TVEverywhere: I’m Not a Dumb Pipe

November 1, 2009

tv-everywhereA lot is being written recently about TVEverywhere, the initiative being led by Comcast and Time Warner Inc. to provide the same great programming we enjoy on our TV sets online, but on a subscriber basis; if you’re a cable/telco subscriber than you can get the same programming online through the respective company portals. If you’ve never heard of TVEverywhere check out NewTeeVee’s write-up. Comcast is actually calling their effort OnDemand Online and along with TW have begun trails.

This is a big initiative. Real BIG. It’s difficult enough for a large complex company (like a cable or telco) to implement their own authentication, single sign-on, or video asset management and supply chain system (trust me, we’ve done it), but to do it in conjunction with another big industry player? Summon the rabbit foot. I’m not saying it won’t happen; on the contrary I believe it definitely will. It’s the last stand.

It started with torrents, then pirated video on YouTube, then legitimization through Hulu – but the operators are still left out in the cold. All efforts to provide the programs and movies we know and love over the web, have been what are called ‘over the top services'; content and services provided on the web running on the network we call the internet. The network (read web) is provided to us by the Internet Service Provider; usually your local cable or telco provider. We pay them for access but they don’t get a cent from what we actually buy or watch online. It’s the same thing as paying for utilities; you power company doesn’t get a cut of the light bulb you buy at the store. You power company is the ‘dumb pipe’. Today’s cable/telco are fighting not to become a utility. TVEverywhere (or similar efforts by Verizon and AT&T) will either make the pipe smart or dumb.

The promise of TVEverywhere is that you get online what you already pay to watch on TV. But will it work? Whether legal or not, the fact is you can find almost any TV show or movie online or on a P2P network. The number of people canceling their cable service and simply watching online grows daily. With the ability to simply connect your computer to your TV, or stream directly to your TV, it’s a great way to save $50-$100 a month. If I want to go all legal then I can go to the ever-increasing content catalog at Hulu, licensed content on YouTube, or even directly to network or cable channel websites (I can watch a lot of Seinfeld on TBS.com) – all ‘over the top’ services where studios publish direct to consumer, bypassing network providers. People are canceling their cable/satellite services; they can get content without them. But, it’s a pain.

People are inherently lazy. Some of us actually like working, some go to the gym regularly, and some climb mountains; but the vast majority want things nice and easy (it’s the reason the drive-thru was invented). We don’t want to search the web for our shows; we want to turn on our TV and get everything easily.

The promise of TVEverywhere is that Advertiser and programmers will maintain their existing business models, and for consumers get what we want online. It’s a bet that:

(a) The vast majority of people are not all web savvy, connect my computer or stream directly to my TV geeks

(b) Studios won’t all flock to Hulu

(c) Advertisers will continue to value the 30 sec TV spot more than anything online (which is the reason for (a))

(d) The basic paradigm of new content fueled on advertising dollars will stay the norm (because of (c))

Can you imagine a world where all content we have is paid for with money generated by online ads? I don’t think that $25 CPM is going to pay for the new season of 24. Hulu is doing a great job of monetizing content but I submit that the reason studios can afford to monetize on Hulu is because they’re making the real money on TV. Without TV, Hulu can’t survive.

TVEverywhere is a good bet by the ISPs to drive traffic to their own online portals instead of other services. The promise is that there won’t be a cost to existing subscribers; idea being that with more traffic, the portals will become a cash cow of advertising dollars. Provided they can get through the operational and tech hurdles to can make it happen, there are two opportunities to really realize success:

1. Lower subscriber fees so that people will be less incented to go ‘over the top’ for content

2. Offer an online-only subscription. Even in the event that the paradigm changes and the majority start going online to watch, the big ad dollars will follow

The wild card is still the cost of bandwidth, and the ability for ISPs to make costs viable. Net neutrality concerns aside, ISPs could hamper competing ‘over the top’ services by requesting they pay to have their service streamed on the good part of the pipe (i.e DOCSIS 3.0). You want to use our pipe and take our customers? Pay me.

How things shake out will depend on the same group that always has the last say:  Us. Where, how, and when we get our video will shape the future of the industry. You’ll be able to get your movies everywhere, so keep the popcorn hot and take your pick.


Goodbye Analog, TV Goes All Digital

June 12, 2009

DigitalTV

So today is finally the day. After being re-scheduled, debated in Congress, and some unwarranted anxiety TV goes all digital today in the U.S.! Bottom line, unless you have ears sticking out of your set (i.e. you have cable or satellite) you’re already digital.  If you do have an antenna and waited until the last minute to get your coupon and go get the box!

What happens now? The big significance is more wireless specturm. So, more wireless hits the grid while the TV world keeps trying to innovate and figure out how to keep you glued.


Long View on Interactive TV Ads

March 27, 2008

Erick over at TechCrunch has a great post on bringing web video ad methods to television. It’s great not because I agree with it but because it’s a valuable discussion and gives a glimpse into what some already successful startup CEOs are thinking.

Bringing web services and solutions to television continues to be a very hot topic. It’s only going to gain more chatter as mobile services gain traction and the TV becomes the final frontier (speech to to far out for now).

Read the post here. I leave a comment with my views (comment 27 if you’re interested).


Bright Idea: Searching Your TV

January 22, 2008

Last night I was flipping through the channels on my TV looking for something to watch that might actually stimulate my brain instead of kill it (ya, good luck). I usually only watch sports, news, or the occasional documentary or sitcom and so have my usually channels to check. After seeing poker on the sports channels (a game where you can sit down and smoke while playing it is not a sport!), I decided to venture to the maze of the other 300+ channels on the dial.

I had flipped past the movie “The Good Sheppard” earlier and went looking for it again. I flipped and I flipped. I was sure I had seen it. “Why can’t I search this thing?!?!”

Bright idea: Make it easier to search my TV for the show I want.

I know, I know – DVR and digital programming guides have search already! Yup, the kind where you can click on the show type (sports, news, etc.) first then find, or where you have to segment your channels beforehand…the kind that makes you jump to many screen before finding what you need. It’s more of a Yahoo directory than a Google search.

The idea is for search to be as easy on my TV as it is on my computer. Without a keyboard it won’t be as simple but here’s the concept:

1. Press a button on my remote control and a search box pops up on my screen

2. No keyboard so I get a dynamic menu with a list of program types, and I select one

3. The menu changes to show me the programs for that type (maybe ordered by my viewing habits! I like spy movies and if my TV knows I like them then it shows me them first…I know big brother and all that)

It’s a similar thought as what exists today but presented in an easier to use and simple way. Sort of what Google did with search online.

If someone knows of a service that has this already (or if Google is working on it) let me know in the comments.


Warner Bros. Backs Blu-Ray

January 7, 2008

In my HD vs. Blu-Ray post a few days ago I suggested that a winner in the battle could be decided if Warner Bros. picked a side. To my surprise (and everyone else), on the eve of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Warner Bros. announced it’s backing Blu-Ray. Wow. With the Warner Bros. move, the talk is that Blu-Ray has won. Call me Nostradamus :)

Toshiba (main backer of HD) said they’re ‘quite surpised’ by the decision and are understandably pissed and re-grouping. In a PC World report, they Toshiba states:

“We will assess the potential impact of this announcement with the other HD DVD partner companies and evaluate potential next steps. We remain firm in our belief that HD DVD is the format best suited to the wants and needs of the consumer.”

PC World also reports that “the HD DVD Promotion Group’s CES plans went into disarray. Within hours of the announcement, the group cancelled its scheduled Sunday-evening news conference and subsequent media interviews at CES.”

Seems like the decision by Sony to include a Blu-Ray player in the PS3 was a brilliant move. The biggest problem for studios was mass adoption of players. Every PS3 purchase was in effect a Blu-Ray purchase and so Sony created a Blu-Ray market larger than HD, providing a more compelling consumer market for the studios.

Toshiba says that HD has been declared dead before and that they’re re-grouping, but with five of the seven Hollywood studios backing Blu-Ray (only Universal and Paramount are HD backers), it’s safe to say HD is on life support and the plug might be pulled sooner rather than later.


HD vs. Blu-Ray: A Quick Guide

January 3, 2008

With the increasing talk (and non-geek confusion) around HD and Blu-Ray, I thought I’d offer a quick guide to understanding what this digital fight is all about.

What do HD and Blu-Ray mean?

It has nothing to do with the HD on your TV. It’s about making DVDs better. 

Back in 1997 DVDs hit the market and quickly killed VHS tapes.  DVD gives you standard definition, and HD and Blu-Ray are basically an ‘upgrade’ to high definition. HD and Blu-Ray are competing high definition formats, each one backed by some pretty big companies and studios hoping that their format will become the standard.

In the Red Corner:  HD – Toshiba, Microsoft, WB, Universal, Paramount, Dreamworks

Hardware:Toshiba is the big muscle behind HD. They’re the dominant manufacturer and have a variety of HD players in the market since 1996. Microsoft’s Xbox has also released an Xbox add-on (for $180) that makes the internal DVD capable of HD.

Movies:The people making the movies are the ones who will ultimately decide which format, HD or Blu-Ray, wins. Problem is they’re split down the middle. On the HD side we’ve got Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Dreamworks. That means if you want to watch Shrek (from Dreamworks) in high definition then you need an HD player, you can’t get it on Blu-Ray.

In the Blue Corner:Blu-Ray – Sony, Disney, Fox, WB, Lions Gate, Sony Pictures

Hardware:Sony is the big champion of Blu-Ray. The cool thing is that the Playstation 3 comes with a great Blu-Ray player, and since Blu-Ray players are about the same price as a PS3, buy the PS3 and get gaming for the same price! Samsung, Pioneer, and Phillips also have Blu-Ray players. Also, Blu-Ray discs hold more than HD disks (but since you can’t burn your own, it doesn’t really matter right now).

Movies: Blu-Ray used to have the majority of the studios on its side and was looking like it was going to win. In August 2007, Paramount and Dreamworks said that they’re switching to HD and now it’s an even race. On the Blu-Ray side we’ve got Sony Pictures (which includes MGM, Columbia), Disney (which includes Miramax and Touchstone), Fox, Lions Gate, and Warner Bros.

And the Winner is?

HD players are cheaper, but Blu-Ray is coming down in price and if you buy a PS3 you get a Blu-Ray player too. On the movie side, Warner Bros. hasn’t picked a side yet and since they release more movies than almost anyone, when they do it just might spell out who wins.

But WB might stay playing both sides, and things might stay the same. If that happens it’ll come down to the price of the player. The more affordable player could win, or we could see cheaper ‘dual players’ capable of playing both HD and Blu-Ray.

The studios are waiting to see what players people are buying, and manufacturers are waiting for studios to pick a side.

It might be Warner Bros. that picks a side and delivers the punch or it might be a Chinese manufacturer that brings an affordable player to market. If history is any lesson, then this prize fight will end in a knockout. I’ll watch from ringside until it’s over.


Will Web HD kill T.V.?

December 14, 2007

Since the explosion of online video a few years ago, there’s been much chatter about whether (or when) web video will kill traditional T.V.  My stance has always been – ya right!

With HD, the chorus is growing a bit louder. The suggestion is that it will be a lot easier for people to get HD content on the web instead of through their television service. Why, because on the web it could be free (better system cost put aside).

What many fail to realize is user behaviour. Most people turn the T.V. on after a hard days work, when exhausted, or for background noise. Here’s the pattern of an average T.V. user:

1. Come home exhausted

2. Plop down on the sofa

3. Turn on the T.V.

4. Shut off the brain

Until someone can figure out how to get web video (no matter what resolution) to the T.V. screen with minimal, or no effort on the part of the user then people will be watching T.V. the same way we have been since the 50s. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google haven’t figured it out yet (yes Apple TV is dead because no one wants to connect, disconnect, have a box sitting in their living room).

The answer could be to transmit wirelessly from the computer to the T.V. so that I can watch what I want how I want. Or, better yet, plugging the web in directly from my wall jack to the T.V.’s ethernet port. Then broadcasting rights, ads, geography all being worked out (wishful thinking) we’ll really see the web content quality race become something to get excited over.

The exciting thing is that people are innovative and things are always being created. The digital world continues to impact our everyday lives and one day, one way or another, T.V. as we know it will change for the better.


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