Entone’s as yet unannounced Select TV service, with Blockbuster as an initial partner, allows telcos to use broadband connections to deliver enhancements, including whole home DVR and digital EPG, to whatever TV service customers are receiving, whether it’s IPTV, over-the-air TV, analog cable or DBS. “We’re in active trials now and will formally introduce Select TV later in the year, probably toward the end of the summer,” says Entone CEO Steve McKay.
The new service capability, employing the company’s newest gateway unit, the Janus, is not meant to be simply another delivery mechanism for Web content in general. Rather, it’s designed to work with specific Web-based partners who, like Blockbuster, are delivering high-value content via the Web. McKay says other partners will be announced between now and the formal service launch.
Thus, for IPTV providers who do not offer VOD in IPTV mode, Select TV becomes a way to deliver content on demand cost effectively in a gateway environment that eliminates the need for multiple set-tops and DVRs. At the same time, the service offers telcos who don’t offer IPTV service at all a way to add value to their broadband services for the tens of millions of households that rely on over-the-air or old analog cable for TV service.
The initial version of the product, tied to the Janus gateway, will be for the non-IPTV providers. Later, working in consort with middleware partners, Entone intends to offer a version of Select TV that works with existing IPTV services. McKay says this service enhancement will work with the company’s Hydra IPTV gateway, a costlier version of the Janus which is widely deployed among second and third tier telcos.
“For operators who have chosen not to deploy IPTV, Select TV is a perfect product,” McKay says, noting this applies even to companies like Qwest that are reselling DBS service as part of their packages. “If someone wants 100 HD channels, sports, etc., SelectTV would sit along side of the DBS service, providing access to VOD and other unique content and DVR functionality. At the same time the service provider could say to those consumers who are not spending $70-80 per month on DirecTV, ‘We’re going to give you Select TV free with broadband as a perfect alternative to DirecTV.'”
Select TV would also be a good alternative for telcos who have deployed IPTV in some markets but not all, he adds. “Select TV would not be necessarily be deployed in the IPTV segments,” he says, noting the service requires a minimum broadband connection speed of 2 megabits per second, versus the 16-18 mbps required for IPTV.
In all these instances where IPTV is not available “telcos would greatly add value to their broadband service by putting this device in subscribers’ homes and giving them a program guide, DVR, VOD and media streams without having to subscribe to TV service,” McKay says. “All those people getting TV off air and on analog cable don’t have electronic programming guides. Our service will integrate their TV channels into the guide with the Web-based content. And, for analog TV households, because the tuners in our device are digital, it acts as your A/D converter.”
Select TV, by integrating with existing TV service, delivers much more value to the consumer than the Web-to-TV set-tops offered by the likes of Vudu and Roku, a hardware affiliate of Netflix which also markets its $100 set-top separately at retail, McKay says. “To replicate what we’re offering, the consumer would have to spend heavily on equipment, including the Roku or AppleTV box, Sling Box, DVR and the remote controls, and then they’d only be connecting to one TV,” he adds.
McKay says that while Select TV will give customers access to Web content, “this is not a Web streaming service.” The content that can actually be accessed from the Web by TV sets is highly restricted by licensing rules, which bar reformatting of high-value content for viewing on TV so as to avoid cannibalization of content providers’ TV programming. For example, McKay notes, people can’t ask the content on Hulu, the portal jointly owned by NBC Universal and News Corp.
“This is all about marrying TV with the streamed services so that people have a unified experience getting the content they want without worrying about where it comes from,” he says. “If I want to watch live TV, it’s available. If I want to watch a movie or a recorded TV show or a podcast, it’s all possible and accessible through the EPG via a single remote control.”