Upping the HD-VOD ante
Cable’s advantage with HD-VOD won’t last forever, but Comcast Corp. ensured it would keep that lead for a while longer with the unveiling of a new initiative that greatly expands the number of hi-def titles available to those valuable HD customers.
Although the MSO had been offering a handful of HD-VOD titles, it now aims to offer about 100 titles.
Starting Nov. 15, Comcast began
offering ‘The Chronicles of Narnia:
The Lion, The Witch and The
Wardrobe’ from Starz in HD-VOD
format – a week before its premiere
on the linear Starz HD network.
A key partner is premium programmer Starz Entertainment, whose Star On Demand service eventually will offer at least 20 titles per month. A quick check over the weekend on Comcast’s Denver system revealed just eight such titles, so more are certainly on the way.
Movies in the “free” HD-VOD category included titles such as “Cliffhanger,” “Men in Black,” “Terminator” and “Spy Hard.” The HD-VOD slate is complemented by free and/or pay titles from Comcast corporate cousin OLN, as well as CBS, Discovery, INHD, and Music Choice.
Although emerging formats such as HD-DVD and Blu-ray will, despite themselves, break through and make a mark with consumers who want to get the most out of their hi-def sets, expect other operators to follow in Comcast’s footsteps and start to push the needle with HD-VOD. In addition to playing alongside the hi-def DVD movement, HD-VOD strategies will help cable stay ahead of DBS, which is attempting to gain ground with deeper lineups of linear HDTV programming.
—Jeff Baumgartner, Editor in Chief, CED magazine and xOD Capsule
Cisco polishes off Arroyo deal
Cisco Systems Corp. has closed its deal to acquire video-on-demand (VOD) software and server startup Arroyo Video Solutions.
Cisco first announced the $92 million deal late last month. Although Cisco fleshed out a general video play with its acquisition of Scientific Atlanta, on-demand had not been part of its portfolio.
Although Arroyo did not generate a massive number of deployments during its short existence as a stand-alone startup, it did hook up with Cablevision Systems Corp. for an ambitious network-based DVR trial, which is presently on hold pending a court decision that could come down by late October.
With Arroyo in the fold, Cisco said it will integrate its newly-acquired server and software technology with its IP-NGN (Next Generation Network) architecture.
Arroyo's products are now under the Cisco Cable & Video Initiatives Group, which is helmed by Michelangelo Volpi, the SVP and GM of Cisco's routing and service provider technology group.
A Cisco spokesperson said all Arroyo employees (on the order of 44 people) have been offered positions at Cisco, including Arroyo CEO Rick DeGabrielle, Paul Sherer (Arroyo co-founder and CTO; and a former CTO of 3Com), and Drew Major (Arroyo co-founder and a founder of Novell).
The Cisco spokesperson said there are no current plans to move the existing Arroyo operations in Pleasanton, Calif.
Comcast, CBS shed fee-based VOD
Just in time for last Thursday’s premiere of “Survivor: Cook Islands,” CBS Corp. inked a deal to offer eight primetime series for free via Comcast Corp.’s video-on-demand (VOD) platform.
subs will have free
(but not commercial-free)
access to the new season
of ‘Survivor,’ hosted, as
always, by Jeff Probst.
It marks an extended deal between the two companies. In January, Comcast sealed a deal to offer episodes of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “NCIS,” “Survivor,” and “The Amazing Race” via VOD for 99 cents each. Initially, Comcast only offered those programs on demand in markets with CBS owned-and-operated stations, and presumably the decision was to mollify broadcast affiliates that had complained earlier about not getting a cut of revenue from new TV show download services from companies such as Apple.
This time around, all Comcast markets will be able to access CBS shows that are offered on-demand. In all, CBS and Comcast will offer eight in the new VOD offering: “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “CSI: Miami,” “CSI: NY, Survivor,” “NCIS,” “Numb3rs,” “Jericho” and “Big Brother.”
Those shows will be offered free, but the freight will be paid by commercials. Episodes will be available via VOD the day after their debut on the linear network and be archived for four weeks.
“Early results show that viewers are responding to programming being made available on emerging platforms for free, supported by advertising," said CBS President & CEO Leslie Moonves, in a statement.
The Comcast deal marks just the latest tactic in CBS’ overall on-demand strategy. The network also runs an ad-supported Web-based channel called innertube, and just signed a deal to offer early access to the debut of “The Class” on TiVo Inc. DVRs. Just last week, CBS also hooked up with Google Video to do the same with “The Class,” as well as another new series, “Smith,” and the sophomore run of “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
Apple box to bridge PC to TV
In addition to its anticipated deal to offer movies to video iPods, Apple last week also introduced plans for a media bridge that enable users to download and stream video (even in HD format) and view it on big screen TVs. Of course, it will also hook directly into the iTunes service.
The retail debut of the device, codenamed “iTV,” is slated for Q1 2007. It reportedly supports WiFi and has on board USB and Ethernet connections, and will carry a retail tag of $299.
Endgadget has posted photos of the Apple iTV prototype, and offers some additional data on it. BetaNews has another image, this one taken at the Apple event last week, with Steve Jobs standing before a rendering of the forthcoming iTV bridge.
On the content front, Apple last week debuted iTunes 7, and the offering of more than 75 downloadable movies from Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, Touchstone Pictures and Miramax Films.
TiVo bows HD-capable Series 3 DVR
Following a sneak peek from PVRWire, TiVo Inc. last week formally introduced its much-anticipated, HD-capable Series 3 digital video recorder.
TiVo is calling the new DVR the first to come THX-certified, which means recordings will retain the fidelity of the original broadcast. It's slated to become available by mid-month, and will carry a retail price of $799.99.
The Series3 from front to back.
TiVo’s first HD-supported stand-alone DVR features dual CableCARD slots.
In addition to traditional features such as Season Pass and WishList searches, the box will also support dual tuners, and two slots for CableCARDs, which are cable operator-supplied modules that authorize digital cable services without the need for a separate set-top box. The two-CableCARD set-up is there to authorize both tuners for cable-fed services and to enable watch and record capabilities.
Current generation CableCARD "hosts" (i.e. set-tops and digital TVs) do not support interactive services such as video-on-demand. A coming two-way CableCARD platform, which will support the Multistream CableCARD (M-Card) will, however.
The hard drive on the Series 3 will store up to 32 hours of HD programming, and up to 300 hours of standard definition programming. With a software download, the DVR will also support content encoded in the more bandwidth efficient MPEG-4 format.
Thanks to an Ethernet port, the box will also handle downloaded applications, and later this year will support TiVoCast, a service that pipes in video from Internet sources such as CNET and iVillage.
Endgadget has an early review of TiVo's new entrant, giving it high points for the DVR's intuitive interface, but lamenting its lack of multi-room viewing. The absence of such value-added features "makes the MSRP more difficult to swallow," the reviewer notes.
BIAP retrieves interactive patent
BIAP Systems said it has netted a patent that describes a method for the retrieval and display of Internet-based content.
BIAP’s new patent covers some base
technology for apps such as this one,
which enables viewers to track eBay
bidding activity while they watch TV.
BIAP's technology uses "Artificial Intelligence Agents" to grab and display data on televisions. In tandem with the requisite headend gear, set-top boxes can use these agents to obtain information at prearranged intervals, or whenever prompted by the viewer.
Although the patent also covers use in PCs, cell phones, and PDAs, the more prevalent application for it so far has been interactive television (iTV).
Time Warner Cable is using BIAP's "PiTV" (personalized information TV) application in a handful of systems, is offering BIAP's TV-based eBay service in Austin, and the company's Fantasy Baseball Tracker in Green Bay, Austin, Columbia (S.C.) and San Antonio.
Earlier this year, the MSO also leveraged BIAP to supply interactive stats and information linked to NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics.
Yahoo! licenses Gemstar IPG patents
Yahoo! has licensed interactive program guide (IPG) technology from Gemstar-TV Guide International.
Yahoo! plans to offer an IPG for its Yahoo! Go TV service. Other components of the agreement include various branding and promotional opportunities for TV Guide across the Yahoo! network.
VOD = Vila on Demand
Home improvement and remodeling guru Bob Vila is using a platform from PermissionTV to offer episodes from his nationally syndicated TV programs via the BobVila.com Website.
Bob Vila is offering clips from his new season
via a platform from PermissionTV.
Vila’s 2006/2007 season kicked off Sept. 11, and clips from the shows are being made available the same week.
PermissionTV offers a platform that enables media companies and content owners to build and distribute TV programming.
‘Anyplay’ the name of Comcast’s portability play?
It appears that the nation’s largest cable operator is preparing to counter portability products from DirecTV (DirecTV2Go) and EchoStar (PocketDISH). No word on what that equipment might look like, but some snooping around by Multichannel News has produced a possible brand for the product: “Anyplay.”
MCN, citing a filing at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, noted that the trademark gives the MSO the rights to use the brand for items such as portable media players and hand-held electronic devices.
Hammer coming down on YouTube?
Content suppliers and programmers have been stewing about YouTube, lamenting the Internet-based video service's lax attitude toward copyright protection.
AP reported last week that this issue reached the boiling point last week and that Universal Music is prepared to file suit against YouTube if a deal isn’t reached by month’s end. AP, citing a person familiar with those talks, noted that Universal’s talks with News Corp.-owned MySpace is going better.
“We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars,” Universal Music CEO Doug Morris told investors last week, according to the AP story. “How we deal with these companies will be revealed shortly."
Some of that became clearer on Monday (Sept. 18), when YouTube Inc. announced a deal to distribute music videos from the vaults of Warner Music Group Corp. (WMG).
Under the landmark deal, YouTube users will be allowed to incorporate music from WMG’s recorded music catalog and into the videos they create and share on the YouTube service.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but YouTube said it will support the agreement by implementing a new content identification and royalty reporting system by year-end. YouTube said professional content creators, including record labels and TV and movie studios, will be able to use the new reporting platform, which will support copyright identification, and an automated audio identification technique that will enable studios to locate their works within user-generated videos.
The system will also aim to help content providers authorize and monetize (ie. track royalties) copyrighted work on the YouTube site.
View of the new Slingbox
We expect to get more details on the technical specs and features from Sling Media posthaste, but TG Daily has an early look at a follow-on to the original place-shifting Slingbox device.
A glimpse of a new Slingbox model. Source: TG Daily
Gillman succeeds Fischer at Time Warner Cable
Several outlets have followed an initial report in Mediaweek that Joan Gillman has been promoted to corporate SVP and president of media sales at Time Warner Cable. Gillman, most recently the VP of interactive TV and advertising at the MSO (and also late of OpenTV subsidiary Static2358), replaces Larry Fischer, who is leaving to pursue other “professional options” but will stay on for a transition period.
Comcast in sharing mood
Broadcasting & Cable reported last week that Comcast Corp. is starting to offer its original VOD fare to other cable operators starting with Cox Communications.
According to B&C, programming being made available includes exercisetv, Dating On Demand, guitar lessons, and Scene It?, among others.
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