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  • Launches "Web Video DVR"

    Inevitably, the explosion of broadband video programming has led to the problem of how to keep viewers' favorites organized and receive updates when new episodes appear. Recognizing this problem and believing it is likely to become even more acute as more mainstream users adopt video and choices continue to grow, is launching today, positioning itself as "your web video DVR." Last week, Sean Doherty,'s CEO and founder gave me an overview.

    I've known Sean since our cable days in the mid-'90s, and he's been tweaking Channels for a couple of years, providing me periodic sneak peeks. The best way to think of Channels is analogously: Channels is for video what RSS readers are for text. Sean's insight was that most serialized video is now published with MRSS, RSS 2.0 or iTunes feeds which can be collected and then presented well in a central viewing environment. Channels is like a feed reader that is optimized for video.

    Importantly, Channels doesn't touch the source video or the accompanying ads; everything is passed through as is. That means for content providers Channels increases reach and ad inventory without disrupting the experience. Channels also doesn't actually record web shows, making its "DVR" tagline and references to "recording" somewhat misnomers. More accurately Channels is a "network DVR" since it's simply organizing feeds that exist in the cloud. Channels' secret sauce is how it crawls the web searching for feeds that may contain video "enclosures" or files. Those that do are then incorporated into the Channels directory with searchable metadata. Sean reports that Channels now includes 160K+ shows, including 400+ TV shows.

    I've been playing around with Channels and my experience has been mostly positive. I was quickly able to find and view recent episodes of some of my favorite shows like David Pogue from the NY Times, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "Barely Political" and a couple Revision 3 shows I dip in and out of like "AppJudgment." On the flip side, it was hard to find shows like "Heroes" and "Lost" although Sean says they're still in the process of loading up all the content.

    Though a display advertising model is readily at hand, Sean says he has no immediate plan to monetize Channels. For now he's focused on building traffic, optimizing the user experience and seeing how the video landscape unfolds. Once past its development phase, Channels is a pretty low-burn rate operation, self-funded by Sean and other angels. A key part of building its distribution and use is by incenting video providers to place a Channels "chicklet" on their sites, so video can be instantly added to users' Channels playlists.

    Valuable as Channels and others trying to organize the web video user experience are for computer-based viewing, where they will really resonate is when web video moves to the TV. A significant navigation challenge lies ahead in the living room, compounded by lack of keyboards and mice there. In fact after using Netflix's Watch Instantly feature to send content to my Roku, I'm becoming more convinced that the convergence paradigm may be that you organize/choose content on your computer and navigate/consume on your TV.

    All of these issues still lie ahead. For now Channels has introduced a neat new way of making the most of the broadband video viewing experience.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

  • My Cable IPTV Panel Today: Is Cable Bypass for Real?

    I was in NYC today moderating the opening session at Cable IPTV, which is a new and very timely conference organized by Fred Dawson, editor of ScreenPlays magazine (kudos to Fred and his team for a very well run event).

    The panel was entitled, “The Cable Perspective on Trends in “Over-the-Top” and User-Generated Video” and the panelists were Sean Doherty, CEO,, Keith Kocho, Founder, ExtendMedia,Jim Turner, VP, Interactive, A&E Networks and Bill Wheaton, VP, Digital Media, Akamai Technologies, Inc.

    We had a wide-ranging conversation, mostly focused around the theme of whether broadband video is going to shape up as a real “cable bypass” or “over-the-top” medium, or whether cable operators are going to maintain their dominant role as video packagers.

    I’ve said for a while that the broadband video aggregation role is cable’s to lose. With tens of millions of traditional video and broadband Internet access subscribers, cable is extremely well-positioned to bring together the best of broadband video with the best of traditional broadcast and cable programming. Yet I’ve been disappointed that cable operators have been slow on the uptake while other aggregators have aggressively ramped up (e.g. Apple, Google, Joost, Yahoo, etc.). Aided by new bypass devices like AppleTV, Xbox, Netgear, etc, these companies are all aiming to eventually steal cable’s video customers.

    Today’s panelists reinforced my thinking that these would-be bypassers are in for a tough fight. Bill pointed out that since operators own their own networks, they can deliver quality-of-service (QOS) that others can’t. This is especially important when it comes to delivering really big Blue-Ray or HD-DVD files. Meanwhile, Jim reminded all of us that “most favored nations” clauses in most cable networks’ carriage agreements with operators will be keeping plenty of lawyers busy just determining if networks can even make deals with the upstart broadband video aggregators.

    And then of course our panel followed Andrew Olson’s opening keynote (who is co-founder of thePlatform, and now SVP, Strategy and Development for Comcast Interactive Media), during which he highlighted all of Comcast’s new broadband video initiatives (Fancast, Ziddio, etc.). Plenty of messages that Comcast is hip to broadband video and is now moving fast to defend its turf.

    Lastly, cable operators are now being offered some interesting new technology that will bridge broadband video over to existing digital set-top boxes inexpensively and without truck rolls.
    I saw a demo of ICTV’s ActiveVideo platform at the Cable Show last week and it was pretty compelling. It is at least one viable alternative for operators to accelerate their own convergence initiatives.

    The broadband video aggregation area is going to be very interesting to watch…..

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