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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Online Video On Your TV?

This is on our radar thanks to "The Diffusion Group"
One more indication of Video ubiquity!

Cablevision is at it again. With its newly announced PC-to-TV ‘Media Relay’ service, the MSO is set to once more provoke Hollywood, only this time it has nothing to do with networked DVR services (at least not overtly). Instead, Cablevision wants to give consumers TV-based access to any and all Internet media content, as well as content stored on their PCs and (eventually) other networked media devices. While the latter application is interesting, the former could be game changing.
Is this simply a legal maneuver intended to irritate content providers and force the issue of multi-screen distribution rights, or is there something more going on here?
Essentially, Cablevision’s PC-to-TV Media Relay (a lab name, for sure) enables consumers to view any online video (yes, even Hulu) directly on their TV set with quality of service guarantees that only a broadband operator can provide. How can it guarantee quality-of-service (QoS) if the video is transmitted via the open Internet? Good question.
Here’s the way I understand it. Online video is sent over Cablevision’s last-mile broadband pipe to a software-enabled consumer PC, after which it is “shifted” to the operator’s backend and then sent over Cablevision’s TV network to a set-top box that displays the content as a TV channel on a regular TV set (yep, just a regular old set-top box with no broadband capabilities).
In June, the Company will conduct a technical trial of the Media Relay solution. That’s about all we know at this point, as details are scarce. This may be just another version of ZeeVee’s solution or more likely, Sling. Nevertheless, it is perfectly prudent to ponder the implications of this particular application.
As has been mentioned elsewhere, one major negative for the model is its potential to suck up tons of upstream bandwidth. Should this service get legs (which Cablevision expects to happen), this will no doubt become an issue, one with the potential to disrupt its QoS pledge. Yes, the operator will have total control over the content once it shifts to its private networks, but control in this case implies direct responsibility for QoS. Careful what you promise...
Funny, though. Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said this service would “move [Internet video] to the television with the click of a mouse.” A mouse…really? Does this mean it resembles Netflix in that it requires TV streamers to use their PC to populate a queue of some sorts, or did he mean to say “TV remote control” instead of “mouse”? Let’s hope he meant the former, for the sooner this application can be enabled via a regular TV remote, the sooner it will be embraced by mainstream consumers.
But here’s the big hiccup in all this. Certain online content aggregators owned by certain film and TV big-wigs (can you say “Hulu”?) are adamant about consumers not having the right to stream or retransmit their online programs to other devices like the TV. If you want to watch programs using Hulu, pull up a PC my friend!
Do you see the legal ramifications of this position, how a few feathers might be ruffled? Cablevision is certain to claim fair use and Hulu investors (News Corp, NBC, and Disney) are certain to claim copyright violation. The stage is thus set for a clash of the titans, operators looking to leverage their existing distribution rights to reach into OTT video versus content owners looking to get extra money for extra screens and subvert these types of “magical solutions” that blur established lines.
Put another way, the stage is set for a legal battle that will determine the future of over-the-top video delivery to the TV.
At this point, few specifics have been shared by Cablevision. We will keep you posted on specifics as they come through the pipeline.

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