Posts Tagged: Microsoft

Will Windows 10 signal a new willingness to play nice?

Posted by & filed under Microsoft, News, Opinion.

Windows_Product_Family_9-30-Event-741x416Microsoft launched Windows 10 this week, the first Post-Steve-Ballmer Windows “dot-oh” release.  My first impression was positive, followed by “meh” followed by tentatively positive, followed by caveat all-of-em.

My initial positive impression was because Microsoft has proactively moved past the disasterous and unusable Windows 8 – so far past it that it skipped Windows 9 (or perhaps 8.1 was really 9).

The “meh” was that Microsoft has jumped into the VR and immersive UI game with HoloLens, but it’s pretty late in the game.  I’m not convinced that the Oculus Rift, for example, will go anywhere other than with gamers and professionals that need walk-throughs, such as engineers and architects.  Maybe high-end realtors.  And I don’t think Microsoft has broken any new ground, other than to embed it into a mainstream OS.   Another ‘meh’ is that although Microsoft  is acknowledging that the client software needs to be common across a multi-device ecosystem, again, both MacOS and Linux were designed to enable multiple software form-factors, tailored for different devices.

It’s getting better

My impression returned tentatively to positive with features such as Continuum, and Surface Hub‘s integration with Skype to enable IP conferencing.  But Continuum looks more like catch-up with Apple’s Continuity, and WebRTC enables customized video-enabled applications in any Web browser without plug-ins.   For now, the best part of Windows 10 that average users will appreciate the most is the fact that it will be a free upgrade for users with Windows 7 and above, for the first year after release.  It’s a smart move, and will go a long way toward re-building customer good will.  But it won’t be free for new users, as MacOS X is; since Microsoft’s hardware business does not subsidize its OS as Apple’s does.

Despite my seemingly not-quite-impressed attitude, I did come away from this Microsoft milestone feeling more optimistic about Microsoft.  They have a lot of catching up to do, but they seem to be no longer mired in 1980s (Read: Steve Ballmer) thinking.  They are finally acknowledging the realities of today’s information technology, software, and mobile industry.   It’s a far cry from when Ballmer mocked smashing an iPhone on stage (when, instead, he should have bought one for each of their engineers – which would have been less costly than buying Nokia’s handset business and laying off all those people last year).

But have they really changed?

excel-error-4But it remains to be seen, whether or not Microsoft’s competitive practices have changed.  Microsoft has been actively hostile to Apple users for more than 30 years.  Even though Excel came first for the Mac, Microsoft has long crippled the advanced functionality of Office for the Mac (Word and Excel in particular).   Microsoft has never offered the Visio flow charting tool or the Access database for the Mac, and it discontinued Microsoft Project for the Mac when the Mac was still beige.  Word? Crashes all the time, even with basic copy/cut and paste operations (Both Office and my Mac are current: Versions 14.4.7 and 10.10.1 respectively).   Saving a new Excel file: “The file path you entered is too long.  The file path cannot exceed 255 characters.  Enter a shorter file name or select a shorter file path, and then try saving the file again.”  Even though I can bury the file twelve layers deep and it will open just fine.  Come on, guys.  MS-DOS legacy limitations?  Faked ones no less? Most users don’t even remember DOS or even know what it was.

But Microsoft isn’t the only company that attends to business selectively.  Apple wants you in their ecosystem – to buy hardware and content through them.  Google wants ad impressions – it’s the only reason that Android and Glass and everything else they do exists.   Some of you might say “Gee, Amazon is great because you can get Kindle apps for iOS and Android” but remember their mission and their recent ventures in hardware: Fire phone, Fire TV and Echo, to intrude just enough to sell you something else, and then position it as a convenience.

Users should quit complaining

Rather than complaining, what do we do about it?  Simple: take control.  Here’s my five step program:

  1. Be willing to live outside of a vendor’s ecosystem when you have to.  Use your own domain, rather than Gmail.  Use a third-party cloud like Backblaze for backups, or Dropbox for file transfer, instead of iCloud.
  2. Text via your mobile carrier, not via Gmail etc.  You’ll still receive the message.
  3. Visit commerce sites using a browser (mobile or computer) instead of a seller’s dedicated app.
  4. Turn off things like advertising, access to location, and (in Google Earth for instance) access to your contacts.  This is easy in iOS settings, although sadly, Android’s settings usually don’t allow this – so…
  5. Read the developer’s terms before downloading, to give yourself the option to opt out before opting in.  Know how to disable the stealth software that some vendors install on your computer (“You opted in to our terms, so we can”)

Telecompetitor: Steve Ballmer retires. What next?

Posted by & filed under AT&T, Competition, Mediaroom, Microsoft, News, Opinion, Telecompetitor.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement last week, leading to two immediate questions: “What happens next?”  and “Who will succeed him?”   In answer to the first question, the company would do well to quickly re-evaluate and re-rationalize its entire product strategy and portfolio.   Microsoft has the ingredients for greatness but execution hasn’t been great in recent years.   As for who should succeed him, Microsoft needs someone with the mind of a Jeff Bezos or a Ralph de la Vega, not a Meg Whitman or a John Sculley.

Read the rest of this article, including recommendations for the Microsoft product portfolio, at Telecompetitor Plus (Premium content).

Google and TV again? Ranking the Odds of the TV Outsiders

Posted by & filed under Android, Apple, Apps, Google TV, Intel, Mediaroom, Microsoft, Opinion, Sony.

[ Updated August 22: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have both reported Sony to be negotiating with Viacom and others, in preparation for an OTT TV service.  This raises Sony’s odds.]

This week, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both reported on efforts being mounted by Google to launch an “Internet cable TV service” (an oxymoron). Joining Intel, Sony, Microsoft, Apple and others. Let’s look at them one at a time.

Intel is on the record as hoping to launch its own consumer Internet TV service, although in my opinion – even if they DO launch a service, which they insist they will – a service is not Intel’s true intention in that space. Instead, it’s another market-seeding effort – which Intel has done in the past with set-top box reference designs and software SDKs to drive that industry’s adoption of Intel processors. In other words, a retail TV service might be the icing on a different cake.

For years, Apple TV has been Apple’s entry into the streaming video player market space, and the TV vector of Apple’s device-content-software ecosystem. After many rumors have come and gone, Apple is now reportly “playing nice” in the pay TV industry sandbox. People forget that Apple has been on the side of Big Media for years. The same strategy worked for them with the music industry a decade ago. Also, most pay TV operators, premium pay TV programmers and TV networks offer apps designed to work on iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices (and on the Mac via a Web browser). Steve Jobs became the largest shareholder of The Walt Disney Company when he sold Pixar to them. And now, Sky News, ESPN, HBO Go (among others) have launched apps designed expressly for Apple TV. Bottom line, Apple is both a friend and a friendly distribution channel; not a threat.

Then there are Sony and Microsoft. Over the past year, reports have had both of them taking runs of their own at being “Internet TV providers.” Sony’s effort sounds ambitious, but the rumor mill had gone quiet. They’d have some chance, by virtue that Sony is a media company (Sony Pictures) and the PlayStation is a content ecosystem; not just a game platform.

AT&T offered a special kit for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, to make it compatible with AT&T U-verse IPTV, although sales of that add-on have been suspended. Microsoft also offers branded apps from Comcast, Verizon and a number of TV programmers via Xbox Live. But Microsoft’s efforts to launch its own TV service by negotiating directly with TV programmers ran onto the rocks.

I was originally inspired to write this article because I started thinking how Google might have a better chance than any of these competitors. The TV networks are distrought over the fact that audience measurement for online video is not comprehensive, making advertisers leery of advertising in that medium. Meanwhile, 97% of Google’s revenue is from online advertising, so you’d think they’re onto something (See *** below). But a number of other TV programming distributors offer online platforms and already have relationships with the networks. Also, Google would expect a share of any ad revenue and is no friend of pay TV or broadband providers, particularly in cities where Google is building its own broadband service.

Not to mention that Google has taken other runs at the TV opportunity, most notably with Google TV, a noteworty technology that happened to be one of the great failures of high-tech marketing. Google TV cost Logitech millions of dollars, and their CEO his job. For its part, Google did nothing to correct the misperception that Google TV was a service, instead of the TV middleware that it actually was. [ Update July 26: Google has launched yet another TV device, Chromecast ]

So, here’s how I rank their chances at launching and sustaining an online TV service:

  • Google: 0%, for having alienated the TV industry, which is highly resistant to change
  • Microsoft: 0%, because they don’t instill confidence that they can succeed. Consider the recent launches of Windows 8, Xbox One, Surface, Windows Phone, and Microsoft’s exit of the IPTV middleware category (Mediaroom) only after becoming a leading supplier.
  • Sony: 50% because they are working with TV industry players and because they are a content owner themselves.  Also, they are in the process of revitalizing the Playstation ecosystem. [ Note: I previously was saying they had a 10% chance. ]
  • Intel: 50%, because they appear to be trying to work within the parameters of the TV industry. If the retail service fails, it’s not the end because a service is only part of Intel’s true agenda despite what they say.
  • Apple: 100% if they collaborate with the pay TV industry. Apple’s ecosystem is the broadest and deepest (albeit sans games). Also, Apple gets credit for having saved the music distribution industry’s bacon.

Samsung is a huge wild-card here. They have a device and in-home distribution product ecosystem and have been successful in extending Android into something useful, but Samsung has not announced any intentions of their own, other than partnering with content companies and distributors (pay TV, Redbox Instant and a few others)…

Staying tuned!

*** I’ve begun to think of Google Search, Android and Chrome as ad-malware. But that’s a whole ‘nother rant, for the next episode of “Why can’t I download that Android app without accepting its terms to track my location and phone usage?” I’m saying to myself “Get over it or switch!” and from my tone, you might guess my decision.

Reactions to “Apple & Microsoft: Making Waves in OTT”

Posted by & filed under Android, Apple, Blog, Devices, Mediaroom, Microsoft, Multiscreen, Opinion, Samsung, tvstrategies, Viaccess-Orca.

Viaccess-Orca recently posted a thought piece on their company blog, about Apple and Microsoft shaking things up in the OTT video world. It ended with the question: “Who will dominate the living room?” Given the success of the Xbox and Xbox LIVE, versus Apple’s currently serviceable but functionally lackluster entry in the TV category, my immediate reaction was “Microsoft,” but on further reflection, I have to say “leaning toward Apple, but Android is a contender too.”

Now that Microsoft is leaving the TV infrastructure business (Mediaroom), they are on a more even footing with Apple. Both companies have content ecosystems that are tied with their devices and with the cloud. Both have vulnerabilities. While Apple has been absent in the game category, Microsoft has stumbled in two very strategic device categories (ceding the smartphone and tablet categories to others, not to mention its current challenges with Windows).

If revenue is your measure of success, Xbox has sold more units than Apple TV, but Apple has a clear advantage in content revenue. According to researcher NPD Group, Apple iTunes has 65% and 67% of online movie and TV content unit sales, respectively, compared with Microsoft Xbox Video at 10% and 14%.

Usability is a key to the living room and design will make all the difference. The old adage about Web design still counts: more than two clicks and you’ve failed. Usability has always been an Apple hallmark, but as Viaccess-Orca’s article pointed out, Microsoft offers speech and motion control (and what’s next for Siri?). Apple has Airplay but Microsoft has SmartGlass.

The dark horse in this race is Android because third party developers have more of a say on the user experience. Android offers more control over the conventions of interactivity, while Apple and Microsoft have hard-and-fast user interface rules. Whether device companies (Samsung comes to mind) can deliver on that premise remains an open question.

PS: I’m surprised that Viaccess-Orca resisted the temptation to offer their own opinions about winning the living room, being developers in that space themselves, with a five million user living laboratory through Orange (France Telecom).

Microsoft to divest Mediaroom to Ericsson

Posted by & filed under Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, IPTV, Mediaroom, Microsoft, Middleware, Opinion.

This week, Ericsson announced that it will be acquiring the Microsoft Mediaroom software platform, confirming a rumor that had been reverberating in the business press for a week prior. The transaction will add to Ericsson’s TV infrastructure portfolio, which already consists of video compression and distribution infrastructure, video asset management, video-related professional services and a video partner ecosystem. A Microsoft official said it would enable Microsoft to “commit 100 percent of its focus on (its) consumer TV strategy with Xbox.”

(Note: A longer, more analytical, and less opinionated version of this post is at Telecompetitor)

There’s no delicate way to say it: Mediaroom has been an increasingly big boulder in the IPTV stream, and all the operators adopting it have already had to row around it for some years. That boulder will recede into the background as the operators move downstream to implement multiscreen and other new features. The biggest thing that will keep Mediaroom alive is the operators’ sunk investment in STBs. Unless someone at Cisco (and other Mediaroom set-top suppliers) invents a clever way to flash new operating systems onto these boxes in the field via remote management.

I think Mediaroom and its ecosystem of proprietary parts will be around for many years, just like Motorola DCT2000 set-tops were in the US cable industry. Someday, the rest of the major content providers will have relented and allowed multiscreen/cloud distribution in-home and out-of-home without the need for set-tops. Already the Tier-1 pay operators offer online on-demand programming, and allowing 75-90 live channels over in-home IP distribution to tablets, so it’s really just a matter of time. Which makes Mediaroom all the less relevant. A lot of time and money was put into Mediaroom and operators will build around it until it’s all amortized and then finally decommission it. There won’t be any hurry, in my opinion.

Has Microsoft really lost the consumer?

Posted by & filed under Apple, Blog, Devices, Microsoft, Multiscreen, Opinion.

Despite the fact that I’ve been using PCs on and off since 1981, and remember Windows v1.0 from 1985, I’m often bewildered by Windows 7. When I want to troubleshoot my network, for example, Windows gives me generic help and instructions that often are out of context to the task at hand. Instead, I use the Mac, which puts a diagram of my network on the screen and points out where the issues are.

On Saturdays, The Seattle Times – which is my local newspaper – runs two personal technology columns: one Mac and one PC. Practical Mac talks about Apple products and trends and give tips and tricks, but it’s rarely a ‘fix it’ column. The PC column, Q&A with Patrick Marshall, is invariably dedicated to solving arcane Windows issues (it seems that every third solution involves reinstalling the operating system, the device drivers, or both). Not that the Mac doesn’t have issues too, but juxtaposing these two columns provides a contrast.

So, when Microsoft said that it had ‘Reimagined Windows’ (their term) with the release of Windows 8, many people wondered whether or not Microsoft had learned its lesson. The teaser screen-shots before release (this one is typical) made it appear that Microsoft had finally committed to usability.

But it seems that they have not. Even The Seattle Times – which is also Microsoft’s local newspaper – can’t sugar-coat the situation: the business section has been reporting on the challenges to Windows 8, and The Times is not alone in this. Everyone from The Motley Fool to Ars Technica have not been kind either.

The combination of the negative press and the product itself have had an impact. ZDNet reported in April that Windows 8 OEMs have already revised their PC sales forecasts downward for 2013. Software developers are not flocking to Windows 8 either. Through June 30th 2013, Microsoft is paying developers to write apps for the desktop and phone versions of the Windows 8 platform, in stark contrast to its competitors.

Then there’s the Microsoft Surface ‘tablet.’ Again, high expectations have given way to disappointment. One version of the Surface uses more than 2/3 of the device’s available storage space just for the operating system, whereas competing devices use much less. Retailers are discounting the Surface as well. and so are device makers.

An unfair assessment? Casting judgment while the jury is still out? The Surface provides a cumbersome user experience. It’s too thick and heavy to be a tablet, doesn’t have the solid feel of other tablets, and the keyboards are covered with a sponge-like material that would be doomed in one coffee spill flat. And not to mention how poorly the Windows 8 user interface fails to deliver past its Start screen. Why couldn’t Microsoft bring the ‘Metro’ UI across the entire Windows experience?

Compare with Apple. While Microsoft seems to be bent on putting nearly the same Windows experience everywhere, Apple has accepted that the user experience can differ from one device to the next in a device-appropriate way. A few releases ago, the conventional wisdom was that the iOS/mobile experience would also become the MacOS X experience, and this has not taken place. Although MacOS X has some iOS-like features (for example, Launchpad, a version of the Mac desktop that presents apps the same way the iPad and iPhone do), Apple did not make Launchpad the default user experience, whereas Metro is the default for Windows 8.

It’s almost as if Apple said “We’re going to try this and see if consumers adopt it” plus “Let’s make it easier for people coming to the Mac from iOS for the first time,” while Microsoft said “We’re going to tell you how Windows is going to work now.” Microsoft’s usability test facilities are top notch, but Microsoft seems more worried about making sure you know how their product works rather than taking user reactions back into product design. I’ve been in many Microsoft usability studies and I can recall several where I simply couldn’t figure something out, and the usability engineer would come out from behind the 2-way mirror and show me how it works. Think about that for a minute…

And don’t get me started about ‘the ribbon’ in Office. I was under some time pressure the other day to do an animated slide with ‘build ups’ in it. Assembling an animated slide used to be a matter of selecting objects in the slide and assigning an action to it. After 10 minutes trying to find this functionality in the UI, I gave up. Thanks.

So after nearly 30 years, the concept of Windows no longer seems to fit what consumers are buying, and Windows 8 and the Surface are case in point. It was a good run. But no, Microsoft hasn’t lost the consumer altogether. There’s still the Xbox 360, an industry unto itself.

But no matter how hard Microsoft tries, the PC roots of Windows can’t be disguised in today’s usability-driven, mobile, post PC world. As a result, Microsoft has now missed the two great device opportunities of this young century – smartphones and tablets – and has squandered its Windows franchise. Smartphones and tablets are built around ecosystems, and Microsoft apparently can’t to commit to one that extends beyond the Xbox. But ecosystems are another discussion for another day.

This wasn’t meant to be an “Apple Fan Boy” article, but Microsoft has made itself an easy target. Hopefully this situation turns around for Microsoft. But it will take an infusion of vision to make that happen, which is sorely lacking at the top. And now there are concerns that the same is true of Apple, post Steve Jobs. We need our innovators to be innovative, so let’s hope that better days are ahead for both.

Microsoft Surface might find a niche

Posted by & filed under Blog, Devices, Microsoft, Opinion.

Yesterday (June 18), Microsoft announced a new Surface. Unlike the original Microsoft Surface – now called PixelSense – a horizontally-oriented 40 inch table-top touch-screen that functioned as a kind of interactive kiosk, this one is a type of tablet. On first glance, the new Surface looked like the Bizarro World version of Apple’s iPad. On second glance, too. Microsoft has copied Apple ever since Windows 1.0, and the copies never seem to work quite as well as the originals. But Microsoft might have something here this time – if they can position it clearly, articulate a roadmap, and get people excited about it.

Microsoft Surface tablet computer

Microsoft Surface tablet computer (Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft has chosen to position the Surface squarely against the iPad. I have an iPad for a couple of reasons. First, because I follow the TV industry and because the iPad has become established as part of the interactive TV experience, I had to have one so I could speak with some degree of credibility about it. Second, I thought the iPad would make a workable substitute as my primary computing device when on the go. As it has turned out, the iPad makes a great ‘consuming’ device, but as a computer replacement, it falls well short. So, even if I carry my iPad around at conferences, I still have to take my Mac on the trip for ‘real’ work.

Apple’s products work as an ecosystem, which begs the question as to whether Microsoft has an ecosystem in waiting for the Surface. There was no mention of any interworking between Surface and the XBox 360, which just announced a multiscreen strategy with SmartGlass. No content partners either, although Microsoft maintains ongoing discussions with the TV networks and studios and offers content through the Xbox (and the now-defunct Zune). There was more than a passing mention that Surface would be a showcase for Windows technology, yet it will be a captive Microsoft product with no OEM partners; sold only at Microsoft stores.

Although Microsoft PR responded almost instantly to my inquiry, they couldn’t connect me with a product expert or provide further information of any kind. Makes you wonder why they announced it now, and not wait until it shipped. (Cynicism alert…) Is Microsoft simply emulating Apple’s occasional tactic of announcing products months before availability in order to build up demand, or are they trying to get the analyst community to define exactly what it is before they firm up their full launch plan?

Microsoft may – yet again – fail at ‘slate computers.’ They’ve been trying at this category for more than 20 years. Microsoft OEMs trot out new models and they just don’t sell. Or, Microsoft might just succeed. If it runs full-blown Windows and Microsoft Office, and if it works like a ‘regular’ PC, then perhaps Microsoft may have found a niche that the iPad has missed.

But then again, why not just buy an “ultrabook” – a Windows counterpart to the MacBook Air. Or, why not just buy an Air? And that’s the dilemma. Will it rise above the rest? Is it a machine for consuming or for creating? Can it be both? Should it be both? Perhaps its biggest innovation is a new version of Windows, but Microsoft seems insistent not to license it to OEMs.

For now, Surface was a strange orphan of an announcement; a half-realized vision without the rest of the vision. Is it a PC? Is it a tablet? Can it be a TV? The proof will be in the product and in the execution.

Telecompetitor: Microsoft quietly launches new TV platform?

Posted by & filed under Apple, Blog, Mediaroom, Microsoft, Middleware, Multi-screen, Opinion, Telecompetitor.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that electronic games are not your focus – and they aren’t mine either. So you may have missed what could turn out to be the latest iteration of Microsoft TV unless you happened to be paying attention to Microsoft’s SmartGlass announcement at the E3 game conference last week…

Read the rest of this article on the Telecompetitor Web site!

AT&T at CES 2012 – One small step for U-verse TV developers

Posted by & filed under Applications, AT&T, Conferences, Developer, Mediaroom, Microsoft, Multi-screen.

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.

Microsoft and DISH: the value of ‘Regular TV’ within the online video equation

Posted by & filed under Blog, DISH, Microsoft, Multi-screen, Opinion.

Microsoft today made the long-expected announcement that it is ‘transforming TV’ by bringing the TV experience to the Xbox 360 (or, said another way, adding a ‘TV portal’ to the Xbox). My first reaction was that it was the ‘inverse’ of DISH Network’s Blockbuster Movie Pass announcement of September 23. But then, the term ‘inverse’ doesn’t really apply if there are three terms to the online video equation.

Here’s what I mean:

  • Microsoft’s Xbox 360 TV initiative is ‘device-centric,’ independent of service or content provider,
  • DISH’s Blockbuster Movie Pass is ‘service-centric,’ independent of content provider or device,
  • Then, there’s ‘content centric,’ as in HBO GO or Max GO or WatchESPN; where the content can be just as easily delivered to an app – independent of service provider or device – as it can be to a TV set.

On the surface, ‘Xbox 360 TV’ doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but it is. On one hand, Xbox users can already get on-demand online video content through the Zune on Xbox Live marketplace, which, according to IHS Screen Digest has 16.4% market share for online movies – not to mention Hulu and Netflix.

But on the other hand, it’s live TV. This is of strategic importance for Microsoft: its ability to provide live multichannel TV instantly differentiates the Xbox 360 from other online video devices like Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee, Roku and seemingly dozens of other little boxes that have come and gone over the past couple of years.

Which brings us to DISH. Interestingly, DISH seems to have looked at their Blockbuster announcement more as a way to counter the threat of online video from Netflix, Comcast and DirecTV, when in reality, the chart that DISH published at announcement underscores – did they mean not to mention this? – what’s missing from Netflix and Qwikster: multichannel TV itself as the differentiator.

DISH-Blockbuster online video comparison(Source: DISH Network)

[ Note: 5 days after this blog posting, Netflix decided to cancel Qwikster, which would have separated Netflix’ DVD rental business from its streaming business – but the point I make still remains. Just combine the two rightmost columns of this table. ]

Add in DISH’s Sling technology, Move Networks’ online video codec, the fact that DISH bought three satellite companies this year, and now owns a Telco? Hmmm…something is brewing at DISH, and I bet it will have more impact than ‘Xbox TV’

It just goes to show how much navel-gazing there is about online TV. Consider how much our industry has ruminated over OTT and cable TV cord-cutting, when in fact, the percentages (and the revenues) are still very low. The other standout stat on the chart is the fact that it underscores how many titles are not available online, compared with what’s on DVD.

The Xbox 360 gives content providers another channel to market, putting their content in front of people via a device that’s new to many of the content providers. [ Notice, by the way, that several TV programmers are going to the Xbox directly, including HBO, ESPN and SyFy. We'll see how much leverage this gives them when it comes time for pay TV providers to renew carriage agreements with them. ]

As a set-top box substitute, the Xbox 360 stands to reduce CapEx for service providers (although AT&T, BT, Telus and other service providers have deployed using the Xbox as a set-top, and none of them are are saying how widely adopted it has been). We’ll see about that too.