Tag Archive: TV


Netflix has officially raised the monthly price of membership for new members, who will now have to fork over $9 a month. That’s a dollar more than the $8 price point the company has charged for several years. If you’re an existing Netflix subscriber, you don’t have to worry; the company has promised your monthly fee won’t go up for two years. Netflix says the price increase was needed to continue adding more movies and TV shows and delivering a great streaming experience. The move comes shortly after Netflix signed expensive deals with Comcast and Verizon to provide faster and more reliable access for its customers. While the improved speeds were a costly move for Netflix, the effects can already be seen. Since signing the deal with Comcast at the end of February, Netflix’s streaming speeds on Comcast have improved by 60 percent. No one likes price increases, but existing Netflix subscribers don’t have to worry yet – they can rest comfortably for the next two years and still enjoy a better streaming experience.

Whether that will really move ratings, I think we don’t know.

- Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, talking about plans for the “See It” program it is launching next month with Twitter, which is supposed to promote live TV viewing. On an earnings call this morning, Roberts described the program as an experiment, but said he feels optimistic about it.

Apple has long been rumored to be working on its own HDTVs and the recent revelations from the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson has reignited that speculation. Analysts believe that Apple already has prototypes flowing through factories in China and that those HDTVs would be integrated with iOS, Siri, and FaceTime.

Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White issued a note to investors today, reiterating his previous belief that Apple’s HDTVs are already in early stage pilot and prototype production. White also noted that the hardware refresh for the current Apple TV set-top box may have been delayed due to plans related to the Apple HDTV, which could launch sometime in 2012.

“We believe the TV experience is in need of greater simplicity and innovation, providing Apple with opportunity to yet reinvent another product category and develop even closer ties with its customers,” wrote White.

Estimating that the LCD TV market would generate about $102 billion in 2012, White believes that the market has huge potential for Apple, which could dominate with its “unmatched aesthetics, expansive digital ecosystem and overall quality” as well as charge a premium price two to three times greater than competitors.

Additionally, White believes that Apple would not only use iOS and integrate Siri and FaceTime with the new HDTV, but that the company could also bring in iAds advertising and integrated App Store to allow developers to earn more revenue through apps developed specifically for the HDTV.

mobile_towers_spectrum

iStockphoto | maumapho

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission have taken on an important mission. These lawmakers are trying to make more public airwaves available for mobile broadband while simultaneously preserving some free, over-the-air broadcast television signals.

It’s a big task, made all the more complicated by the number of public interest considerations the FCC has to balance, and by the fact that the agency can’t compel broadcasters to give up their licenses. All it can do, under the statute that Congress passed, is create incentives for TV stations to surrender those licenses voluntarily.

Volunteering is more lucrative than it used to be, at least in this case. In return for pitching in, TV stations that participate will receive a portion of the money that companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile pay in an auction for the right to use that spectrum.

Or will all of those companies seek those rights? There’s the first issue the FCC faces, if this “reverse” auction works and incentivizes TV stations to give up some inventory: Will multiple mobile carriers be able to bid for this spectrum, which is the lifeblood of any wireless service? Or will it be gobbled up by the two dominant players, AT&T and Verizon? Those two enjoy a powerful duopoly, controlling nearly 80 percent of the frequencies most valuable for mobile broadband, and more than 80 percent of the profits for the entire U. S. wireless industry.

Some have suggested that this type of imbalance is no cause for concern, and argued that improving the chances for meaningful competition among wireless providers won’t matter much for wireless users. While it’s a favorite trick of powerful incumbents to attack smaller companies’ arguments about competition as “self-serving,” there’s no mistaking the benefits to the public and the broader economy of having lower prices and better service available from someone other than the two biggest carriers.

The ultimate aim of the FCC’s efforts to design this auction is to increase the chance for a wide assortment of wireless carriers to bid. That would give individuals and businesses that rely on wireless connectivity more providers that would work hard to get and keep our business, not just rest on their laurels and their market power.

That hasn’t stopped AT&T and Verizon from spreading all sorts of disinformation about the process, however, in an attempt to make it look as though the government is out to get them. (Life’s tough for $100 billion companies, isn’t it?)

To start with, there’s this notion that the FCC is dragging its feet or asking too many questions about this auction process – all at the urging of those competitive carriers. While it’s not a good thing that FCC proceedings stretch on so long, it’s hardly due to unprecedented demands by any potential bidders. The last time the FCC cleared TV channels and auctioned those frequencies for mobile use, the whole process took about eleven years, running from 1997 till 2008. As cooler heads have noted this time around, it’s still more important to get this done right than to get it done right now.

The Department of Justice has added valuable insights to the process, in an important filing outlining the motives that dominant players like AT&T and Verizon have to bid on spectrum just to keep these valuable resources out of rivals’ hands. That’s the same concern the DOJ expressed in 2010 when it explained how auction design “can go wrong in the presence of strong wireline or wireless incumbents, since the private value for incumbents in a given locale includes … ‘foreclosure value'” derived from keeping competition at a minimum. AT&T and Verizon, the dominant incumbents on both the wireless and wireline side, can and do leverage their positions to keep competitors out.

So the FCC can and should take special care to avoid such results in the upcoming auction of the reclaimed TV band, because these frequencies are especially well suited for mobile broadband service. Low-band spectrum is more valuable because it lets wireless carriers cover more territory with fewer cell sites, and it provides better coverage indoors because it travels through walls and other obstacles better than signals at higher frequencies do.

All carriers acknowledge its special characteristics and tremendous advantages. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in an interview just last year that low-band spectrum “propagates like a bandit.” And Verizon CTO Tony Melone reported that using such frequencies gives Verizon “tremendous propagation advantages” for 4G services because “there will be fewer sites required and we’ll have better building penetration.”

Yet somehow in the current debate, these two carriers have tried to reverse course and sell the flatly incorrect argument that the airwaves in the upcoming auction are the same as all others. Their hypocritical claim that low-band spectrum is of no special significance any more is a lot easier to understand once you realize that they already have plenty of it, and that they just want to pull up the drawbridge.

Trade groups with innocuous-sounding names like “Mobile Future” purport to bolster the incumbents’ case about the evils of “tampering” with auction design. But take a look at Mobile Future’s membership – and what do you know, it’s AT&T and Verizon again, in a different guise. (No offense to the Arkansas Grocer and Retail Merchants Association, but I doubt that it or the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce is calling the shots there.)

Nobody is talking about tampering with the auction, or keeping AT&T and Verizon out of it. The statute simply says the FCC can’t altogether prevent anyone from taking part, and it specifically preserves the agency’s authority for general rules that “promote competition” and prevent excessive concentration of spectrum licenses in any one company’s hands.

The FCC is on course to consider the right questions in this proceeding. It’s far from completing that course, and has any number of decisions to make along the way. The suggestion that competitive considerations are off track is a self-serving statement made by the big carriers in the best position today. Of course they see no need for more competition or faster innovation. But the FCC, the Department of Justice and the rest of us know better.

Matt Wood is the Policy Director for Free Press, a nationwide, non-partisan, non-profit public interest group that fights for people’s right to connect and communicate on the air and online.

Intel

Intel is asking about $500 million for OnCue, the online pay-TV service that the world’s largest chipmaker developed before dialing back its ambitions, according to people with knowledge of the process. Intel is seeking to secure a sale by year-end, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. One suitor, Verizon, has begun talking with owners of broadcast and cable channels about terms for a streaming TV service, the people said. A sale that meets Intel’s asking price would let the company recoup its costs as it retreats on a plan to enter the pay-TV business, while still supplying chips to the new owner. Samsung and Liberty Global also met with Intel, people said earlier. Intel’s TV efforts slowed under Chief Executive Officer Brian M. Krzanich, who took the reins in May and has focused on getting chips into mobile devices.

Read the full story at Bloomberg.

Apple

Apple has a new trick up its sleeve as it tries to launch a long-awaited television service: technology that allows viewers to skip commercials and that pays media companies for the skipped views. For more than a year, Apple has been seeking rights from cable companies and television networks for a service that would allow users to watch live and on-demand television over an Apple set-top box or TV. Talks have been slow and proceeding in fits and starts, but things seem to be heating up. In recent discussions, Apple told media executives it wants to offer a “premium” version of the service that would allow users to skip ads and would compensate television networks for the lost revenue, according to people briefed on the conversations. Consumers, of course, are already accustomed to fast-forwarding through commercials on their DVRs, and how Apple’s technology differs is unclear.

Read the full story at JessicaLessin.com.

Google

Google has approached media companies about licensing their content for an Internet TV service that would stream traditional TV programming, people familiar with the matter say. If the Web giant goes ahead with the idea, it would join several other companies planning to offer such “over-the-top” services, delivering cable TV-style packages of channels over broadband connections. Chip company Intel and Sony are both working on similar offerings, while Apple has pitched various TV licensing ideas to media companies in the past couple of years. If launched, the Internet TV services could have major implications for the traditional TV ecosystem, creating new competition for pay TV operators that are already struggling to retain video subscribers. Existing online video players like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon offer on-demand TV, but the latest efforts are aimed at offering conventional channels, allowing consumers to flip through channels just as they would on cable.

Read the full story at the Wall Street Journal.

Time Warner Cable on Apple TV

As we’ve heard for the past month, Apple and Time Warner Cable are close to inking a deal that would bring a TWC app to the Apple TV’s homescreen – for the first time bringing live TV broadcasts to the device. But some recent reports are bringing things into sharper focus, giving us some more insight into what the future of Apple’s service is going to look like. Earlier this week, the New York Times wrote that the app would allow “some of the company’s 12 million subscribers to watch live and on-demand shows without a separate set-top box.” Friday, Bloomberg adds that “while the deal would add a Time Warner app, that just means viewers won’t have to switch from Apple TV back to their cable box: They’d still need to subscribe to Time Warner Cable and wait around for a technician to install it.” The TWC app would likely be based on its existing iPhone and iPad software.

Read the full story at The Verge.

Nielsen

After several months of testing within the industry, Nielsen is finally ready to reveal its efforts to bake mobile viewing habits into its TV ratings system. In a wider roll-out of what the company already monitors, it’ll launch an SDK for participating broadcasters in mid-November that will encompass both old-fashioned screens and those not-so-new upstarts (including DVRs, internet-connected TVs, tablets, smartphones and browsers). To work out which stream is being watched where, Nielsen will parse together “big data and a census-style measurement approach.” This will apparently match demographic information through social networks, mentioning Facebook explicitly – the ratings monitor is already involved with Twitter. It’ll also know exactly which device viewers are watching content on thanks to “audio watermarks, metadata or tags associated with the content and related advertising.”

Read the full story at Engadget.

Toshiba has announced a new Toshiba 7200 (and 6200) Smart TV that is truly the best that the company has come up with in terms of software, design, and image quality (at least, on paper). First, it is obvious that the design has gone to the next level as you can see it with the ultra-thin bezel, which Toshiba calls “bezel-less” design. I used to think that thin bezels did not matter so much, until I tested a TV with ultra-thin bezels. Now, the thick bezels seem very distractive… If you have a chance, check those out. Internally, the TV is capable of 240Hz, which is not really a record, but usually anything above 120Hz is a bit hard to notice. The extra framerate is usually used to smooth out motion (sometime too much, but you can tweak it), and provide fast 3D framerate. Note that Toshiba is using passive 3D, which means that glasses can be very cheap (<$15). In terms of absolute image quality, purists tend to prefer active 3D, but it requires more expensive glasses that need to be charged.

Toshiba’s Smart TV is DLNA, so it can stream from countless home media servers and other devices that it connects to, thanks to the built-in WiFi. The company has also added a number of “smart” features, like media guides, web browsing – which all are “classic” smartTV apps. Toshiba Tablets owner can also control this TV with their integrated infra-red (IR) controller. The DLNA tablet can also “push” content to the TV.

While HDTV is a very tough business, it’s nice to see Toshiba improve so much in just one year. The “bezel-less” design is a great idea, and we will play with the user interface when we have a chance.

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