Archives For Web

Last fall The Wall Street Journal reported that Sony had plans to launch an Internet-based video service. Now there’s word from Variety that the company is holding off. Apparently it’s not the content licensing deals that Sony’s worried about, but bandwidth caps. At an industry conference yesterday, Sony VP and GM Michael Aragon noted: “These guys have the pipe and the bandwidth. If they start capping things, it gets difficult.”

So here we are, storming into another battle over bandwidth caps. Sony isn’t the only one complaining. Netflix and several others have also raised a red flag because Comcast has said that use of its Xfinity app on the Xbox won’t count against users’ 250GB broadband cap. In contrast, any other video streamed over the web does count against the cap. Critics are calling this a net neutrality foul, and Comcast is countering that Xfinity streaming is different from other services because it’s delivered over a managed network rather than the Internet. It just so happens that both networks are IP-based.

There is a serious discussion to be had here, but it’s a difficult one, and it’s complicated by many factors most people aren’t aware of – like how cable networks are evolving. As a first step to untangling the problem, I have one wild suggestion. Let’s start monitoring how much bandwidth cable companies are devoting to managed IP services versus public Internet service. I’m not saying we should regulate that ratio… at least not yet. But let’s monitor it. We don’t want the Internet side of the pipe to get shortchanged, and if there’s more bandwidth available for public Internet service, there should be less pressure to cap usage. Continue Reading…

NimbleTV

And then there were three. The New York Times is reporting that a new start-up, NimbleTV, will start beta testing a TV Everywhere service today, joining the likes of Skitter and Aereo in trying to bring traditional TV to the web in a direct-to-consumer service model. NimbleTV proposes to stream a subscriber’s entire pay-TV line-up over the Internet. For a likely (though unconfirmed) fee of $20, consumers will theoretically be able to watch all the shows they pay for anywhere, at any time.

Of the three new TV Everywhere companies, NimbleTV sounds the sketchiest of all. The company isn’t attempting to sign retransmission deals isn’t attempting to operate through existing telco franchise agreements the way Skitter has planned, and it’s not sticking to over-the-air content the way Aereo is. (According to MultiChannel News, investor and board member Barry Diller is headed to Congress tomorrow to testify to its legality.) Former Slinger and current adviser to one of NimbleTV’s VC backers Jason Hirschhorn says the company is picking up where Slingbox left off, but although Sling has miraculously managed to skirt around the industry’s legal land mines, I can’t imagine NimbleTV will be able to do the same. Retransmission rights have become a huge deal, and pay-TV providers are creating their own TV Everywhere platforms. They have no interest in turning that distribution channel over to a third party, particularly one that wants to own its own relationship with the consumer.

To top it all off, who wants to pay an extra fee just to stream TV shows you’ve already paid for? I’d say NimbleTV is one for the deadpool. Anybody else care to weigh in?

UPDATE: Turns out NimbleTV is negotiating retransmission rights and paying content licensing fees, contrary to my initial understanding of the service. However, the company believes it doesn’t need the blessing of pay-TV operators to do business. This puts NimbleTV on less shaky legal ground, but still means it’s got a tough fight ahead of it.

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.