The dividing lines between Netflix and its cable competitors were blurred even further when Comcast, the largest cable operator, announced it will begin testing an IPTV service, a method of delivering content through the Internet.
Comcast announced on May 25 that it will start testing IPTV, an acronym for Internet Protocol Television, at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in the coming months.
IPTV can be used for Live Video, On-Demand Video (VOD) and delayed programming like a DVR. The technology is already in use today. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Roku, live-streaming services like U-Stream and Live Stream, as well asAT&T‘s U-Verse TV, are all using the Internet to deliver video content straight to our television sets.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association held its 60th annual Cable Show last week in Chicago’s McCormick Place. The Cable Show is a three-day event that displays the latest technology and innovations in cable. From delivery methods, to content, to advertising and promotions.
Comcast displayed its Xcalibur guide — which uses the cloud and features a comprehensive search engine and social media components — through an IPTV connection.
Comcast also recently announced a partnership with Internet-video-conferencing service Skype, again utilizing IPTV. More on that in a future post, but here’s a quick video from NCTA, showing Skype on Xfinity TV:
If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: the future of television is through the Internet. And Comcast is proving it won’t sit back and let other Internet services push it aside.
Comcast is fighting back with the introduction of its own IPTV delivery and partnership with Skype in an attempt to fend off rivals like Netflix and maintain its position as one of the largest media conglomerates in the world.
“We want to deliver video everywhere people want to watch it,” Comcast’s president of converged products Sam Schwartz was quoted in The Wall Street Journal. “We have to do a better job getting people to realize what they are paying us for.”
Just when I understood the difference between Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus, everyone’s talking about this new Internet Cloud.
The Cloud has been receiving a lot of buzz lately. But in fact, the Cloud (or cloud computing) is really just a metaphor for the Internet — and personal storage on a network. So it’s not exactly new. In a sense, our email operates on a Cloud. If you’ve ever logged into your email from more than one location, or stored email messages in a folder for viewing later, you’ve accomplished the same thing.
There’s also a distinction between Public and a Private Clouds, as well as hybrids, which I have yet to wrap my head around. That’s why we’re sticking to Public Cloud talk in this post.
If anyone’s an expert in this Cloud bu’ness (particularly public vs. private or hybrid clouds), feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and set me straight.
Nevertheless, the press surrounding it has certainly exploded within the last year. As well as the number of companies developing their own cloud services for the public. Namely, Amazon, Google and most recently Apple.
The Cloud is like a hard drive in the sky, allowing users to store files on a computer network accessible on-demand from any device with an Internet connection. Versus storing documents on a local computer, and thus only accessible from that specific computer.
Users can upload their own music to the Cloud, in addition to documents, photos, videos, etc, in addition to use as a backup service. Or as with Amazon and soon Apple via iTunes, users can purchase music online and save it directly to the Cloud.
The only limitation with the Cloud is that an Internet Connection is required to access it; though files can be saved from the Cloud to a local device (computer, smartphone, tablet, etc) for offline access. But I suppose that’s the same as saying you can only make calls on your cell phone where you have service. That hasn’t exactly stopped adoption of mobile phones.
Cloud Choices – It’s awfully overcast
Clouds come in different shapes and sizes (both real clouds and Internet Clouds). Most companies are offering a free amount of storage space to start (for example, Amazon offers 5GB free) with premium-priced storage upgrades.
Amazon, Google and Apple are entering a heated battle over Cloud services. All three of which are putting emphasis on music storage with the Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music Beta and Apple’s iCloud, which will reportedly feature streaming music and integration with iTunes.
Apple Inc’s CEO Steve Jobs is expected to introduce and fully explain its iCloud tomorrow, June 6, at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. (It’s a cool $1,599 to attend WWDC. If you didn’t buy your tickets, it’s too late; the event’s sold out. I had my credit card ready and everything. Maybe next year.)
Now, onto the Clouds. There are many Cloud services and companies offering Public or Private Clouds for Business. Here are Cloud offerings from three of the biggest players in media in Amazon, Google and Apple:
Amazon Cloud Drive
Amazon’s cloud drive starts you off with 5GB of storage space for free with additional premium plans from $20 to $1,000 per year, billed annually. Users can store “music, videos, photos, and documents on Amazon’s secure servers.” The 5GB of free space is about enough space, Amazon says, to store 1,000 songs. This first tier is free and you’ll never be charged for it.
If a user purchases a digital album from Amazon’s mp3 store (amazon.com), it’ll upgrade your 5GB of free storage to 20GB. Though after one year, if not renewed, users will be bumped down to the free 5GB. It’s not an automatic renewal, so that’s nice in my opinion. We’ve all taken advantage of free offers and forgotten about them, only to be charged for something we didn’t really want.
Other pricing/storage options are as follows, from 20GB to 1,000GB of space:
Google Cloud Apps & Google Music Beta
Google has taken a slightly different approach to the Cloud, offering a sleek line of Cloud Apps for different purposes. And Google’s been at this a while. I’m sure most of us are familiar with at a least a few of its Cloud Apps, whether or not we knew that’s what they were called. Google’s Cloud Apps include Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Chrome, Google Groups, among others.
“Because data in Google Apps is stored in the cloud instead of on employee computers, multiple users can access and contribute to projects simultaneously without worrying about using the same operating system, software, or browser. For example, instead of collaborating on a document by sending back and forth revision after revision as attachments, documents are stored in the cloud with Google Apps. Coworkers can access the web-based document simultaneously in their browsers, and even make changes that other authorized users can see in real-time. Eliminating attachment round-trips by storing data in the cloud saves time and reduces frustrations for teams who need to work together efficiently.” – Google.com / Google Apps for Business
Google Music Beta
In May, Google introduced Google Music Beta, a Cloud storage service for your music, similar to Amazon’s Cloud Player. Google, however, provides quite an impressive amount of storage in the Beta version, enough for 20,000 songs according to ZDNet. Amazon’s free 5GB allows around 1,000 songs.
Google Music Beta is available in the U.S. by invitation only and free for a limited time, according to the landing page in the Android Market.
Apple iCloud set to be unveiled June 6, 2011 at WWDC in San Francisco
The last of the three to introduce a Cloud music service, Apple may have been waiting for a reason. Reports have it that Apple has deals with Warner Music, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Group to stream songs directly to the iCloud, like Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other streaming services.
It’s rumored that the service will start with a free trial for iTunes customers, followed by a $25 per-year rate. ZDNet‘s Larry Dignan says Apple will also look to sell advertising around the cloud service.
Apple currently offers a Cloud service called MobileMe, a subscription-based collection of Internet services for Mac OS X, Windows, iPad,iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Apple’s iCloud all but ensures the next round of iPods will be able to connect to Wi-Fi or a 3G network.
Expect more on iCloud tomorrow after Apple’s WWDC.
A Face-Off in the Cloud
If Apple’s iCloud introduces what everyone is reporting — streaming music — this isn’t just a battle between Amazon, Google and Apple but also Nicolas Cage Pandora, Slacker, Rdio and other music streaming services. According to San Francisco’s International Business Times, Apple has also been in talks with the film industry, possibly adding movies and video to iCould. Could Apple be looking to face off against Netflix as well?
They’ve already invested in video streaming with Apple TV, though the service only includes a small line of Internet apps and pay-per-view titles, no content deals with film studios. If Apple reaches a deal with the film industry for iCloud, you can bet those titles are coming to Apple TV as well.
Amazon and Apple have a clear advantage in that users can purchase music from either Amazon.com or iTunes and have it saved directly to the respective Cloud. Apple’s support from major record labels could push it to the front of the pack.
How I’ve been using the Cloud
For the past month, I’ve been enjoying my time in the Cloud. I signed up for the 5 free GB of Amazon Cloud back in April. I then bumped that up to 20 GB free with the purchase of the one-day special (then two-day special due to high demand and a server crash) on Lady Gaga’s new album for only 99 cents. (If you’re curious, I bought if for my wife. Well, plus the additional 15 GB of storage space.)
The increase to 20GB lasts for one year. But, once that free trial runs out, I’ll probably be so used to using it that I’ll have to renew. (After all, it’s only $20 per year.) That is, unless I’m swayed by Apple’s iCloud offering.
The Amazon Cloud allows you to store music, documents, pictures or video. I have a number of files saved for backup or if I need a document when I’m on the road. But I’ve mostly been using Amazon’s Cloud for its Cloud Player.
Amazon Cloud Player – When I’m at the gym or in my car, the Cloud Player is great, with access to all of my songs and without taking up space on my phone.
I’ve also been taking advantage of Google Docs.
I reinstalled my operating system on my Dell XPS M1530 a while back, and haven’t gotten around to installing Microsoft Office. But with Google Docs, I haven’t really needed it.
What’s next for the Cloud?
In our increasingly mobile lifestyles, the Cloud is just what we need. And at just the right time. We’re all part of this mobile shift. A shift in the way we work, live, play, communicate and collaborate.
Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Netbooks, and entertainment services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Slacker as well as mobile payments like Google Wallet, and NFC technology. Mobile is taking over the news and our lives.
The Cloud is the next logical step in connecting our mobile devices to all of our files, music and video.
Today, home is wherever we are. Office productivity and entertainment can happen anywhere. I suppose that’s both good and bad. Luckily, if we choose to use it, there’s an off switch.
In six years, YouTube has become the hub of video content on the web, evolving from cat videos to live streaming news and now YouTube Movies. But from all indications, and the words of new CEO Salar Kamangar, this is only the beginning.
“Today, we’re going to start adding around 3,000 new movie titles for rent available to users in the U.S. that will be accompanied by reviews and behind-the-scenes movie extras,” CEO Salar Kamangar posted on the company’s blog on May 9, 2011.
YouTube Movies is today’s Pay-Per-View Channel. Its interface is much more google-esque than YouTube’s homepage and navigation is simple and intuitive.
Users can browse Featured titles at the top, browse by Category, or by Collection. Categories displays movies in a given genre: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Crime Drama, Family, etc.
YouTube has also created what it calls Collections. It’s essentially a Staff Picks selection like, say, “Vincent’s Picks” in a brick-and-mortar rental store.
YouTube displays the Top Movie Rentals in a vertical list to the right with the title’s current rank and whether it’s moving up or down the charts.
Pricing starts at $2.99 per title, others $3.99 and even some free titles. “Free” is also a browse-by-category selection.
From what I’ve seen, the selection compares more to Amazon Instant Video than anything else. By the numbers, Amazon Instant Video claims to have 5,000 titles including movies and TV shows. As I wrote in my post on Amazon in April, I’ve only been able to see about 3,000 (Maybe the others are lost in the Amazon Cloud?) YouTube announced it has “around 3,000 new movie titles.”
Note: in addition to Amazon’s pay-per-title, Amazon Instant Video offers unlimited streaming (as well as free two-day shipping) of the same titles for $79 per year, billed annually. For more on Amazon’s offerings, click here.
If YouTube intends to compete with Netflix, it will have to do more than pay-per-view. That’ll take more titles, TV Shows and an Unlimited Streaming plan.
If you can’t grow ’em, buy ’em
One step in competing with Netflix, it appears, is bringing Netflix talent to YouTube.
YouTube has been making some moves, recently hiring execs from Netflix and P&G.
Last year, Google grabbed Netflix vet Robert Kyncl to serve as VP of Content Partnerships. In April, Google’s YouTube picked up another Netflixer in Christian Kaiser, who served as Netflix engineering VP. According to Peter Kafka of All Things Digital, YouTube also brought in product director Thomas Purnell-Fisher, who will, per Kafka, work on “YouTube TV.” YouTube TV is available on Google TV and on any web browser.
“With Mr. Watson, the company gets an executive who has spearheaded a big increase in digital spending at the biggest ad spender in the U.S. and globally over the past three years…” wrote Advertising Age’s Jack Neff.
Newsflash: YouTube has the news
YouTube’s Town Hall Channel displays debate topics like Education, Budget, Energy, Economy, Health Care and more. With videos from both sides. After watching each debate topic, users can choose to support one side or the other.
Also available is the Leaderboard, which appears to be popular videos and topics. Users can also submit a question. Every month members of Congress will answer a selection of top-voted questions, according to the channel.
In July of 2007, YouTube and CNN hosted their first presidential debate featuring questions submitted by YouTube users. As noted by Fast Company, in the 2008 election cycle, 7 of the 16 presidential candidates used YouTube to announce their campaigns.
YouTube’s Town Hall Channel moves in on pay TV’s territory. But this is on the viewer’s schedule.
On May 15, CBS announced a new show, but not the pay-TV variety. “What’s Trending” would be CBS’s foray into web TV, with the show streaming live Tuesdays at 1pm. ET on UStream, LiveStream and YouTube.
The show covers current events and pop culture, through the eyes of the Internet. It broadcasts live every Tuesday. The current week’s live show is available for replay one day after the episode airs.
“What’s Trending is a new kind of news show connecting you to the top stories and people heating up the conversation online around the world. Get connected and join the conversation around trending topics from global revolutions to entertainment and viral memes. It’s what you need to know to be in the now.” – CBS Channel on YouTube, What’s Trending
And from PayPal a YouTube was born
YouTube was launched in 2005 by three former PayPal employees: Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim.
In the year that followed, YouTube skyrocketed from a startup flickr-like service for videos to a video powerhouse that would be acquired by one of the biggest players in the digital world.
Two days after YouTube’s launch, Saturday Night Live aired music spoof video “Lazy Sunday.” The video made its way to YouTube, and in one week attracted nearly 2 million views. NBC later asked YouTube to remove the video.
Its first viral video hit came in April of 2006 with Judson Laipply’s “The Evolution of Dance.”
In October of 2006, YouTube was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in an all-stock transactioin and now acts as a subsidiary of the big G.
Steve Chen and Chad Hurley discussed the acquisition in October of 2006 in a YouTube video.
Chad Hurley stepped down as YouTube’s CEO in November of 2010 and was replaced by Salar Kamangar. Kamangar previously served as vice president of Google’s web applications as well as VP of product management for Google’s advertisement and monetization process.
Today, more than 48 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute, according to the company’s blog. YouTube generates 3 billion views per day. That’s a lot of eyeballs.
In March, YouTube announced it was acquiring Next New Networks, a web-video production company, in an effort to produce original, and higher quality, content.
A statement from Next New Networks CEO and Co-founder Fred Seibert: “Our company will become a core component of YouTube Next, a new team that will focus on super harging content creator development on YouTube, driving deeper expertise in partner audience development, and incubating new ideas that can be shared with the broader community.” –from nextnewnetworks.com.
You say VEVO, Google says money
If you’ve ever searched for a music video on YouTube, you’ll see Vevo is often the first search result. The Vevo Channel on YouTube is near the top for any music-related search. From John Mellencamp to Nicki Minaj. Vevo has its own standalone site on Vevo.com as well as a YouTube Channel.
According to TechCrunch, Vevo is the third-largest source for video on the web after only two years running — and it’s enjoying tens of millions in advertising revenue. Vevo’s advertising rate is comparable to broadcast TV with a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) north of $20 per Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch,
VEVO is a joint venture among Sony, Universal Music Group and Abu Dhabi Media. Google and Vevo share all advertising and sponsorship revenue. Though Google has no ownership stake in Vevo.
Vevo’s traffic grew 62% in its first year, from 2009 to 2010, in large part to its partnership with YouTube and its ability to get the Vevo videos to the viewers. In May, YouTube also unveiled the YouTube 100, a measurement of “song traffic across official music videos, user-uploaded videos and viral debuts, and uses this data to provide a holistic view of song popularity” according to the company blog.
Are you connected?
“You’re finding more and more of the content you love on YouTube, which is now available on 350 million devices,” said CEO Salar Kamangar, speaking to YouTube users in the company blog.
I’m not sure where Kamangar came up with 350 million (maybe he made it up) but the adoption curve becomes a lot more manageable if whatever you’re pitching is available everywhere. Two companies that have taken advantage of connectivity in the last five years are music service Pandora and streaming-video juggernaut Netflix.
According to a published report from Advertising Age, more than 50 percent of Pandoralistening is accomplished on devices other than the PC. Pandora is connected to seemingly everything, from smartphones, tablets and TVs to automobiles and…refrigerators? Yep, the fridge. The high-tech fridge connects to an array of web apps, including Google calendars.
Netflix has also enjoyed subscriber growth due in large part to how easy it is to get Netflix to a TV. Netflix is available on more than 200 devices including PCs, Macs, Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, Internet-video players, Apple TV and Google TV, Apple’s iPad and iPod touch as well as all three current videogame consoles (Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 3) and more. It’s recently begun rolling out a fully functioning Netflix app for smartphones including iPhone and Android.
What’s next for YouTube
YouTube is positioning itself to become a full-fledged TV Channel under recently crowned CEO Salar Kamangar. It’s set to challenge not only pay-TV cable and news networks but also live streaming services and other video-on-demand companies like Vudu and Blockbuster.
If it can successfully incorporate a premium unlimited streaming model — pitting itself against Netflix and Hulu Plus — YouTube could become the center of video activity across the board: on the Internet, on mobile devices and in our living rooms.
“By expanding our content partnerships worldwide and stimulating the success of budding filmmakers, artists and entrepreneurs, we’ll ensure that YouTube remains the best place for the world to see and discover rich talent. So stay tuned—there’s much more to come.” -CEO Salar Kamangar, YouTube blog
A Netflix-red-hot topic on this blog and certainly in the tech world is the rise of Internet TV and the belief that it will some day replace cable TV as our chief source of home entertainment.
In previous posts, I’ve covered My Cord-Cutting Experience; Netflix; Hulu Plus; Roku; and even my comprehensive Internet TV Guide. Now I’d like to offer a few predictions on the current status of these services and the future of Internet TV and pay TV based on my first-hand experience and research over the past 13 months.
First let’s take a look at the playing field. Right now we’ve got powerhouse Netflix. Then Hulu Plus. And Amazon Instant Video. And other services like Crackle, PlayOn, and Internet Apps from a variety of providers including Roku, Sony, Apple, Google, Samsung, Vizio, Boxee and more.
Note the very distinct difference between unlimited streaming like Netflix and video-on-demand (VOD) services like Vudu. An example: Warner Bros. recently announced a deal to rent movies through social-networking behemoth Facebook. Many news outlets suggested this deal, through Facebook, would challenge Netflix. That’s dead-wrong. The deal, as it stands now, is video-on-demand. A charge per Warner Bros. movie –a version of yesterday’s pay-per-view — not unlimited streaming.
There’s a feeling you get when you graduate high school and head off to college. It’s a special kind of freedom that’s hard to describe. You can make your own decisions. Stay out late and do pretty much whatever you want.
That’s how Netflix is living. No cable-backed parent over its shoulder. Big Red’s got nothing holding it back. Though CEO Reed Hastings recently said he’s not competing with premium cable like HBO, I don’t believe him. [Hastings has made similar comments in the past only to contradict himself later. Take his stance on original programming. Hastings said the company wasn’t in the business of original programming until Netflix gained exclusive rights to original series House of Cards in March of this year.]
Hulu, on the other hand, is still living at home. And its parents watch cable. Hulu is jointly owned by Comcast’s NBC Universal, The Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and global private equity investment first Providence Equity Partners. In the sale of NBC Universal to Comcast in late January, GE had to relinquish its decision-making power and 32% stake of Hulu. (See my media ownership post here.) The deal gave Comcast 51% control of NBC Universal, now labeled NBCUniversal (no space and no peacock). Previously, GE owned 80 percent. Prior to the sale, GE purchased the remaining 20 percent stake from Vivendi Universal. GE’s stake in NBCUniversal is now 49 percent, though according to USA Today the company plans to completely remove its shares over the next eight years.
With Comcast holding stake in Hulu, I don’t see how Hulu Plus will fully commit to Internet TV in fear of making cable obsolete. That is, if Comcast has anything to do with it.
Studios and cable companies still seem hesitant to enter the streaming game full-steam. In part because it threatens pay TV and also because nobody knows where it’s headed. Fear of the unknown. But the conversion is happening, albeit slowly. It will likely continue at that pace until we reach an Internet-TV tipping point.
Watch for studios to start their own services on a smaller scale. I predicted just last week that premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime would roll-out their own subscription-based offerings.
One week after my prediction, Time Warner announced the acquisition of movie-discovery service Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes, as well as plans to develop an expanded video service. Though no plans of including any HBO content, per the report. [HBO recently introduced HBO GO, an extension of its premium cable channel. It is free with a paid subscription to HBO and is not a stand-alone or even subscription-based offering.]
From the Business Wire release: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group will utilize the powerful Flixster brand and technical expertise to launch a number of initiatives designed to grow digital content ownership, including the recently announced consumer application “Digital Everywhere.” This studio-agnostic application will be the ultimate destination for consumers to organize and access their entire digital library from anywhere on the device of their choice, as well as to share recommendations and discover new content. The Flixster acquisition and “Digital Everywhere,” combined with the Studio’s support of the UltraViolet format are all part of an overall strategy to give consumers even more freedom, utility and value for their digital purchases.
I’d watch for more studios and content owners to explore options for skipping the middle man and becoming the means of distribution for their content.
Studios like Disney, CBS, Viacom, and premium cable like Starz and Encore (both owned by Liberty Media Corp.) will all look in this direction. At first, simply to supplement their current revenue model.
Netflix is gaining a huge lead — the company just surpassed Comcast’s pay TV subscribers as the largest video-streaming service in North America –but in time there will be a number of subscription-streaming services. With overlap in content. For example, Netflix and Hulu offer some of the same programming or channels, while other programming is exclusive to the provider. Much like the DirecTV-Dish battle of today. (Or Netflix vs. Hulu Plus.) Only I see more competitors in the ring.
Right now, in 2011, we’re witnessing the easy part. There’s a clear distinction between pay TV and Netflix. Wait five years and we’ll see the transition taking place: cable companies — like Comcast, Time Warner, Viacom, and even satellite TV providers Dish and DirecTV — developing stand-alone Internet-TV subscriptions, separate from their pay TV plan.
So, at that end-point, what will be the difference between pay TV and TV over Internet, other than the means of distribution? First, the customization. Consumers will choose what content they want and when they want it. Whether it’s subscription services like Netflix or specific channels like, say, HBO’s Internet Channel. Second, the cost. The cost will be more in the Internet service and the streaming box, instead of paying to receive 300 predetermined channels. Subscriptions to our content will have to decline, as we see with Netflix subscription rates compared to that of a typical cable plan.
A few final talking points if pay TV as we know it today will move online and stream to our living rooms. 1) Live Newscasts; 2) Live Sporting Events; 3) Local News; 4) Advertising and 5) Local Advertising.
Live News is already happening on Roku, on the free Newscaster app. Al Jazeera streams live all day. In fact, I’m watching the live Al Jazeera stream as I write this section. So the capability is there. And Roku has a DVR-like function that lets you pause, rewind and resume the live feed. How about Sporting Events?
Xbox 360’s got that covered with its ESPN 3 app featuring live broadcasts and up-to-date sportscasts on a variety of sports. Roku’s got live coverage too including MLB TV, NBA Game Time, NHL and UFC. Local News is now streaming as well. Roku announced via Twitter on April 16 that it had added the first local news broadcast, Channel3000, a CBS News affiliate from Madison, Wisconsin. Roku pulls video from Channel3000′s website and makes it playable for free on the Roku player.
National News is better than ever on-demand with Xbox 360’s NBC News channel. Update: Roku introduced an NBC News channel in December of 2011, as well as CNBC Real-Time and Wall Street Journal Live.
Now Advertising. Hulu Plus has done the best job of incorporating video advertising into its content, using the pay TV model, ads within programming. A few of Roku’s internet apps have video ads as well as banner ads. How about Local Advertising, targeted just like Internet banner ads, based on location determined by the user’s IP address? But probably the greatest potential for the future of TV advertising is the connectivity. Imagine a television ad with a purchase, more info or social media one remote-click away.
It’s like cable, only customized and connected to the Internet. And on the consumer’s schedule. Almost as if every show on TV was Tivo’d for us. The consumer decides not only what content is displayed on his or her dashboard, but when it’s on.
Within the next 10 years, I see the Internet as our means of distribution for all television content. As broadband access becomes ubiquitous, like mobile phones and smartphones after it, the future of pay TV will be clear. Combine Netflix’s vast library of TV and Movies, Roku’s app-interface with the ad-model of Hulu Plus and mix in ESPN3’s live sports on Xbox 360 and you’ve got the future of pay TV.
We have the capability of all of these services today. It’ll just take someone to put it all together.
The future of TV is one box, connected to all of our subscriptions and video content including Movies, TV, News, Sports, Weather, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Local News channels, Live News and Live Sports. All at our fingertips. A media hub, allowing consumers to pick and choose the content they’d like displayed on their dashboards. A La Carte television. Complete consumer control.
After a few weeks of oogling the Roku Streaming Player at Best Buy like a teenage boy in the adult magazine aisle I finally made the purchase.
It’s everything I envisioned and then some. Much like that boy, I imagine.
In fact, Roku‘s interface and connectivity is how I envision not only the future of Internet TV but television as a whole. One box, connected to all of our subscriptions and video content including Movies, TV, News, Sports, Weather, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Facebook, NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live, CNBC and more. Including Local News and Live Streaming video. Live video feeds that you can, get this, pause like a DVR.
Disclaimer: I was not paid by Roku or Best Buy for this feature. However, if someone from Roku or Best Buy would like to send my a check, I’m willing to accept payment and/or bribery for future posts.
For someone interested in trying online video and streaming content to a TV, Roku is the fastest, easiest and least expensive way to break into Internet TV. In fact, it might even be the best thing out there. Put simply, Roku kicks some serious ass.
No PC needed here. Roku is as simple as it gets. Roku connects wirelessly to your home network. And Roku HD starts at just $59.99. I went with the Roku XD for $79.99 which features 1080p HD quality streaming. Roku also offers one of the finer collections of Internet apps including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Roku Newscaster, CNet, Blip.tv, Break.com, Crackle, Facebook Photos, Flickr, Last.fm, NASA, Picasa, Revision3, NBA, MLB, NHL and, actually, a ton of other applications.
Fits in your pocket (though I wouldn’t sit down)
Roku might be small in stature, but it packs a big punch. “There’s a ton of entertainment in this little box” is slapped on the Roku packaging. Roku offers a number of Internet apps that stream content to your TV through the Roku player subscription free.
The device is 5′ x 5′, which is about the size of a compact disc, and only one-inch high.
Roku offers three models: Roku HD, Roku XD and Roku XDS. Pricing starts at $59.99 for the Roku HD, $79.99 for XD and $99.99 for XDS. Note: Since this post, Roku has introduced a new line of Roku players. For the current line of Roku products, click here.
The Roku HD model offers a max of 720p high-definition. The XDS offers 1080p as well with bonus features like extended-range wireless and a USB port for playing pictures, music or videos. For a full breakdown of each model, head over to Rokuhere.
Roku was founded in 2003 by ReplayTV* founder Anthony Wood. ReplayTV is credited with being the first-ever digital video recorder (DVR). Wood is also VP of Internet TV at Netflix, a position he’s held since April 16, 2007, after founding Roku but before Netflix moved from computer to living room.
In 2008, Roku introduced the first player to stream Netflix to a traditional TV. Some reports list Roku as a “spin-off” of Netflix, Inc. Netflix was an early supporter of Roku, with a $6 million investment. Per Bloomberg.com, Netflix has since sold its stake of Roku to Menlo Ventures. I called Netflix, Inc at its offices in Los Gatos, California, to confirm these findings but no one was available for comment. An email to Roku was not returned by post time.
Though Netflix was the beginning for Roku, it only grew from there. Roku features an open platform that allows any content provider to create software for the Roku Player. It’s a strategy that seems to have paid off.
“We’re opening up the platform to anyone who wants to put their video service on this box,” Wood was quoted in 2008 by Wired. “We’re going to release the software developer kit, so anyone can publish any channel, and users can access web content on their TVs.”
*ReplayTV is now a subsidiary of DirecTV, as it was acquired in 2007. Roku is a privately held consumer electronics company headquartered in Saratoga, California. Anthony Wood is listed as ReplayTV, Inc President of Products and Director.
Roku features and ease-of-use
Roku works with nearly any television set. From new to old, which makes it the perfect my-first-streaming box.
I tested mine on a 10-year-old Sanyo set with no HDMI inputs. Roku can also connect to newer sets with HDMI, offering 1080p HD video quality. And because of its easy set-up, I can move it around from TV-to-TV with little trouble, whether it’s from an old set to a new one or vice versa.
I said it’s easy. In fact, the Roku doesn’t even have a power button. Zero buttons on this unit, though it comes with a 12-button remote. It’s not your typical streaming device. It acts more like a wireless router than a media player. A hub for streaming content.
All it takes is a power cable and audio/video hookup, whether it’s the supplied AV cables or an HDMI cable (sold separately). By the way, any HDMI cable will do; don’t be misled by advertised ‘high-quality’ HDMI cables. I’d suggest paying no more than $35 for them.
Note: Since this post, Roku has introduced a new line of Roku players. For the current line of Roku products, click here.
How it works
Roku features a Netflix-like interface. You start at the Home screen and have access to all of your Channels. Enter a Channel by clicking it, then you’ll have access to all content within that Channel.
Inside a Channel: Roku Newscaster
Roku Newscaster is a Channel featuring news from all the major news outlets and more: Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC.
Clicking a news source within the Newscaster will display up-to-date news content that you can watch instantly on your TV. Let’s take NBC for example. The NBC app within Roku Newscaster gives you access to the following: Hardball with Chris Mathews, The Rachel Maddow Show, Meet the Press, NBC Nightly News, Today, Morning Joe, Mad Money with Jim Cramer, The Suze Orman Show and Your Business.
Most of he content is from the day of the broadcast. On Friday, April 22, content is from that day’s show. Though some series, like Tech Report from CBS, displayed content from the day-of and the past week.
The Roku Newscaster, and all shows within it, is completely subscription free.
This basic structure of the Roku Newscaster is how all Channels work, from News to Music and Podcasts.
The Roku Channel Store
In the Roku Channel Store, you can browse available Channels and add them to your Home Screen. View channels by a number of categories or select All Channels.
Update: Dec. 11, 2011. In the last few weeks, Roku’s been busy adding channels to its already impressive lineup. New channels include NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live and CNBC Real-Time.
Roku’s content is what sets it apart
News, Movies, TV, Podcasts, Music, Weather, Sports, Social Networking, Photo-Sharing, it’s all here. Roku really has it all. Including popular subscription services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.
If you’ve got a subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, you can connect your subscription to your Roku player, thus connecting it your TV.
Subscription services include: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, MLB TV, NBA, NHL Vault, UFC, Movie Vault, Flickstream TV, Sirius XM and more.
How much longer will it be before premium cable services like Showtime and HBO embrace these devices and offer subscriptions without cable plans, directly to consumers? Would parent companies CBS (Showtime) and Time Warner (HBO), a cable company itself, dare to make cable unnecessary? Or could they develop their own streaming boxes/services? For my post on Media Ownership, click here.
Even without Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, Roku has a lot of great free content.
In addition to the Roku Newscaster, featured above, other free apps include Break.com, TWIT.TV (This week in Tech), Crackle, CNet, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), Revision3, Blip.TV, Pandora, Last.fm, Classical TV, Weather Undergound, NASA, a slew of music apps, Weather, Photo-sharing apps, International News, Religion & Spirituality channels, and even more news content — though Roku’s own Newscaster is all you’ll likely need with access to Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, Aljazeera, NASA, CNet, Current TV, ESPN, C-Span, NPR, PRI and BBC.
Update: Dec. 11, 2011. In the last few weeks, Roku’s been busy adding channels to its already impressive lineup. New channels include NBC News, Wall Street Journal Live and CNBC Real-Time.
Live video streaming
Roku can even stream live video. Case-in-point: Al Jazeera (English) broadcasts live every day. And get this: you can pause the live feed. Sound familiar? You didn’t think Roku founder Anthony Wood, who also happened to create the first DVR in ReplayTV, would forget his roots did you? Other Live streaming video from CNN International as well as Ustream.tv.
Roku is the first streaming player on the market to offer Local News. On April 16, Roku announced via Twitter that it had added the first local news broadcast, Channel3000, a CBS News affiliate from Madison, Wisconsin. Roku pulls video from Channel3000’s website and makes it playable for free on the Roku player. Channel3000 is currently the only local channel available, but it’s also the only local channel on any streaming player. Watch for more local stations to add their content to Roku in the coming year.
How Roku stacks up
If you’ve been waiting to jump into the Internet TV world, Roku is a perfect place to start. And a great place to finish.
From all of the Internet TV devices I’ve tested, Roku is my favorite. Its Newscaster is just what I’ve been searching for, up-to-date (and in some cases live) video news from a variety of sources.
For current Netflix or Hulu Plus subscribers, Roku is an easy way to stream content to any TV in your home. I actually prefer Netflix on Roku to anything else I’ve tested including Sony Blu-ray players, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii. Starting at only $59.99, Roku offers enough extra content to make it well worth the purchase. Roku is really a no-brainer.
Devices like Roku are bridging the gap between Internet TV and Cable, giving users access to web content, moves and TV shows with Netflix, Hulu Plus and premium sports content from the NHL, NBA, UFC and MLB and now Local News and Live Streaming. Roku is bringing Internet TV just one step closer to the complete TV experience.
One year into my cable-free life, things are beginning to feel, in some ways, a little familiar. I’ve got hundreds of channels, endless content and not enough time to watch it all.
The only difference is, with Internet TV, there’s always something on.