Cox ends its internet TV trial in Southern California

Cox has ended the trial of its Flarewatch service, which gave customers of the ISP access to an internet-based TV subscription, just three months after its launch. Flarewatch was available to a limited number of Cox customers in Orange County, Calif., and offered 90 TV channels as well as a cloud DVR service for $40 a month. The shutdown was first reported by LightReading Thursday.

Flarewatch was an interesting experiment, because it marked the first time that one of the major cable providers offered an internet-based TV service. Forgoing traditional cable or satellite distribution to offer live TV streams online has been an idea championed for some time by technology companies looking to compete with TV providers like Comcast (s CMCSK) , but so far no one has been able to get all the licenses necessary to bring such a service to market. Intel (S INTC) has publicly announced that it will debut such a service before the end of the year, and Sony (S SNE) and Google (S GOOG) are reportedly working on similar offerings as well.

However, a TV service that is streamed over the internet is interesting to cable and satellite providers, too: Cox could, for example, use the service to one day sell TV subscriptions to Time Warner Cable or Comcast internet customers. Smaller bundles, as well as newer, internet-based technologies, might help cable companies retain some customers who’d otherwise ditch cable and replace it with streaming services like Netflix (s NFLX) and Hulu.

A Cox spokesperson didn’t say whether the company plans to relaunch Flarewatch at some point in the future. He told GigaOM via email: “We will continue to evaluate the Flarewatch trial results to determine how this might impact future product plans.”

The end of Flarewatch also marks the end of the first public trial of Fan TV, the TV set-top-box launched by Fanhattan earlier this year. Fan TV, which combines live TV with over-the-top video services and a cloud DVR, isn’t being sold at retail; it’s only available through partnerships with pay TV providers. Flarewatch customers were able to buy the set-top box for $50.

One customer who was part of the trial told us that he “loved” the service, especially the cloud DVR and universal search, but that the VOD offering was very limited. Completely missing from Flarewatch were any third-party video services like Netflix and Hulu. The Fan TV hardware also still seemed a bit unstable, occasionally losing connection to its remote control and at other times freezing mid-stream and requiring a complete reboot.

Flarewatch customers have been told that they’ll get a refund for any purchased hardware and for Flarewatch’s monthly fees.