Last month's CES brought a wave of news from TV manufacturers about plans to integrate broadband access directly into their new sets. There's going to be growing momentum around this capability and I believe it's inevitable that broadband connectivity will one day be a standard feature in virtually all HDTVs.
The wrinkle in this scenario is that for broadband video on TV to be a compelling experience for consumers there must be a user-friendly environment to discover and navigate to desired video. Simply offering an Ethernet jack or wireless connection is insufficient. In fact a strong UI becomes even more important as video choices expand.
Seeking to solve the problem of how to organize, present and deliver broadband video via connected TVs is an early-stage company called AnySource Media that I believe is going to be getting a lot of attention over the next couple of years. I saw a demo of their service last fall and recently I talked to Mike Harris, AnySource's CEO to learn more.
The first and most important thing to know about AnySource is that its executive team has deep and successful roots in the consumer electronics (CE), video processing and semiconductor industries. As a result, it has the relationships, technical understanding and subtle know-how to get things done with the opaque CE industry. For example, a key question for me with the new crop of connected TVs has been whether new, specialized chips would be required in the TVs. These would inevitably cause upward retail price pressure, thereby suppressing consumer demand. Mike was able to walk me through the specific capabilities of chipsets commonly found in digital set-top boxes, how they are already migrating into TVs and how AnySource intends to leverage them to avoid creating new costs for the manufacturers.
There are two pieces to the AnySource Internet Video Navigator (IVN) solution: a software client freely embedded into the TV's chipset, and a back-end data center that aggregates and streams/downloads the content, creates metadata, organizes the presentation experience and passes on relevant advertising or commerce information.
AnySource's goal is not to disrupt the underlying content provider's experience or require any new encoding; it simply passes through whatever the content provider wants to make available. At CES it demo'd with 80 content providers and Mike said over 200 deals are in the works. Given the simplicity of its pitch, I think that as AnySource's footprint expands content providers will be very interested partners. AnySource doesn't plan to obtain revenue shares from content providers, rather its business model is to sell its own ads in the presentation screens.
The key to AnySource's model is of course is getting TV manufacturers to embed the IVN software. Mike was reluctant to get into specifics, but at CES AnySource demo'd on a Sylvania set from Funai. The goal is be in the market with at least 2-3 TV brands in '09 with more in '10. Obviously if AnySource's model gets traction, further deals will become a lot easier to get done. Unlike other devices which require new remotes or keyboards, AnySource-powered content will be available using the TV's remote control.
The connected TV space is the most exciting frontier in the broadband video landscape because it holds the potential to unlock vast new value for consumers and content providers. We've started to see some traction from third party devices like Xbox, TiVo, Roku, etc, but long-term the market will only achieve ubiquity when TVs themselves come with user-friendly broadband access. It's a highly disruptive scenario, and one which AnySource could well be a central player in.
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