Who’s winning the battle of the digital home? That was the question panelists from Macrovision, Comcast Cable, EchoStar and Verizon grappled with at the Future of Television conference held in New York this week.
The battle seems to be far from over, but consumers are weighing in with their requests and service providers are listening. According to Kurt Scherf, VP and research analyst for Parks Associates, “Consumers are starting to say, ‘I really do want my content on my terms,’” notes Scherf. “It’s not so much about the connected or digital home, it’s about how to put the content into the hands of consumers.”
According to Brian Whitton, executive director of access technologies at Verizon’s FiOS group, much focus at Verizon has been on how to take advantage of the broad bandwidth afforded by fiber optic cable into the home. Multi-room DVR, he says, is the most obvious example of end-users exhibiting direct control over what they want to watch, when they want to watch - and even where.
EchoStar, which recently split off from the DISH Network service, sees time- and place-shifted video as top features on consumer’s video services menu. The company will have a Sling Media-based set-top box on the market in 2009. “We need to put content on any screen, in any location at any time,” says Michael Hawkey, VP of sales and marketing at EchoStar, which purchased Sling Media last year for its place-shifting technology. “The customer wants to record it in one place and finish it in another,” he says. “Now we have to extend that across the screens—not only to the TV in the bedroom but maybe to the laptop to watch on the back porch or to the mobile phone or to the son’s dorm in college. We need to be able to legally move that content around.”
At Comcast, video on demand is the killer application. Currently VOD accounts for 10 million views a year, going up to a projected 48 million views by 2012.
Macrovision, a technology company, is working on ways for consumers to locate their content as content is now available from various sources. “How do I keep track of what I own or what I might like to own?” asks Richard Bullwinkle, chief evangelist at Macrovision. The days are disappearing when you go down to your local Blockbuster and ask the clerk to recommend a romantic movie for tonight’s date, he notes. “Now you download it or stream it from Netflix,” he says.
The panelists discussed the importance of IP- and MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance)-based networks in the home as the number of media devices grows. “If you get at the heart of what’s driving consumers to want to watch time-shifted content, it’s because we’re all pressed for time,” says Whitton of Verizon. Networks can help bring all the devices together, but devices also have to be easy to use for consumers to gain the time-saving benefit.
“When people are buying CE equipment, the last thing they want to do is to perform a task of an IT technician in the home,” Whitton says. “While IP and MoCA networks allow the networks to exchange information, they don’t manage the flow of information.” That’s where DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) comes in.
“If a product is DLNA-certified, the customer goes home, plugs it in and it identifies itself to the network,” Whitton says. DLNA enables users to manage content. “Imagine a GUI that shows all your discovered devices—TVs, and IP camera, a Kodak digital photo frame, a network attached storage device. They all either store information or they play it, and DLNA allows a user to manage the flow.” It doesn’t stop at the four walls of the house, he adds. “If I have an MPEG file stored on my NAS box, why can’t I direct it to my cell phone?”
As more content becomes available from various sources and devices, panelists noted, the need for a consistent interface becomes more important. “Every CE manufacturer believes that their interface is better,” says Bullwinkle of Macrovision. He adds the stack of set-top boxes is no longer a viable option for consumers and that a single box will have to perform many functions. “Consumers will learn one new interface for their new box but they won’t be willing to learn a new interface for every application within it.”
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