DISH Network used the 2015 CES conference both as a review of recent announcements and as a launch pad for the new; in three areas: new content offerings, new equipment, and a new user experience. Some of it was evolutionary, and some of it pace-setting. Here’s a recap of my tour of DISH at CES.
Online video to the TV
First there were a number of content announcements. Because it was announced just before the pending holiday break, many had missed DISH’s December 17 announcement that Netflix has been integrated into the DISH Hopper home media gateway as a TV app; one of the first US pay TV operators to do so. DISH also announced a Vevo music video TV app.
TV video online
DISH’s biggest CES news was its new Sling TV service, which will be available later this year. Sling TV is a stand-alone online TV service designed expressly for Millennials, the 18-35 audience that the pay TV industry will increasingly be depending upon to sustain the business as today’s pay TV households age and gradually disengage from premium programming. No traditional satellite TV subscription required.
Rather than being cord-cutters, Millennials tend to be “cord-nevers” who feel that they can get all the video programming they need from other sources without subscribing to pay TV in the first place. Others of that demographic ‘hitch-hike’ on their family’s pay TV plan, despite having households of their own. So to characterize Millennials as “cord-cutters” isn’t fully accurate. DISH hopes to attract this demographic where others have failed.
DISH is carrying forward the traditional multi-tiered pay TV content model into this online offering, with a bit of an a-la-carte twist. The $20/month base offering consists of programming from The Walt Disney Company (ESPN and ABC), Turner (CNN, Cartoon Network and TBS) and Scripps Networks Interactive (The Food Channel, HGTV, and the Travel Channel). Announced add-on packs include a Kids Extra (Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV and Duck TV) and a News & Info Extra (HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY and Bloomberg), for $5/month each.
Missing are DVR functionality and regionally-tailored live sports, local programming, and linear programming from TV networks other than ABC and ESPN. It isn’t perfect but it’s a promising start that is gated by content rights, not by technology.
This offering was just a matter of time in coming. Last year, DISH began to offer an international TV programming service online, called DISH World. DISH officials at CES confirmed that DISH World was essentially the Beta for Sling TV. DISH acquired online video technology pioneer Move Networks several years ago, and uses the Move software in both services.
DISH announced a 4K version of the Joey client set-top box, which later received an Editors Choice award from Reviewed.com, a USA Today division that was an official media partner with the Consumer Electronics Association, the host of CES. In picture-in-picture mode, the 4K Joey delivers two simultaneous HD-quality pictures. For DISH customers that don’t have a 4K TV, the existing Joey remains available.
New user experience
DISH was also demonstrating a new TV user interface for the Hopper, which includes a new Home screen, a Mini-guide, Favorites, and Recommendations (using TiVo’s Digitalsmiths platform) . Users will be able to see what’s ‘On Now,’ ‘On Later,’ and recommended content. Search will be across all TV content, plus VEVO. DISH is also adding a Netflix-like “choose uer profile” interface, first to the DISH Anywhere (available as a mobile app or via browser), and later, to the Hopper itself.
Another part of the new user experience is a new remote control for the Hopper with Sling home media gateway. In addition to having buttons, there’s a track pad and speech recognition. Touch and speech have become part of the autonomic nervous system of smartphone users, and DISH acknowledges that reality. The speech recognition is from Rovi’s Veveo subsidiary, with a back-end from Nuance.
DISH will also be supporting high-quality whole-home music via the Hopper and the Joey, and have access to content from IHeartRadio, TuneIn and Pandora, as well as their own music libraries via their home networks. DISH will be pushing the enabling software to the Hopper “sometime this summer.” An integration with Sonos wireless home music systems is also coming later this year.
If you want to watch your recording of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, you have to scroll down to the “T”s for “The.” Not the “A”s for “Adventures,” as I highlighted with the yellow box. It’s tedious to scroll all the way down to the “Ts” to watch something that starts with an “A.” Why not sequence by the first significant word in the title?
Obligatory miscellaneous distraction
In the middle of my booth tour, an impatient late-middle-aged ‘gentleman’ inserted himself between us, blurting out “Fox News! Fox News!,” then walking away mumbling about politics; apparently expecting the DISH executive to resolve the DISH-Fox carriage dispute that began on December 20, right then and there. It would take another week for that to happen.
If I had any single take-away from all of this, it’s that DISH has a clear view toward the future. The company realizes that it can’t bend new consumers to the old ways of pay TV, and instead, is taking steps to meet these consumers more on their own terms. They also realize that today’s mobile consumers aren’t going to be tied to any single access network, given the availability of LTE and wireline broadband (to say nothing of DISH’s multiple wireless spectrum acquisitions in recent years, and DISH said nothing).
Secondarily, Sling TV reinforces my existing belief that “online TV” will probably look a lot like “regular pay TV” as it matures. The content sources may be different – and multiple – but the entire bill might come to resemble what today’s consumers pay for DISH Network, Comcast or AT&T U-verse. Start with the base $20 for Sling TV, and $5/each for the add-on packs. Then add Netflix, Hulu, direct-to-consumer services from HBO and CBS, plus live TV (however that may happen, given what happened with Aereo), and it all adds up from the consumer perspective. We seem to be headed toward a world that embraces both bundling and a-la-carte.
What’s wrong with this picture is that consumers have to deal with a multitude of user experiences, instead of just one. Someone will eventually succeed in creating single user experience across all pay and online sources. It has to be someone that’s separate from the vested interests of each individual content and service provider. There are a number of third party TV Remote Control apps, but none of them quite nail it.
Competition is coming
It will be interesting to see how well DISH fares against emerging competition from Sony, HBO, CBS, DirecTV (especially if the AT&T acquisition goes through), and Verizon, which shrugged off DISH’s Sling TV announcement, despite that it shut down Redbox Instant last year.
My Bottom line
DISH has taken the old adage of retail to heart: location, location, location, while taking away any excuses not to take services from them. I think DISH is more pre-disposed to a world view of ‘virtual subscribers’ because satellite operators don’t have a direct physical connection (over a wire) with them.
At the time of announcement this week, the only two major devices not supported by Sling TV were Apple TV and the Chromecast. If that’s not enough, consumers can opt for the full pay TV experience and the Hopper’s Slingbox technology, to can get the content that online video offerings lack. Maybe that’s DISH’s real strategy: to use Sling TV as the teaser to get Millennials on to the full Hopper-based pay TV offering.
I also look forward to trying out the new user experience and remote control when they become available.
The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas sets the stage for each new year, and the 2015 edition was no exception. Once largely about home audio, TVs, and car stereo, CES has evolved into a must-attend event for every stakeholder in the digital content value chain; from content creation to the point of consumption and every stage in between. Hence, most of the TV service delivery infrastructure players either had booths on the trade show floor, had suites in the nearby hotels, or did both; and most pay TV operators were there as well.
It must be a huge challenge for the Consumer Electronics Association to select winners of the CES Innovation Awards each year, and being ‘just one guy,’ I won’t even pretend to emulate this task. But I found three items during CES to be especially noteworthy – and taken together, emblematic of the larger trend of platform and service virtualization.
Of great significance is DISH Network‘s continuing evolution as an alternative kind of ‘TV Everywhere’ provider. By launching Sling TV, DISH has both elevated the expectations of what online TV should be, and while it isn’t perfect, has deliberately moved to address the demographic that the pay TV industry is the most concerned about losing: millennials. In my opinion, DISH has been the most forward-thinking of the US pay TV operators in the area of online TV. DISH also announced a new user experience, a track-pad-based TV remote control with speech recognition and a new 4K Joey client set-top box for its Hopper with Sling home media center. DISH’s sibling company EchoStar used CES for the US launch of a new home security and home control offering called SAGE, which EchoStar also demonstrated a few months back at IBC.
Also noteworthy was cable operator Charter Communications‘ new WorldBox set-top box, Spectrum EPG and user experience. Unlike the direction being taken by other Tier-1 cable operators, and in particular with the RDK, where the adopters must have RDK-specific set-top boxes and must upgrade their networks to all-IP distribution in order to realize the full potential, Charter has partnered with Cisco and Active Video Networks to introduce an experience that can be deployed to decade-old set-top boxes as well as new IP video-capable ones. Yet, at the same time, it’s a multiscreen solution. Further details are in my article for CED Magazine.
But to me, the highlight of CES wasn’t at CES itself, but rather, was AT&T’s 2015 Developer Summit and Hackathon at the nearby Palms Resort in Las Vegas. While most pay TV operators advance their features in carefully controlled increments, AT&T offers APIs that allow it to essentially open-source its entire network, and has invited developers of all kinds to play in their sandbox. By doing so, AT&T is providing keys to the kingdom to any developer that helps drive traffic over the AT&T network. While other pay TV operators are taking their first steps into home security and home control, AT&T has not only opened AT&T Digital Life (not to mention its AT&T U-verse pay TV platform) to third party developers, but enables development for mobility, connected vehicles, wearables, and the industrial ‘Internet of Things.’ And a host of partnered developers were there in support.
DISH, AT&T and Charter are each “coloring outside the lines” of conventional wisdom, and I’ll be writing more about each of them in the coming week.
During the CES conference, Cisco Systems hosted an analyst reception, showcasing Charter Communications, a major US cable TV operator that is one of Cisco’s customers. I came away quite impressed with Charter’s new IP-hybrid HD TV set top box.
The WorldBox and its underlying Spectrum software stack provides a re-usable, portable platform which provides an alternative basis for IP-based multiscreen services. Charter’s offering is more akin to the DVB hybrids from European operators than it is to the US cable industry establishment’s reference software platform, the RDK.
Here’s wishing my readers a happy and prosperous 2014! Strap in – 2014 promises to be a great ride.
It’s a bit late for Happy New Year, but a week at CES provides a good excuse. Over the next week, I’ll be presenting my CES experience here.
2014 CES highlights included:
- AT&T ‘s 2014 Developer Summit!
- The 2014 Consumer Telematics Show, all about the Connected Car!
- New TV software, with features that might actually be useful!
- The battle of the Whole Home TV giants!
- Giant curved TV sets!
And much much more.
At CES 2013, Cisco held an event which included demos of Cox Communications new Cisco video gateway, a Cox TV app on the iPad, and a new EPG. DISH Network launched a new version of its Hopper whole home DVR and AT&T held its 2013 Developer Summit. Read the rest of the article on Telecompetitor…
At CES 2013, Verizon Communications showed off a variety of updates for its FiOS TV service, as well as a demonstration of the forthcoming Redbox Instant service from the Verizon-Coinstar joint venture. Read this article on Telecompetitor…
For us “industry folks,” the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas marks the final jolt back to reality after the holiday season. As everything has become connected, as telecommunications carriers and pay TV service providers have become mainstream exhibitors – and especially because the multi-screen world of anything anytime to any device is now a reality – CES has become a must-attend event. Both to see what’s new, and to meet with associates, clients and friends.
I was fortunate to receive an invitation to today’s AT&T 2012 Developer Summit, where AT&T made a number of significant announcements:
- Cloud Architect, a cloud-based Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering for developers to host the operation of their apps.
- An AT&T API Platform that opens up AT&T’s service platform to HTML5 mobile apps and provides tools to develop multi-screen apps
- AT&T AppCenter, which provides a consumer-facing go-to-market merchandizing resource for HTML5 and Android apps.
- AT&T Application Resource Optimizer (ARO), a diagnostic tool that helps developers reduce device battery drain from inefficient use of device memory and processing resources, and to bundle requests from apps to the AT&T network.
The event was keynoted by an all-star cast, including Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets; Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (who ended with his trademark cry of ‘Developers Developers Developers!’); and Nokia president Stephen Elop (who is positioning Nokia’s upcoming Windows Phone-based Lumia as Nokia’s re-entry into the U.S. market). My personal favorite moment was toward the end of HTC CEO Peter Chou’s presentation, when he trailed off into “This is my personal device. It’s really really good!” while showing off HTC’s new Titan II LTE model. Senior executives of Sony, Samsung, and Pantech each introduced a variety of new smartphones and tablets that run in AT&T’s LTE mobile network; some of which established new form-factors.
Toward the end of each presenter’s pitch, it was mentioned that “oh yes, we have an SDK.” It left me wondering what the “Uber-SDK” might be for all of this, given that each vendor’s environment has proprietary elements, and surely no developer wants to enter into ten or more separate parallel developer streams (which is really the situation today). AT&T’s announcements represent one step in the evolution toward “One Ring to rule them all,” where, in this case, the AT&T network is the common denominator.
Although the event was predominantly oriented toward mobile, lo and behold, there is also an AT&T U-verse Enabled SDK! This was what convinced me to stay beyond the keynote session for the breakout sessions, and I can report that the SDK is a good first step. Like the rest of the solutions at this event, the U-verse Enabled SDK was oriented toward mobile application developers, so functionality was somewhat limited. Developers can create mobile second-screen apps that associate devices and apps with individual U-verse receivers (set-top boxes), issue commands (such as channel-change), detect state-changes (such as acknowledgements that the command was executed).
The ability to develop or modify the TV UI itself was out of scope, as that is the domain of Microsoft Mediaroom. Left unsaid was the notion that separating the U-verse Enabled SDK from Mediaroom provides AT&T with the flexibility to use it for other TV middleware platforms. (Apple was also absent from this event; AT&T directs Mediaroom and iOS developers to their respective vendors’ own programs).
Having been around IPTV since its infancy, I still have to pinch myself when I see all the advances. In October of 2011, AT&T introduced four new social TV apps for its U-verse IPTV service:
- Miso, which enables U-verse TV users to follow what one another are watching, and leveraging U-verse TV metadata so the user doesn’t have to type in the name of a show with the remote control
- Buddy TV, a U-verse remote control replicated on a second-screen device
- Splat Interactive’s TV Foundry, an app that uses program metadata of the show you’re watching to retrieve related content from the Web, such as trailers, previews and reviews; and share them with friends via Twitter and Facebook
- Wayin, which presents polls, games, and trivia that is associated with a program that you’re watching, so you can opt-in and play
These apps were built by independent developers in collaboration with the AT&T Foundry, a network of development centers in the US and Israel that’s currently hosting more than 100 active projects with third-party developers. After today’s event, more developers are likely to join in. It will be interesting to see what these projects produce as they come to market, especially as it further enriches the IPTV and multiscreen experience.