(Note: I will NOT disclose anything about last night's series finale, so fans, you're safe to read on without spoilers.)
Last night was the series finale of the hit AMC show "Breaking Bad." I count myself among the millions of super-fans who fell in love with the series from the start and have been loyal ever since. Importantly though, my viewing experience with Breaking Bad distinguished itself from every other TV show I've ever watched: it was the first one where I watched every single episode on-demand and without ads.
In fact, my experiences with Breaking Bad perfectly illustrate so many of the video industry themes I write about on VideoNuze each day that I thought it would be worth sharing some of them and what I learned.
TiVo has introduced its new line of DVRs dubbed "Roamio," and among other new features, the highlight is out-of-home streaming (note the caveats below). Out-home-streaming means that users with a Roamio DVR will be able to access their stored content on iOS devices (and Android at some point too), effectively unlocking content from the DVR itself.
Out-of-home streaming extends in-home streaming and downloading that have been available via the TiVo Stream device. I've been using Stream since last year and is one of my favorite devices, enabling me to download content before making a trip and then watch when not connected, a great benefit. The 2 higher-end Roamios (Plus and Pro) have TiVo Stream built in, while the base model does not.
I'm pleased to present the 190th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
We start our discussion with data that TiVo Research and Analytics (TRA) released this past Monday, which concluded, among other things, that Netflix does not cannibalize traditional TV viewing. TRA also identified the percentage of respondents who subscribe to Netflix (and other services) who watched "House of Cards." Using these numbers, Colin calculates that about 10 million people watched the program, a healthy amount by any standard (Netflix hasn't publicly released HoC's audience). Colin sees a class of "super-viewers" whose traditional TV consumption is augmented by, not substituted with, Netflix.
One thing that caught my attention in the TRA data was that while Netflix had a 57% adoption rate among respondents, Amazon Prime was right behind it, at 50% (Hulu Plus was further back at 18%). To be fair, it's not clear whether these Prime members are actually watching video included in Prime, or are mainly focused on the unlimited shipping benefit. But, assuming that many DO watch video, it's an impressive number for Amazon, and underscores how far Prime has come in the 2 1/2 years since Instant Videos were launched.
Colin and I discuss Amazon's broader agenda and how its aggressive pursuit of video is strategic in supporting both Prime and the Kindle ecosystem (all of which I described in my post this past Monday). Given Amazon's willingness to operate on razor-thin margins, I foresee the price for licensing high-quality content continuing to rise, which will in turn pinch profitability (and subscriber growth) at pure play OTT providers like Netflix.
Click here to listen to the podcast (16 minutes, 48 seconds)
Flipping through yesterday's Best Buy circular, I noticed an ad (see below), which I believe is indicative of the type of pitches that are going to become increasingly prevalent to prospective cord-cutters and cord-nevers. The ad offers a packaged discount to an over-the-air ClearStream HD antenna from Antennas Direct with a TiVo Premiere and highlights logos from Netflix, Hulu Plus and Pandora. While the ad doesn't explicitly say "Dump your expensive pay-TV service now!," it has several key messages that might as well.
Comcast has announced that Xfinity TV subscribers who use the Xfinity TV Player app on their Android and iOS mobile devices can now download certain TV shows and movies, so they can watch when they're not connected to a broadband network. The download option closely mirrors TiVo's recently announced "Stream" device, which also allows downloading.
As I wrote in my review of TiVo Stream, I think the offline viewing use case is a killer app. Despite the proliferation of 4G services, the reality is there are still plenty of times when connectivity is sub-par or non-existent, particularly in transit situations (e.g. airplanes, cars, trains, etc.). Further, the elimination of unlimited data plans by wireless carriers makes streaming long-form content prohibitively expensive. As a result, the download option is very attractive, especially for travelers.
"Killer app" is surely one of the most cliche terms in technology and one I try hard to avoid using. But today I'm making an exception because, in my opinion, the new TiVo Stream device actually has a bona fide killer app: the ability to wirelessly download recorded programs from a TiVo Premiere DVR to an iOS device for offline, high-quality playback. I've been using Stream mainly for this purpose for the past month and have absolutely fallen in love with the device.
The ability to download recorded programs is huge for several reasons. First and foremost, often when out of the home, it just isn't possible to stream video. A high-quality WiFi network may not be available (for instance, when flying). And even if it is, it may be over-shared, lacking necessary capacity for streaming. Wireless carrier 3G aircards similarly lack capacity, and with 4G aircards, data usage plan caps quickly kick in, making streaming an expensive proposition.
AOL is announcing this morning version 2.0 of its connected TV app, which will include a refreshed UI and advertising support for the first time. The app has been known as "AOL HD" but will now be known as "The AOL On" app. It is available on Samsung and Sony connected TVs and devices, plus Roku, and within a few weeks on TiVo Premiere DVRs. The move is another sign of how major content providers are getting more serious about migrating the online video experience from the desktop to the living room.
At last month's VideoNuze 2012 Online Video Advertising Summit, our closing session was a big picture debate on the future of online video advertising, featuring AOL's Frank Besteiro, NBCU's Peter Naylor, TiVo's Tara Maitra, TubeMogul's Brett Wilson and YouTube's Suzie Reider, which I moderated.
One of the things the group addresses is whether buyers of online video advertising will prefer an impression-based model (akin to traditional TV advertising) or an engagement-based model (akin to search and other forms of online advertising). I believe it's a key question as it goes to the heart of how video advertising will work and the experience viewers will have online. Within this larger question is the omnipresent issue of measurement - when will there be an accepted currency for online video advertising, and what will it be?
I'm pleased to be joined once again by Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group, for the 135th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for June 1, 2012. This week we cover 3 different topics: Verizon's announcement of ultra-fast new broadband service tiers (up to 300 mbps); TiVo's new "Stream" companion device which will allow 1-click video downloading to iOS devices and the fresh rumors around Apple introducing a television following CEO Tim Cook's interview at the D10 conference this week. We wrap up on a light-hearted note - the hilarious video from Funny or Die for Under Armour, "Tom Brady's Wicked Accent."
Click here to listen to the podcast (20 minutes, 11 seconds)
Streaming video is awesome, but of course it requires you to have a robust broadband connection. Once you're outside your home or business, that's an iffy proposition. WiFi hotspots aren't always available, and even when they are, they're often over-shared so connection quality is too low for video. Wireless 3G or 4G cards are better, but their relatively low data caps seriously crimps viewing. And if you're on a plane, forget streaming entirely, Gogo doesn't cut it at all.
These real-world mobile limitations mean downloading video in advance, rather than streaming it, is the key to on the go viewing. This has been one of the value props of iTunes, Amazon and other services. But the reality is that lots of great content is already sitting on your DVR (and if you're like me, 30K feet is when I most often actually have time to watch any of it). Further, you've already paid a lot of great content with your pay-TV subscription. The problem is that DVR video has been pretty much locked in your home, without an easy way to take it with you. All of above problems are solved with TiVo's new "Stream" companion device, which TiVo announced last week.
The two new boxes TiVo unveiled last night - the Premiere and the Premiere XL - go right to the top of my list of most impressive devices that handle both broadcast and broadband content in one seamless experience. The new boxes continue TiVo's pattern of always being one step ahead of the competition in delivering an outstanding user experience. All of that is the good news. The bad news is that unfortunately, nothing I learned in my briefing earlier this week with Jim Denney, TiVo's VP of Product Marketing, suggests that these boxes will find their way into any more than the relatively few homes that prior TiVo boxes have.
First the boxes themselves. The key Premiere innovation is that TiVo now elegantly recognizes broadband sources such as Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster, YouTube and hundreds of others as bona fide content options, right alongside the customary broadcast and cable channels. That means that when you do a search for a specific TV program or movie, TiVo returns all the viewing options. Say for example it's Saturday night and you search for the classic movie "Raising Arizona." It may be on a cable channel the following Tuesday, but you want to watch it now. Well it is also available from Netflix's Watch Instantly. Assuming you've linked your Netflix account to the Premiere, a couple of clicks of the remote and you're watching right then. That type of all-in-one-box convenience isn't available elsewhere.
The TiVo browse and recommendation experience is tremendously improved also with a new "Discovery bar" - a strip of artwork and images from the programming that adds a lot of zip to the previously text-heavy browsing UI. Selecting an image triggers an expansion window with relevant details (program description, air time, cast, etc.) You can then immerse yourself in a "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" IMDb-like experience by subsequently selecting an actor, subsequent movies, co-stars, etc, all in a rich, graphical interface. You can also select "Bonus Features" and immediately start reviewing accompanying clips from YouTube.
TiVo is also introducing "Collections," a set of curated categories like "Oscar Winning Films," "Sundance Award Winners" and "AFI's 10 Top 10" which, with accompanying artwork that are another quick, fun new way to browse for what's on (again these collections tap all broadcast and broadband sources). The gorgeous user experience is all built on Flash and is formatted for HD widescreen, to maximize the amount of real estate used. Another first for TiVo is a full QWERTY keyboard that slides out of the remote control for enhanced navigation.
That's a lot of new goodness from TiVo, which as expected comes at a price. The Premiere, with 320 GB of storage (enough for 45 hours of HD recording) is $299 and the Premiere XL, with 1 TB of storage is $499. Best Buy is again highlighted as a key marketing partner. Then of course there's the $13.95/mo TiVo service charge.
These are basically consistent with previous prices, suggesting that yet again TiVo will bump up against the brick wall of most consumers' resistance to buying expensive hardware. No matter how cool TiVo's boxes have been over the years, this is TiVo's traditional Achilles heel and it doesn't seem likely to lessen with the Premiere. When I highlighted this issue Jim allowed that the purpose of the standalone box is to be a "crucible of innovation" and that it is intended mainly for "discerning customers" (my interpretation: TiVo itself doesn't plan to sell a ton of Premiere boxes).
To address the sell-through problem, TiVo has worked hard to develop "TiVo-inside" relationships with video service providers, so that it can become more of a software and services company. For instance, I've been getting my TiVo service as part of my Comcast set-top box for a while now. With the Premiere announcements, TiVo said that RCN, a smallish American "overbuilder" and Virgin Media, a significant U.K. operator would include the Premiere features in their new set-top boxes, which is great.
However, no plans were revealed for what Comcast, by far the largest operator with TiVo inside, will do with the Premiere. In fact, one sticking point for Comcast is almost certainly the very access to broadband content that TiVo is trumpeting with the Premiere. My Comcast box frustratingly disables all of the previous "TiVoCast" broadband features I used to enjoy on my Series 2 box as Comcast seeks to maintain its "walled garden" approach. While RCN may be aggressive about providing access to 3rd-party broadband sources, I'm doubtful that Comcast will be given their own extensive TV Everywhere plans. That raises doubts about whether Comcast's TiVo customers will ever see the Premiere's full range of features.
And so all that brings us back to where TiVo always seems to find itself - with market-leading devices that have serious hurdles to widespread consumer adoption. I really hope there's a forthcoming breakthrough this time around for TiVo. Otherwise history will repeat itself yet again and TiVo will continue to be a well-respected, but relatively marginal player in the digital media landscape.
What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).
Remember "two great tastes that taste great together," the slogan from the classic Reese's ads featuring the mixing of peanut butter and chocolate? Recent developments suggest that independently produced/made-for-broadband video and Video-on-Demand could be another Reese's-like combination, bringing together two disparate worlds that have attracted loyal audiences in an offering that could have significant consumer appeal.
Consider, last week Multichannel News reported that Verizon plans to bring over 7 million broadband video clips from providers like blip.tv, Veoh and Dailymotion to its FiOS service, which users can browse with their set-top boxes. Also last week, AnySource Media, a software company that powers broadband-connected TVs, announced content deals with TheStreet.com, Break.com, Revision3 and Next New Networks, creating hundreds of "virtual VOD channels." And yesterday, Clearleap, a startup technology platform I recently profiled, announced its own deals with blip.tv, Revision3 and Next New Networks, providing content that cable operators can meld with their VOD offerings.
This push among made-for-broadband producers, technology companies and incumbent video service providers is not coincidental. While they each have their own motivations, their alignment could signal a winning proposition for viewers.
For the indie content producers, on-demand access on TVs augments their viewing experience and access to their programming. Given how difficult the environment has become for independents (Daisy had a good piece on this topic yesterday) on-demand access is a real differentiator. For cable operators and telcos, popular indie video gives them a targeted pitch to the tech-savvy, younger audiences who have become loyal fans of indie content. Down the road this group is probably most up-for-grabs for alternative "over-the-top" services, so focusing on defending them is smart. And for technology providers, a big market opportunity looms trying to connect the previously disparate worlds of broadband and VOD.
In fact, in a conversation I had last week with Braxton Jarratt, CEO/founder of Clearleap, he explained that cable operators get all this. They're looking for quality "mid-tail" video from broadband producers, including clips and short-form programs. The company's technology is currently feeding broadband video to a couple hundred thousand cable VOD homes, with a backlog of "double digit" markets pending deployment. Braxton has a lot of content deals on Clearleap's docket, creating a menu for its cable customers to pick and choose from to incorporate into their VOD offerings. Clearleap also offers an ad insertion platform, so indie video can be monetized, not just offered as a value add.
Meanwhile, VOD has long proven itself popular with viewers. Comcast recently announced it has delivered 11B views since it launched VOD. It has continued to augment its library and add more HD titles. While VOD hasn't really been a money-maker itself, it has become a strong part of the digital value proposition and a defensive move against other viewing alternatives. By incorporating popular broadband video into its VOD choices, its appeal is only strengthened.
While the tectonic plates of "convergence" continue to shift, examples of broadband video making its way to the TV continue to happen. TiVo has been at this for a while with its "TiVoCast" service, along with technology providers like ActiveVideo Networks and others. The likelihood for independently-produced broadband video and VOD to get together seems poised to increase.
What do you think? Post a comment now.