Thursday, January 17, 2013, 10:08 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Broadcast TV networks continue to find themselves in the middle of a ton of innovation, as clever entrepreneurs look for ways to help viewers discover and consume their content. The latest entry in this space is a startup called Fredio ("FREE-d-oh") which announced its launch at CES. Fredio enables viewing on smart TVs of freely available TV programs that are posted online.
The proposition is relatively simple: all broadcast TV networks, and some cable TV networks (for certain shows), have been putting their episodes online for years now. But if you want to watch them you're typically limited to viewing on your computer, tablet or smartphone. If you want to watch on your smart TV, you're out of luck because no apps exist, with the exception of Hulu Plus, which requires a subscription
Fredio aims to change that by creating a free app for smart TVs that crawls the web for free TV shows. The app then categorizes them by network, allowing quick search and personalization through a straightforward UI (limited online demo here). You'll also be able to search Fredio online or on its tablet/smartphone app, select shows there and have them ready to play on your smart TV. When a show is selected, Fredio simply calls the network's web site to initiate the stream.
In a call with Fredio's founders, they explained that LG's smart TVs and connected Blu-ray players will be first to get the app, later this quarter. Fredio is also in discussions with Samsung and other connected device manufacturers. Fredio is currently indexing over a dozen networks with 4,000 hours of programming available. The networks don't need to do anything; their programs stream, just as they would online, including the ads. For now, because Fredio is only focused on freely available programs, authenticated TV Everywhere content from cable networks is not available.
The Fredio team sees the app appealing mainly to cord-nevers - people who haven't subscribed to pay-TV, as opposed to cord-cutters. But of course, it's early so it's hard to know. Fredio is a bit like Aereo in that it packages up mainly entertainment-oriented content, so for viewers interested in this genre - and not sports - it would provide huge cost savings if they were to cut the cord. Fredio will generate revenue from ads placed during the user's browsing and between shows playing.
The downside to Fredio is that it is dependent on networks making some amount of their programming available for free. For now, networks have benefited from free online distribution, as they increased their reach and ad revenue, while combating piracy. However, retransmission fees are becoming ever more strategic for broadcast TV networks, so it's not inconceivable that they could curtail their free online distribution at some point down the road.
Another challenge to Fredio is Apple's AirPlay feature, as well as Google's own nascent AirPlay-like initiative. For those not familiar, AirPlay allows users to start streaming content on an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch/Mac and then pair it with an Apple TV to play out on the TV itself. Of course, doing so requires owning the needed Apple devices. Plus the AirPlay feature needs to be enabled by the content provider, something that many have not yet done. Another looming Fredio threat is if Apple launches its own TV, which could attract networks to extend their own current apps directly to the big screen.
However, that's all speculation. Fredio will be offering a convenient way for certain smart TV and connected Blu-ray owners to access their favorite network programming on these devices - a simple, yet compelling value proposition. Fredio is the latest evidence that when content is freely available, clever people will figure out how to drive more value from it.
Note: TechCrunch has a brief interview from CES with Fredio chairman and co-founder Bob Wilson below: