Ultra High Definition TV could be coming to a TV near you

UHDTV, or Ultra High Definition Television, a new television format with 16 times the resolution of HDTV has been approved by the International Telecommunication Union.

The new format was designed and developed by NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting station. NHK hopes to begin significant UHDTV trial broadcasts, which it calls Super Hi-Vision, by 2020. International standards on audio specifications as well as broadcast formats have yet to be passed. NHK is advocating a 22.2 multichannel audio format.

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Top devices for watching Video

The Broadband Revolution of the last 15 years was supposed to forever change our media consumption habits. The arrival of mobile or portable form-factors that facilitate viewing video was going to cement that. Broadband has penetrated more than half the population (54 percent of the population has an active mobile broadband subscription in the US, according to the September 2011 Bandwidth Report.

Yet, when it comes to video, the statistics show a different picture (no pun intended) – TV sets are still at the core of our video viewing experience.

The following graph [source: Parks Research] shows the frequency of video consumption by TV, Computer, Tablet or Smartphone. Clearly, people still watch a lot more video on the TV set than on any other form (and more than all of Computer, Tablet, and Smartphone combined). That means, despite all the hoopla about Internet Video and Netflix Streaming and all that, people in the USA still watch more television on a TV-set than on a computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

source: Parks Research

Looks like most people prefer to watch video on that big screen TV rather than on the small viewing area of a computer, laptop, Tablet, or smartphone!!!

Will Comcast be able to stop Online Movie downloading in its tracks

Amazon has the Amazon Unbox on Tivo service, and both Netflix and Apple recently announced online movie rental services, and eventually you will be able to see Joost and Babelgum programs on TV. All this point to a market crowded with new ways to get movies fast and cheap over the Internet

Naturally, the incumbents – cable TV providers such as Comcast that deliver movies and TV programming over cable and satellite systems risk getting swept aside. Comcast is not waiting like a sitting duck. In early January, Comcast, the largest cable MSO in the U.S., announced Project Infinity to upgrade of its video-on-demand offerings and boosts the number of on-demand movies from 1,300 a month to 6,000. The cable operator says its video-on-demand services account for roughly 275 million viewings a month.

What Comcast has done to expand its movies-on-demand offering is to leverage its existing deals with Time Warner’s HBO, CBS’s Showtime, and Liberty Media Corp.’s Starz, something most others will find hard to do immediately.

At the same time, Comcast also announced the launch of Fancast, an online service at fancast.com [http://www.fancast.com] where subscribers can watch more streaming videos of TV shows from the likes of CBS and Fox and also use the site to order videos, get iTunes downloads, and program their digital video recorders to record TV shows while away from home. Comcast also plans to offer the service to other cable operators, making money from advertising and affiliate fees from DVD or download sales.

In the voice telephony world Comcast and others Cable providers are successfully taking on both VoIP providers such as Vonage and telephone companies such as at&t. In similar fashion, Comcast has a strategy to ward off anyone in the Movie and TV programming space. Comcast will not be able to stop Apple, Amazon, and Netflix completely, but will make a big enough dent in their profit plans.

Comcast to set blazing Internet speeds, but is it a double-edged sword?

comcast_logo.gifComcast in 2008 will offer High Speed Internet with speeds as fast as 160 megabits per second, which is a massive increase from its current maximum of 16 mbps. This is in many ways in response to competition from local telco’s such as AT&T and Verizon that are provide high speed Internet access over fiber optic networks. Of course, neither AT&T’s U-verse nor Verizon’s Fios has announced such high speed Internet offerings yet, but they certainly can have the capability to do so (Note: Verizon provides fiber optic all the way to the home, called Fiber-To-The-Home or FTTH, but AT&T and cable companies don’t), and it is this potential threat that is driving cable companies such as Comcast to one-up local telcos.

According to Comcast, this will allow a customer to “download a two hour-plus movie in high-definition in three minutes and 56 seconds”. No pricing has been announced yet. It might cost a pretty penny initially, with prices likely to fall once competitors start offering comparable download speeds.

Providing higher Internet speeds should be a boon for Comcast’s Internet business because it will help attract and keep customers that use high bandwidth servies such as gaming, video & music streaming and downloading, and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) applications extensively. However, this is a double-edged sword: Higher Internet speeds will fuel online movie and TV program downloads and streaming to a customers set-top box or TV from the Internet in a flash. This would be a great opportunity for companies like Netflix, which recently announced a deal with LG Electronics to develop a set-top box that can download movies and TV programs from Netflix over the Internet, and Amazon, whose Unbox service already sells movies to be downloaded to a Tivo. Apple with AppleTV, Moxi, Sling Media and others are also in the same arena.

Offering blazing Internet speeds will be great for Comcast in the short term, and Comcast will expand its Video on Demand service to counter the threat from the likes of Netflix, Amazon UnBox, and AppleTV, but in the long term this could very well be a double-edged sword that promotes online movie downloads and dampen interest in Comcast’s own Video on Demand service.

FCC bans Exclusive Contracts for Cable TV

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to ban exclusive contracts between cable TV providers and the owners of apartment buildings, condominiums and planned subdivisions. This is a good move by the FCC (see Ushering a New Era of Consumer Choice in Set-Top Boxes for another cabled related good move by the FCC), which is expected to promote competition and reduce cable rates for an estimated 100 million consumers.

The problem with long-term cable contracts is that if an apartment, condominium, or subdivision enters into an exclusive agreement with a cable company, then other TV providers are hampered from offering service, even if subscribers want another service provider. This issue is made worse by exclusive cable contracts that last indefinitely (a small number of idiots have apparently done this!). Frankly, I don’t see much benefit in exclusive cable contracts when satellite is available.

I am in this exact situation – the town I live in has an exclusive contract with a small cable TV provider. Incidentally, the contract was given to a close relative of the mayor – something smells fishy here! Residents here can get satellite service, but they still have to pay the mandatory charge for the cable TV service whether they use it not.

The biggest benefit of this ruling may be for telephone service providers who offer TV services over Fiber (FTTP or FTTH) or copper (e.g. AT&T U-Verse). Of course, some cable TV competitors will benefit as well, as they will be able to serve apartments, condominiums, and subdivisions that were not approachable due to long term contracts.

However, there are benefits to long-term exclusive agreements; Property owners can negotiate rates in return for guaranteeing a large number of customers for cable providers, who otherwise might be reluctant to invest in setting up the last mile connection into buildings. Overall, everyone benefits – the cable provider gets subscribers, customers (tenants) get cable service, and property owners are able to market their properties better because the property has cable service. The customer lock-in is the only hitch!

The question is whether competitive cable providers have access through the same wires or does every cable service provider have to develop its own last mile network. I suspect it is the latter, which also means that property owners may have to pay more to rewire buildings for competitors – this is going to make this ruling mostly ineffective.

The FCC ruling is a good first step, but I’m not sure if this will resolve many of the problems associated with exclusive contracts. As for me, I am hoping that I have the choice to cancel my cable service and not have to pay for it (I can get satellite for less)

Your thoughts?

NewCo finally gets a crappy name

NewCo, the online video collaboration between NBC Universal and News Corporation that had no name, has finally got a name! and it’s hulu. The naming convention appears to be taking a page from the Internet company tradition of creating meaningless but cute-sounding company names. I don’t think the name has much ‘bang’ or ‘pizzazz’. Frankly, Jaxtr, Google, Yahoo, Skype, Lala, and Joost are better-sounding names. The announcement ends a five-month search for a name. I’m guessing a good sum of money was spent on it.

The site will be in private-beta by October. The site is currently accepting sign ups for an invite to the private beta.

The name may be meaningless, but this is definitely something worth checking out because NBC and News Corp have great content. But, don’t’ expect it to be a YouTube killer!

Crown Castle tunes out of Modeo mobile TV

crown_castle_logo.gifCrown Castle International, the Tower operator is dumping its multimedia mobile TV service called Modeo that is based on the DVB-H standard that it tested successfully in New York City earlier this year. Crown Castle is now going to lease the U.S. nationwide 1670-1675 MHz spectrum it used for Modeo to Telcom Ventures, LLC and Columbia Capital, LLC, two private equity firms, for $13 million a year and write off Modeo’s physical assets, which includes an operations center in Pittsburgh and various small transmitters in the New York area. Crown Castel will retain the spectrum itself. Modeo never got off the trial stage and must have been in trouble for a long time because the trials started a long time ago.

The company will “write-off all, or substantially all, of its Modeo assets, other than its Spectrum, in the third quarter 2007.” The lease is from July 23, 2007, until Oct. 1, 2013. When the lease ends, the PE firms have the option to acquire the spectrum for $130 million or renew the lease for up to 10 years at $14.3 million per year.

Interestingly, this means that Qualcomm is the last-man-standing in Mobile TV that is transmitted outside the cellular spectrum. This is testament to Qualcomm’s lobbying and marketing capability – Qualcomm already has agreements with Verizon Wireless and AT&T to launch mobile TV using Qualcomm’s MediaFLO technology in the 700 MHz spectrum that Qualcomm owns. Verizon Wireless has already launched mobile TV. Sprint uses an Mobi TV, which transmits mobile TV within the cellular spectrum (in-band). Back in 2004, I remember thinking how smart Qualcomm was in acquiring national spectrum where it effectively becomes the service provider. Qualcomm may be a tad arrogant, and over-confident in their abilities, but these guys develop good strategies and execute very well.

Tivo brings Amazon.com Internet movies to a TV near you

amazon_unbox_tivo_logo.gifTiVo announces its customers can now rent or buy movies right from the TiVo box or from Amazon.com and view them on a TV, without requiring a computer. when this service was first announced in February, it required users to select the video on a PC. The “Amazon Unbox on TiVo” service is for customers with Broadband Internet. Amazon has about 10,000 movies, shows or other video. A movie rental will cost about $4 and a television show about $2, and you have 30 days to watch it.

Now you don’t have to go to the video store (e.g. Blockbuster) or even order movies through the post (e.g. Netflix). This is another slap on the face for both companies, and both better offer a similar service or become extinct as broadband becomes more mainstream.

This is not a streaming service, but a download-and-view service, so its not exactly video-on-demand.

Currently, about 50% of U.S. homes have broadband.

Broadband is still not good enough for movie downloads, but it looks like TiVo wants to get a head start in bringing Internet movies to the TV. With good reason – broadband speeds are increasing and set-top boxes are becoming more open (see FCC mandate), which means the set-top box will become the entertainment centerpiece of home entertainment.

Is there a future for Current.tv?

currenttv-logo.jpgCurrent.tv, the TV network founded by Al Gore, is the first 24-hour TV network to put user generated videos on TV Channels. These videos, which Current.tv calls VC2 (Viewer-Created Content), are short programs of 3 to 7 minutes called “pods”. About 30% of Current.tv are VC2 pods. Here’s how it works: users upload pods to Current’s website and everyone in the Current web community helps decide what should be on TV through a process called “greenlighting”. Users can also create Ad Messages called V-CAMs and promos for Current TV or for the general topic of VC2. Current gets exclusive rights over user submitted pods, but the user gets copyright ownership.

This week Current announced a deal to promote Current on the social network Bebo: users will be asked to upload a video to Bebo for the chance to visit Current’s London studios. Current will supply content for Bebo’s video section. Bebo users will then be able to add Current videos to their own profile pages.

Is Current.tv sustainable? with YouTube on AppleTV and on mobiles (iPhone, LG Phones), and Internet TV providers like Joost and Babelgum likely be on TVs soon, Current is in a crowded arena. The biggest hurdle will be inspiring budding video producers to create quality videos. So far Current.tv’s strategy has been promotions, V-CAMs that pay $1000 per piece on TV (can make $50,000 but that is a very long shot), and simply appealing to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become half-famous via VC2.

Without a big name or Word of Mouth publicity, Current.tv will be limping. The agreement with Bebo is a good example of creating demand for video. But this isn’t enough. At this rate, Current.tv will soon fade into oblivion.

Ushering a New Era of Consumer Choice in Set-Top Boxes

Today, July 1, marks the day the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated that set-top boxes are separated from the security mechanisms that determines which channels are descrambled. The security comes in the form of a CableCard that is inserted into the set-top box. Rather than cable TV providers renting you a set-top for US$4 to $5 a month, now you can buy a set-top from a retail store (when it becomes available) and simply activate a CableCard from the cable TV provider to (first card is free, additionals $1.91 each).

I applaud this move towards providing a new era of consumer choice. By separating the set-top box from the mechanics that determines which channels are descrambled, a customer is able to purchase a set-top box from anywhere (say BestBuy) and keep the same box even if the customer moves or switches television providers. This also gives set top box manufacturers more latitude in bringing alternate forms of video to the TV. Expect long-form Internet TV providers like Joost and Babelgum to be integrated into set-top boxes soon. Much like AppleTV has done, expect even short-form TV content such as YouTube to be on set-top boxes.

In the short term, the cost for consumers will go up because the simple set-top box will now have an added CableCARD module. However, this “integration ban”, as this is sometimes called, will:

  1. create a new retail channels to reach customers.
  2. create an opportunity for new manufacturers such as ADB and even Tivo to enter the set-top box market.

The latter will create enough competition in distribution (retail and TV service provider), manufacturing, and usage choices (purchase vs. renting), that value for consumers will go up (overall prices may increase as set-top boxes integrate Internet TV).

This is a great move for consumer and don’t let your cable provider make you think otherwise.

Related Articles:

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  2. New rule for TV set-top boxes sets stage for higher cable bills