Insight on AOL's IN2TV beta
Most will find something to like about In2TV
Wow, it sure didn't take long for AOL's In2TV service to go from beta to ready for prime time stage.
The free service launched last week with six genre "channels": LOL TV (comedy) Dramarama TV (prime time soaps and dramas); Toon Topia (animation); Heroes and Horrors TV (sci-fi and horror); What A Rush TV ("Kung Fu," among the group); and Vintage TV (older TV series such as "Alice" and "Maverick"). I took a quick look at the beta last week, but went ahead and played around with the commercial version. Here's my brief review:
In2TV's user interface gets high marks. It's colorful, intuitive, and even illicit little sound effects when your cursor hovers over a programming genre or when you make a selection. The VOD interface uses today by cable operators leaves a lot to be desired after seeing how In2TV handles navigation. In2TV's interface is also better - and much flashier -- than Google Video, which, though still in beta, looks like an engineer, not a designer, applied a heavy hand to the interface. Google's obvious bread and butter is its search capabilities, but it skimps on the bells and whistles, and it shows when set next to In2TV.
Google Video titles load faster than In2TV, but the video quality in not nearly as good. When In2TV video is streamed, it looks decent when viewed in a small window, but started to pale a bit when it runs in full-screen mode.
I also gave the Hi-Q feature a test drive. This feature allows users to download, rather than stream, the title. The pilot episode of "Alice" came in at about 500 megabytes. It was nice on the eyes when seen in its full-screen glory, but still looked just a rung below broadcast quality. But it certainly looked good enough. Although consumers have been historically tolerant of choppy, grainy video over the Internet, that seems to be changing as speeds increase and legit Internet video services get off the ground. Comcast Cable, for example, is promoting an upgrade to "The Fan." I haven't tried it yet, but will soon.
As for In2TV, the quality of the content library is wonderful, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for old television.
One shortcoming of the services is that it does not yet support mobility, though I'd be surprised if it isn't on the roadmap. I also won't be surprised if In2TV complements its free, commercial-supported content with newer shows that consumers can purchase.
As a novelty, In2TV appears destined to be a hit. But we'll see how well it fares once the novelty has worn off. But AOL has a decent platform in place, and it will serve as a springboard for much more than just old TV shows.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Editor in Chief, CED magazine and xOD Capsule
Kasenna hopes IP patience will pay off
For Mark Gray and Kasenna Inc., cable's migration to an all-IP platform can't happen soon enough.
That's because IP has been at the core of the company's digital video and video-on-demand gear and software from the get-go.
Kasenna, an SGI spin-off, cut its teeth on the hospitality and enterprise sector, but has since extended well into the telco tv and cable markets. These days, 30 percent of Kasenna's business is from cable and "broadband," says Gray, Kasenna's chairman & CEO, during a recent stop by the CED offices. Kasenna, he adds, has turned on 12 telcos (primarily tier-2 and tier-3) with VOD in the last two quarters. On the cable front, the company has almost 20 markets deployed in the U.S., most of them still unannounced. Most of what has been announced is with Charter Communications.
In addition to supplying equipment, the company also operates a content aggregator called ViewNow.
Although Kasenna has not announced too many linkages with tier-1 telcos, that's partly because it's the smaller guys who are using VDSL and ADSL2+ technologies aggressively to deliver video over their legacy copper plant. Besides, "even a telco with 10,000 subs with content and equipment is a nice deal," Gray says.
He says smaller telcos are also in a much different mindset than their bigger brethren. While the tier-1 telcos use video as a defensive measure to protect loss of their primary phone business, the tier-2 and tier-3 telcos are using it aggressively to steal market share in underinvested cable markets.
As for waiting for cable's migration to IP, patience will indeed be a virtue, since the industry has a lot—make that an awful lot—of legacy MPEG transport systems and set-tops deployed. They aren't about to toss that out just to do IP video.
But, in a sense, they already are. Most cable operators are using GigE as their VOD transport platform.
"Without GigE QAMs, we wouldn't have come over to cable," Gray acknowledges, but believes cable must shift some of its video to an IP infrastructure in the next 1-3 years.
He believes that shift will be expedited by a new breed of boxes that house both RF and IP inputs.
"As cable moves to IP, we think we're well positioned," Gray says.
Kasenna also believes it's well positioned for the network digital video recorder market, which is just starting to pick up steam again in the United States.
Internationally, the 7,000-room Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is using Kasenna's system to record 60 channels (two day's worth at any one time) and offer all of it on-demand.
So, what's the nDVR hold-up closer to home? Although Cablevision Systems Corp. is moving ahead on its own nDVR project and Time Warner Cable's "Start Over" service is considered a form of the nDVR, copyright protection remains a huge issue.
"The technology works fine" for the nDVR, Gray says. "No one wants to fight the [copyright] battle."
SeaChange hit on Q4 numbers
SeaChange International said fiscal Q4 revenues rose 11 percent to $33.2 million, but that wasn't enough to avoid a slightly wider year-over-year net loss of $2.9 million (10 cents per diluted share).
SeaChange shares took a hit last week in the wake of perceived video-on-demand business segment weakness, although Q4 VOD product and service revenues totaled $19.7 million, slightly up from $18.6 million the year earlier.
For the entire fiscal year ended Jan. 31, 2006, SeaChange posted revenues of $126.3 million, down from $157.3 million in the prior period. For the year, the company also notched a net loss of $12.1 million (43 cents per diluted share), versus a profit of $9.9 million (34 cents per diluted share), for the previous year.
In Q4, company video-on-demand (VOD) product and services revenues totaled $19.7 million, up from $18.6 million a year earlier.
SeaChange continued to call fiscal '05 a "transition" year and played up its strategy of business diversification. On that note, the company pointed to its acquisition of Liberate Europe (a middleware supplier), the On Demand Group (a London-based content aggregator), and an investment in Casa Systems, a maker of digital video grooming, program splicing and statmuxing gear.
"The pieces are coming together," said SeaChange President & CEO Bill Styslinger, in a statement.
He pointed to a range of "dynamics" that will spur further growth, including more streams driven by deeper digital box penetrations, time-shifted television, and HD-VOD.
Condensed NCAA hoops on Time Warner VOD;
CBS streams games
Time Warner Cable, CBS Sports and CSTV are providing condensed versions of 63 games of the 2006 NCAA Division I Basketball Championship, including an on-demand, free preview of the NCAA tournament. The condensed games will be available to TWC customers only.
TWC will edit individual games to 15 to 20 minutes in length, and offer them for 99 cents each. The partners will also offer two-for-one pricing on first/second round tournament games. Bundled games might be condensed to as little as 10 minutes each.
The games will be available through April 10, 2006.
Meanwhile, CBS SportsLine, CBS Sports, CSTV and the NCAA, which are streaming live video of the first 56 games of the championship tourney, claimed an Internet record for a scheduled live entertainment or sports event, with over 268,000 simultaneous streams. In total, NCAA March Madness on Demand has already surpassed 1.2 million video streams served.
NCAA March Madness on Demand is available at NCAASports.com. In yet another sign that watching streaming video is becoming a common activity, CBS and the NCAA have attracted enough advertisers to make the streamed casts of the games available for free. —Brian Santo, CED Senior Editor
Cablevision puts Stern on-demand
Cablevision Systems Corp. and iN Demand Networks have launched Howard TV - Howard Stern's subscription video-on-demand service - to digital cable customers.
The subscription-VOD service gives cable customers unlimited and uncensored access to in-studio footage filmed during Stern's morning satellite radio program, including the ability to pause, fast-forward and rewind.
Viewers can also order on-demand Stern's complete television catalogue spanning 11 years, including thousands of hours of never-before-seen, uncensored, video footage.
Beginning March 14, Cablevision's iO customers can subscribe to Howard TV for $9.95 a month. Cablevision has more than 2 million iO customers.
Comcast Cable already offers Stern on-demand.
Telewest fires up HD-PVR duo
Telewest has launched TVDrive, the new high definition, personal video recorder service it announced last Fall. The company claims to have the first HD-PVR service combo in the U.K.
Telewest currently passes 4.7 million homes, and has 1.8 million residential customers of its TV, phone and Internet services. If successful, the service will no doubt be rolled out to the customers of NTL, with which Telewest just completed a merger. The combined companies now pass 12 million homes, which represents half of all U.K. homes.
Telewest is using the Explorer 8300DVB HD PVR from Scientific-Atlanta (now part of Cisco Systems). S-A said its 8300 is the first HDTV-capable cable receiver in the U.K., supporting Telewest's launch of HDTV content on the latter's Teleport video-on-demand service.
The 8300 DVB HD PVR is S-A's first PVR with three video tuners, which will give Telewest's customers the ability to record two programs while watching a third. The box also incorporates a DOCSIS tuner for high-speed data access.
The PVR user application was designed and developed by Telewest and runs on middleware provided by SeaChange International, which obtained the technology from Liberate Technologies. Conditional access security is provided by Nagravision. Overall client software integration services were provided by Scientific-Atlanta Europe. — Brian Santo, CED Senior Editor
Ringgold rings up Latens CA
Rinngold Telephone Company is using a conditional access platform from Latens Systems to protect its IP-based broadcast and on-demand video services.
Georgia-based Ringgold is offering VOD via C-COR Inc. servers and backoffice software and has tapped TVN Entertainment to aggregate on-demand content. Minerva, meanwhile, is supplying its iTV Manager system.
"The seamless implementation of Latens FCAS by TVN's VOD affiliates, such as Ringgold Telephone, ensures that they will continue acquiring premium content from TVN, and that our content will be secure," said TVN CTO Dom Stasi, in a statement
Heard On The Net
Apple moves on movies
Apple is stealthily starting to distribute full-length movies, according to a report last week.
According to Business 2.0, citing MacRumors, Apple's iTunes service is offering Disney Channel's made-for-TV movie "High School Musical" for $9.99.
It has been rumored for months that Apple will begin to offer downloadable movies—including box office hits—via its digital download service, which today offers access to television shows such as "Conviction" and "Monk."
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