PlayOn has upgraded its software to allow its Premium users to stream video from their PC to their iPad using either 3G or WiFi networks. The upgrade adds to PlayOn's HTML5 solution for streaming to the iPhone and iPod Touch announced in August. As a result PlayOn users can now access their own media files plus lots of premium streaming content when out-of-home. This is akin to what Sling enables except with PlayOn there's no hardware purchase or rental required. Jeff Lawrence, CEO of MediaMall Technologies, the company behind PlayOn, gave me a quick update recently.
The PlayOn software runs on the PC and streams to DLNA-compliant supported devices such as the major gaming consoles and digital set-tops like Moxi, Netgear's EVA2000 and others. After a 14-day trial, pricing is either one-time $80 or annual ($30 for first year and $20/year thereafter). Jeff wouldn't share the exact number of paying subscribers, but did say PlayOn is getting 1,000-3,000 downloads per day and is converting approximately 30%, so it sounds like it might be gaining 300-1,000 paid users per day (I'm guessing it's probably at the low end, and I don't know the churn rate).
Since PlayOn enables access to popular content like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and others, it benefits from the awareness and momentum these have built. Especially as long-form streaming content becomes more popular, viewing on the big screen HDTV is going to become more desirable.
Now, with support for the iOS devices, PlayOn is expanding its value beyond the home network. Users still download the PlayOn software to the PC, and then once they pair the iOS device with PlayOn they can watch remotely as long as they're online. This involves clicking the PlayOn icon on the iOS device and sending instructions to the PC (which of course must be on) which begins playing out the appropriate mobile stream which is then uploaded through the public Internet. I haven't tried this because I'm a Mac user, but I was a little skeptical about video quality. Jeff said there's some latency but once playback begins the quality is good, though obviously dependent on the local 3G or WiFi network.
PlayOn seems to have found a niche for itself, but I wonder if it's going to get squeezed going forward. In the home, connected devices are proliferating which obviate the need for the PC to be in the middle. And out of the home video is becoming a key feature of both smartphones and tablets, with video providers moving fast to offer either apps or mobile-friendly web sites (Flash 10.1 in Android 2.2 will accelerate this). In addition, PlayOn doesn't offer a Mac version and doesn't plan to for cost reasons, and also because it uses the DLNA standard for in-home connections, the elegant UIs that sites like Hulu and Netflix have created are transformed into generic folder hierarchies. These aren't necessarily deal-breakers, but they could seem out-of-date as Apple TV and others push the envelope on UI design.
PlayOn is staying aggressive and Jeff said an Android upgrade is coming soon, along with a 3rd party API and potential in-box bundling deal with PC manufacturers. All will help PlayOn as the connected device space grows far more competitive.
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