For Connected TV, The New Last Mile Is Dining Room To Living Room

Last week, I lambasted Virgin Media for taking two years to launch its iPad TV guide for its TiVo (NSDQ: TIVO) set-top box.
I have since learned the app has been ready for months; it was submitted to and approved by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) months ago. But Virgin Media is choosing to sit on it as it considers how to tackle a problem that will soon be shared by fellow connected TV operators…
For Virgin’s iPad app – which lets users switch channels and record shows from their sofa – to work, customers’ set-top box and iPad must be on the same home network. The problem – unlike iPad, Virgin Media’s TiVo is not WiFi-enabled.
That means customers keen to use the new wave of second screen controllers must run cable from their WiFi router to their set-top box. In many cases, like my own, consumers’ routers are not in the same room as their main TV.
And that poses a big challenge to operators – how can Virgin Media launch its fancy new app experience when it knows it will instantly disappoint thousands of consumers who can’t use it? And how does the company manage requests from customers who want its engineers to relocate their WiFi router or run extra cabling?
I discovered this issue first-hand last week. The social TV startup Zeebox’s app also includes an EPG and controller that already works with internet TVs and Virgin’s own TiVo box. But, for weeks, I tried and failed to get the two talking.
It was only in conversation with Zeebox product head Morten Eidal that I realised a cable must be run from router to set-top box. Zeebox has since improved its user documentation to make the fact more clear. And Virgin Media itself will need to approach the same challenge.
This is an issue that will become more prominent as more TV services launch on wireless gadgets and as more electronics manufacturers ship internet-connectable TVs…
I have been hearing actual connections of connectable TVs range from only five percent to 20 percent, compared with Xbox connection rates of up to 60 percent. Some say the problem may be unedifying internet content, but connection confusion may also be to blame. If the new wave of customers buying 2012 internet TVs gets home to realise further wiring is necessary, they will feel disappointed.
The problem can be solved either by manufacturers WiFi-enabling their devices or by offering bolt-on WiFi-enabling dongles separately.
For example, Samsung sells a dongle for its WiFi-less internet TVs, and BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) offers a dongle for its Sky+ boxes to customers who want its Anytime+ internet on-demand service. Zeebox’s Eidal suggested I use Homeplugs to direct my WiFi router through my home’s electricity loop and, from a wall socket, in to my TiVo via cable.
Each method could be a way for Virgin and others to finally launch its TiVo and other apps. But each also adds extra expense to this new wave of products and services. And that could blunt initial adoption, at least until WiFi becomes more commonplace in them from the start.