Internet Media

A new nail in the video over internet coffin

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Two stories of interest this week.

The first story is about the FCC’s decision to open the so called “white space” spectrum, to allow for new wireless services. This is good news for those hoping for more competition in the broadband market, and has been long anticipated by companies such as Google, Dell, and other companies. The decision wasn’t without caveats. For instance, since wireless mics use the same spectrum, in larger cities, white space broadcast services cannot be located near stadiums or theaters.

This is about the only positive glimmer of news to those of us who also heard this week that AT&T is now testing broadband caps in the Reno, Nevada market. Broadband caps which will, most likely, be rolled out to the rest of the country early next year.

The caps are aggressive, too. For instance, Comcast set its cap at 250GB, but AT&T is looking at only 20GB for its lowest subscriber plan, and 80GB for its highest vanilla DSL account. You only get the 150GB cap the company mentions most frequently in the press releases, bundled in with the company’s Uverse services.

How will this impact on services such as Netflix’s WatchNow, which has also been so much in the news, recently? Especially with the new Netflix WatchNow HD offerings on XBox 360 and Tivo?

Netflix has stated that the broadband requirement for HD when using XBox is high—too high with these caps. Roku earlier stated that it wasn’t worried about caps but that was back when we were discussing Comcast’s 250GB limit, not the much smaller AT&T limits. Even with Roku’s efficient techniques, we’re looking at 1GB per hour for standard definition, probably 2-3GB for HD. This works out to about 1-2 hours of programming a night before hitting the broadband cap with AT&T, and that’s not including other internet usage.

The caps AT&T are setting are so aggressive, that the lower end accounts will have to be wary of even accessing sites that automatically run a lot of video. They’ll certainly want to pause before uploading a lot of photos, because uploads also figure into the broadband cap.

AT&T’s move is the first on the part of a DSL provider, but probably won’t be the last. It is a move that now ensures that entire markets have little or no choice when it comes to capped broadband access. Most people using AT&T are probably now wishing they lived in a Comcast region, because Comcast’s caps at least give one a fighting chance at video over the internet.

A few major players haven’t put caps on yet, including Verizon. However, it is only a matter of time before it, too, begins to cap. All of the major broadband providers provide entertainment services that directly compete with video over the internet—they’re not going to allow this competition to occur without fighting it tooth, nail, and byte.

The news of AT&T’s new caps is highly suspicious, coming on the tail of many new announcements about Hulu, Joost, and especially Netflix’s WatchNow. AT&T’s move can only be seen as saber rattling, in an attempt to foster uncertainty about broadband availability before the Christmas rush to buy Roku devices, or that new XBox 360. I don’t know why AT&T doesn’t just come out and say, don’t waste your time on these boxes—the only option you have is UVerse. Why not give into the force?

About the only thing that can save video over the internet now, is if the companies who are dependent on the concept fight back at the broadband suppliers, or if new broadband options open up in the white space spectrum. Even then, I’m not sure that the newer players to the broadband market wouldn’t begin already capped.

What do I plan on doing when I get hit with broadband caps? I plan on reading more. Access to books is the one thing the telecoms and entertainment companies can’t restrict.



Netflix sees Starz

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

In a game altering play, Netflix has contracted with Starz to add the entertainment channel’s movies to the Watch Now instant watching options AND to provide a live stream of Starz to the Netflix web site.

This means that highly rated first run movies such as Ratatouille and No Country for Old Men, in addition to older classics, TV shows, and other material, are now filling out the Watch Now queue. I spent a happy 20 minutes this morning filling up my queue with shows, and I’ve not even scratched the surface of what’s available.

What makes this deal particularly intelligent on the part of Netflix is that it doesn’t have to try to strike deals with every movie studio— it can just strike a deal with channel providers, instead. In addition, in an interesting move, Netflix also provides a live Starz stream you can subscribe to directly— allowing you to bypass the DVD queue, completely. This moves us closer to the Netflix dream of streaming content, only.

The hottest little digital device on the market has just become the inexpensive Roku box, with its ease of use and setup, and inexpensive price tag; especially when you consider that you can get a Roku box for about the same amount you’d pay for a month of cable service.

The Starz deal follows other breaking stories recently about Netflix making a deal with CBS and Disney, Roku providing an open SDK for others to build channels, in addition to Netflix releasing its API today. With the API, we’ll now be able to integrate Netflix queues with other applications.

Of course, today’s also the day that Comcast starts its bandwidth capping. How soon before this capping comes up against the new internet video capabilities is a toss up—but with Christmas looming, and Netflix streaming available in an attractively priced Roku box, in addition to being included in new blu-ray and game players, I expect a bandwidth show-down beginning next year.

In the meantime, I feel quite smug for having made my Roku purchase, before the rush.

Internet Media

AppleTV Rumors

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Rumors abound this weekend that something is up with AppleTV. TUAW first wrote about the AppleTV signs coming down, and erroneously mentioned about machines being pulled. The site later made an update that the machines haven’t been pulled, and conjecture in comments is that the signage change is because of one year licensing and old publication material. Still, another rumor mentioned a webcast related to the AppleTV on Tuesday. Comments in Gizmodo mention AppleTVs on clearance at Target, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Target is making way for new products.

There has been speculation for some time now on a new AppleTV that combines the old AppleTV streaming and direct purchasing capability, and features of the Mac Mini. Speculation runs the gamut from a new box with Blu-Ray, to a merge between the Mac Mini and the AppleTV with Blu-Ray thrown in. I think one thing we can safely say is that whatever happens to the future of AppleTV et al, it won’t stream Netflix’s WatchNow.

The rumor that most interested me, from MacBlogz, was that a software upgrade for AppleTV is in the works enabling direct purchase of HD TV shows through the machine. Now, you have to purchase the shows in iTunes on the computer and then transfer them to the machine.

I tried posting a note on these at the official AppleTV discussion forum. It was pulled in ten minutes and I received an email from Apple, slapping my hands and telling me not to post “rumors” and “speculation” in the forum. Considering that rumor and speculation form the heart and soul of Apple marketing, I would think the company would welcome increased exposure for both, but it would seem it likes to play coy within its own environments. Mustn’t smudge the shellac.

I do find this latest round of Apple buzz to be less than endearing—necessary updates to hardware should not be handled within the same PR stream as new products or innovations.