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire, along with a small rotating selection of mainstream movies. HBO GO was originally streamed to mobile devices like the iPad or iPhone, but has branched out Continue Reading…

While Netflix may or may not have gained paying streaming subscribers last quarter, they’ve clearly given up on the idea of peddling physical video game rentals. But, I have to wonder, if thinking games and given their current emphasis on digital delivery, might Netflix elbow into OnLive or Steam‘s territory at some point?

In regards to Netflix’s core video streaming competency, Amazon is reportedly rethinking their Prime Instant offering, currently bundled with a shipping discount program ($79/year), into something more directly competing with Netflix. From the New York Post:

Jeff Bezos and his team at Amazon are weighing a move to beef up the Web retailer’s video-streaming service — possibly carving it out as a standalone, subscription-based operation

Given the effort currently expended to license content, potential upside, and rumors that Amazon contemplated a Hulu acquisition, this isn’t so far fetched. If so, what might Amazon charge for a dedicated streaming subscription? I can’t imagine Netflix’s $7.99/month is sustainable as content licensing fees increase. Which we suppose is the price of success. And if it’s the likes of Netflix versus cable, the establishment has already won… as content owners such as HBO and ESPN tie arguably more compelling online entertainment to television or broadband packages.