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TV here, there, everywhere on Internet

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 10:24am
Mike Robuck

For now, at least, AT&T has decided that Hulu is the lesser of two evils when it comes to launching its own Web portal for Internet video.

Instead of taking Time Warner up on its TV Everywhere concept, like Verizon did, AT&T has chosen online video provider Hulu as one of its content providers. AT&T’s Web portal, which was officially launched yesterday, features a fair amount of content that is linked back to Hulu’s Web site, including NBC shows “The Office” and “30 Rock.”

As everyone knows, Hulu has cemented its status as the primary over-the-top threat to both cable and telco video providers, but that didn’t stop AT&T from forging its online relationship with Hulu.

A report released this week said that Hulu’s users across the nation almost quadrupled over the past year, and it saw its usage grow from 8 percent of households in 2008 to 32 percent this year.

Hulu is an interesting dynamic in the Internet video landscape. It launched in 2007 with NBC Universal and News Corp. as its owners before The Walt Disney Co. and Providence Equity Partners bought stakes earlier this year.

Currently, Hulu’s ad-supported service is only available in the United States, but it has global ambitions and is working with broadcasters and studios to be able to offer its service in other countries. For example, in Canada, Canadian broadcasters have bought up the rights to popular shows from the U.S., which means Hulu has to work out its own streaming agreements with the studios.

Time Warner Cable’s roster of programmers includes the Syfy channel, which is owned by NBCU. In addition to Syfy, AT&T has a slate of NBCU broadcasters in its current lineup, including USA, CNBC and Bravo.

Comcast’s On Demand Online venture with Time Warner doesn’t have any NBCU deals in place to date, and neither do Time Warner Cable and Verizon. For its part, Hulu hasn’t been able to land any shows from CBS, so there are gaps in everyone’s lineup thus far.

While content will prove to be king over the long haul for the various services, it’s also worth noting that a lot of the programming offered by the different services is already available on broadcasters’ own Web sites.

Other differences in the various services include AT&T’s Web portal, which is called AT&T Entertainment, being open to any Internet user, although it has said its own subscribers will get additional content, while Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon are directing their services at their own subscribers through an authentication process.

AT&T is also offering data and video subscribers who use the Web portal the ability to sign up for U-verse Web Remote Access, an application that allows them to schedule and manage DVR recordings directly from their PCs.

Another difference in the services is that Comcast is currently offering On Demand Online, which is slated to go to a national pilot over the next month or two, through its own Web portals, while Time Warner Cable and Verizon will allow their subscribers to access the shows from the networks’ Web sites. Comcast has said it will do the same at some point.

Time Warner has left the door open for other video providers to jump on board the TV Everywhere bandwagon, which DirecTV is reportedly mulling, so there should be more announcements forthcoming.

Attendees at October’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver can expect to see video over IP taking on a high profile at the show. As colleague Brian Santo recently detailed, CableLabs is also pondering its role in the TV Everywhere concept.

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