Microsoft: Xbox Video Service Features Voice and Motion Controls

  • Microsoft is getting a boatload of new content for its Xbox video service intended to help it serve as a digital media hub. The company has struck deals with Comcast, Verizon, HBO and others.
  • Verizon and Comcast will be joining AT&T’s U-Verse to provide content, although while Verizon will include live video TV and video on demand, Comcast is testing the waters with its VOD library only. HBO Go streaming access will provide HBO original programming and movies from Warner Bros., Fox Searchlight and Universal Studios. Bravo, EPIX and Syfy are among the cable networks that will be available. Xbox’s international content will include the BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and LOVEFiLM in the UK; Antena 3, RTVE and Telefonica in Spain; and Televisa in Mexico.
  • But how do you get to the movies, TV shows, games and music that you want? Microsoft hopes you will command your Xbox with voice control, motion control and a Windows smartphone.
  • “This is incremental stuff but it’s still interesting. A source who’s played with the new service says it’s genuinely cool. Just as important, given that Microsoft has sold some 50 million compatible machines, it has (potential) leverage to do some really interesting stuff,” reports All Things D. “This is where Google TV would like to be, and it’s why Google is out pitching content guys for a relaunch this fall.”

Will Cable Operators Switch to A La Carte or Will Programmers Resist?

  • The weak economy is leading cable operators to reverse their opposition to so-called “a la carte” programming. Comcast and Time Warner have lost 1.2 million customers in the last 12 months.
  • Programming costs have risen 6-10 percent annually over the last decade. And the fear is that it will continue as they see ESPN, for example, sign a $15 billion, 8-year deal with the NFL. Cable and satellite operators are also now paying to retransmit local broadcast channels.
  • “There is a growing recognition that the current model is broken,” says Craig Moffett, cable analyst at Bernstein Research. He expects smaller, less costly programming packages to emerge as Time Warner is doing with its TV Essentials pack.
  • “The specter of unbundled programming is likely to encounter fierce resistance from network owners such as Viacom Inc or Discovery Communications Inc, which are keen to maintain the economics of selling their most popular channels as a package with their smaller, nascent networks,” reports Reuters.

Judge Enters His Own OVD Condition with Comcast-NBCU Final Judgment

  • Consent from the U.S. Department of Justice for the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger has been approved, but with a new condition.
  • Comcast purchased 51 percent of NBCUniversal from General Electric in January, creating a $30 billion business that includes broadcast, cable networks, movie studios and theme parks.
  • At that time, the Department of Justice said Comcast could acquire NBCUniversal only if it ceded control of Hulu and made stand-alone broadband service available at $49.95 per month for three years, but the settlement still required final approval.
  • Last week, Judge Richard Leon delivered final approval, but stipulated that the federal government would monitor whether rival online video services, such as Hulu or Netflix, demand arbitration to license content from Comcast-NBCU for the next two years.
  • The ability of rivals to obtain programming was one of the key concerns of the DOJ and the FCC during reviews of the merger.
  • “Since neither the Court nor the parties has a crystal ball to forecast how this Final Judgment, along with its arbitration mechanisms, will actually function … I believe that certain additional steps are necessary,” Leon said in a court order.

Final NASA Space Shuttle Mission to Air this Week in 3D

  • Comcast announced it will air special programming for its In Demand Xfinity 3D subscribers that features the final landing of NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis.
  • The 45-minute special, that also follows astronaut training in Houston and features 3D footage from space, is scheduled to air this Friday (August 5).
  • The footage was captured by Vertical Ascent Productions with a Panasonic 3D A-1 camera. The July 8 launch was recorded with unprecedented access, from just 500 feet away, and a Panasonic 3D A-1 was also on board the shuttle to capture the space footage.
  • The 3D special is part of In Demand’s “In Deep” series. Other In Demand affiliates will have access to the special.

Rovi Claims Hulu Infringes on Electronic Program Guide Patent

  • Rovi Corporation filed suit against Hulu last week, claiming that the video site infringes on its patents for electronic program guides.
  • Santa Clara, California-based Rovi provides technology that powers streaming services from Blockbuster On Demand and Best Buy’s CinemaNow. The company also licenses its technology to others such as Apple, Microsoft and Comcast.
  • The digital entertainment solutions provider claims that Hulu’s infringement “presents significant and ongoing damages to Rovi’s business.” The company is seeking compensation for lost license revenue and treble damages.
  • As previously reported by ETCentric, Hulu has been offered for sale by its owners (Disney, News Corp., NBC Universal and Providence Equity).

Time Warner to Stream CNN and HLN Online

  • As part of its “TV Everywhere” strategy, Time Warner is streaming live simulcasts beginning this week of cable news channels CNN and HLN to people who subscribe via distributors such as Comcast, Dish Network and Verizon.
  • “TV Everywhere” is designed to discourage service cancellations by subscribers (also known as “cord cutting”).
  • Media companies are hoping to gain additional revenue from streaming either directly from distributors or through higher TV ratings.
  • “We’re trying to lead by example. We’re trying to show that it works,” said Andy Heller, vice chairman of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting. “If we don’t give consumers those options, you run the risk of seeing the potential for cord cutting.”

ISPs Agree to Voluntary Copyright Enforcement Plan

  • Hollywood studios and music recording labels announced an agreement with major ISPs including AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon in which the ISPs agree to send “copyright alerts” to consumers who have accessed pirated content.
  • The intention is to educate, not punish.
  • A 2007 study showed that a “large majority” of those who receive alerts will stop the illegal activity.
  • If the alerts have no effect, mitigation measures may be pursued. Consumers will have the option of an independent review for a $35 fee.
  • Mitigation measures begin with the fifth or sixth alert, and may include: “temporary reductions of Internet speeds, redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter or reviews and responds to some educational information about copyright, or other measures that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter.”

TV Execs Predict Significant Changes in Content Delivery

  • At the Elevate Video Advertising Summit in New York earlier this month, executives from Comcast Interactive Media, Turner, Disney and ESPN agreed that in two years 75 percent of television content will be available online and on mobile devices.
  • For an increasing number of consumers, the line between traditional TV content and Web video is blurring.
  • The immediate hurdles involve negotiating broadcast rights across platforms and addressing the threat of broadband usage caps and fees.
  • Regardless, it seems the concept of “TV Everywhere” is inevitable.
  • “It’s interesting to think of what the definition of a TV is,” said Comcast’s Matt Strauss. “My kids think an iPad is a TV. People don’t think of TV anymore, they just think of video. For us, in the broader context of what we’re doing, we’re beginning to migrate everything to Internet video.”

Facebook Media Plans Include Spotify and Others

  • Facebook is working with Spotify and others to integrate new music services and applications.
  • The social networking giant has expanded its position in significant Internet sectors – including retail, news and games – and is now getting serious about music and other media.
  • At the recent Cable Show in Chicago, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts predicted that cloud-based guides and interfaces will be paramount to television’s future. Roberts described an integration with Facebook that can make TV more social with recommendations and interaction with “friends.”
  • Spotify already allows users to share info about songs with Facebook friends, but the next level of integration is expected to be much deeper. Additionally, Facebook has reportedly been reaching out to other online music services.
  • Facebook’s Music Dashboard will show songs of friends, recommended songs and “happenings” in your social and music areas.
  • This opens new potential for Facebook to become a social e-commerce business.

Comcast Subscribers Will Be Able to Video Chat via Skype

  • Comcast announced it is teaming with Skype to provide its broadband subscribers video calling on their TVs.
  • Details of the service are still being worked out. Testing is expected to begin in the next few months.
  • An Xfinity broadband service subscription will be required (subscribers will also have access to Skype calls through the Comcast Xfinity Mobile app).
  • The service will be enabled via an adapter box and a “high-quality” video camera provided by Comcast (a number of Internet-enabled TVs from Panasonic and Samsung already offer Skype but the set-up requires compatible cameras, that typically cost between $130 and $170).
  • According to Comcast, customers will be able to receive Skype calls or send and receive IMs while watching television.

Increased 3D Content may Push Consumer Adoption

In the wake of disappointing 3D TV sales for 2010 (due in large part to a lack of 3D content), this year may see new traction as television vendors switch their strategy to marketing 3D as one feature of new high-def sets, rather than the single selling point. More 3D content is on the horizon via cable and satellite TV channels, Blu-ray Discs and video games. Eventual adoption may also be impacted as consumers shoot their own video with 3D-enabled camcorders.

Disney’s ESPN 3D sports channel began broadcasting in mid-February — while Sony, Discovery and Imax launched their 3net channel the same month. Comcast and DirecTV already have 3D channels, and more than 100 3D channels worldwide are expected by 2015.

“Clearly, lack of content has been holding the market back,” explained Chris Chinnock, president of research firm Insight Media. “But one or two years into the HDTV transition there wasn’t much programming either … It took about seven years to reach 11 percent (household) penetration with HDTV.”

DisplaySearch predicts 6.6 million 3D TVs will ship in North America in 2011 (16 percent of the more than 40 million sets expected to be sold). The research and consulting firm is targeting 15.2 million 3D TVs to ship in 2012 (up 130 percent).