Posts tagged ‘TiVo’

A One-Channel TV

Got to thinking the other day about the last 10 foot problem, i.e. getting media from either your computer or the Internet to the TV. No shortage of available or announced solutions: TiVo, AppleTV, XBox, etc. Even Nintendo is apparently trialing a service in the U.K. to get the BBC’s iPlayer to your living room via your Wii console.

I’m still a bit puzzled about the underlying strategy for this, however. There’s obviously an attempt to differentiate each box, but I just can’t see how it might drive sales by itself. XBox delivers movies, AppleTV allows YouTube access, Wii incorporates iPlayer, DLink’s DivX adapter had Stage6 (sigh). I guess for a select few this might make sense, that the service tail might wag the electronics dog.

Me, I want it all. I want YouTube, Hulu, iPlayer, Veoh, as well as any video currently on my PC. Not to mention whatever hot new thing comes out tomorrow. But since nobody offers a consumer electronics solution to provide all these, I guess I’ll just….wait.

And wait.

After all, who would want to buy a TV that only receives a few channels?

Certainly, one could always hook up a PC to their TV directly. Or use a Media Center PC of some type that provides most/all of this. But that’s likely too much trouble (and technical savvy) for joe sixpack and sally soccer-mom.

Is it any wonder that there is no surefire convergence solution? It the holy grail here simply a browser on your TV?

Until that time, perhaps the PC still needs to be in the equation somehow. After all, everything on the internet is already accessible via the PC, including not-yet-dreamed up video sites and (this is important) easy billing solutions. Maybe trying too quickly to bypass the computer is a mistake. Maybe this is a two-phase process:

  1. First, something that allows easy, format-agnostic streaming of anything on or accessible by your PC.
  2. Evolution to a pure Internet TV (or a simple internet front end to the TV).

Why would I ever buy a box that didn’t do at least one of these things, unless it had another purpose (e.g. gaming, DVR)? The problem, of course, is that the industry is trying to manage the profit stream by linking boxes to services, cutting special content joint ventures, building new advertising paradigms, etc. That approach largely ignores the consumer.

Where would the television industry have been if RCA had cut a deal to deliver ABC content and local news, while Panasonic TVs showed only CBS and the weather?  What if Sony VCRs had only played movies from Disney and Sony?

Disclosure: I hold no position in any of the stocks mentioned here.

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April 21, 2008 at 10:36 am 2 comments

Blockbuster: Driving Off A Cliff?

The Hollywood Reporter had a story last week that Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI) will soon announce a movie rental set-top box. Everyone who has written about it has noted it will compete against–among others–Apple TV (NASDAQ: AAPL).

That’s true, if you can call “eating dust” a competition.

To the extent such dedicated set-top boxes ever catch on (and I have doubts), Apple TV is Lightning McQueen to Blockbuster’s Mater. Apple is in the hardware business, you can bet it’s in this race to win. Frankly I doubt it even cares that much about the movie revenue. But those rentals are Blockbuster’s raison d’etre.

Blockbuster still seems like a deer caught in the headlights, and has been playing follow the leader with Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) for some time. This recent development simply copies the deal Netflix announced with LG Electronics awhile back. While I wouldn’t go so far to say it is doomed (yet), Blockbuster needs a serious strategy tune-up.

First it has to rid itself of the retail store “boot”. For too long Blockbuster has focused on driving traffic to its locations, which it naturally feels obligated to earn money on. But this is the digital age, and despite trying desperately to leverage them, Blockbuster’s locations aren’t the assets it thinks they are. Instead of trying to earn a return on real estate, Blockbuster should have been shedding stores. I understand the real estate market was pretty good last year, probably a great time to divest. Oops.

This is the same mistake Toys-R-Us made, dipping its toes into the on-line pool but afraid to jump in until it was too late.

Blockbuster does have some options left. The purchase of Movielink gives it a leg up in on-line delivery. Going to market with its own STB is a mistake, however. First, it’s not at all clear there would be much demand for the box; just look at Vudu. Second, Blockbuster doesn’t exactly present a compelling co-branding opportunity for CE manufacturers. And depending on the arrangement, the costs associated with such a move could easily outweigh any additional revenue generated.

Far better to package Blockbuster-to-the-TV as a service. True, Apple and TiVo (NASDAQ: TIVO) aren’t likely to sign on. But it could partner with multiple CE manufacturers who can build home media transfer capabilities into their DVD or Blu-ray players, using technology from the likes of DivX (NASDAQ: DIVX) or Macrovision (NASDAQ: MVSN).

These solutions (perhaps not so coincidentally called “Connected” by both firms) are licensed to CE manufacturers, vendor neutral, and built-in at the chip level. Movielink gets films to the PC, and “Connected” easily gets them to the DVD or STB, without requiring an additional box. In fact, DivX has a good relationship with LG already–wouldn’t surprise me to see Netflix go with DivX Connected on an LG box instead of with a branded version.

This makes even more sense when you consider the other advantage Movielink brings to Blockbuster: a partnership with Sonic Solutions (NASDAQ: SNIC). Sonic’s Qflix is the only legal way to burn a studio DVD remotely, which allows Blockbuster to say goodbye to much of its costly inventory. It will soon be feasible to download movies to PCs and then burn them at home. (The disc is dead, long live the disc.)

Blockbuster still has a chance in this race, but it had better get out of first gear. Fast.

Disclosure: I don’t hold positions in any the stocks mentioned in this article.

April 12, 2008 at 8:03 pm 2 comments

Don’t Bug Me

Michael Learmonth over at Silicon Alley comments on a NY Times article about how NBC is seeking to get advertisers to sponsor entire shows, as they did in the early days of television. It’s an attempt to help bypass the impact of TiVo-like ad skipping.

While the expectation is that sponsors will have some input into the show, I think the ultimate model is a bit less…. participative.

Expect to see TV shows broadcast with corporate logo “bugs” included. You know, those little icons in the bottom corner of the screen that are somewhat intrusive but usually bad only when they cover something you want to see. One or more sponsors could purchase a certain amount of bug time during the show. It might not stop piracy, but it would mean TiVo viewers can’t completely avoid the messaging.

What’s more, with the advertisement now firmly attached to the video–sort of a cross between a product placement and an ad–the networks may be able to grab more coin from sponsors, as the ad would travel with the video wherever it was syndicated (cable, TV, web, even reruns).

April 2, 2008 at 1:14 pm Leave a comment

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