Sony + Tru2way = No More Set-top Boxes?

Sony has joined forces with six of the top cable companies in the U.S. to adopt tru2way technology in its TVs, thus eliminating the need for a set-top box when accessing television and other interactive services. Apple, Netflix, Sezmi and anyone else working on a set-top box should be nervous.

Sony isn’t the first TV manufacturer to jump on the tru2way bandwagon. Samsung, Panasonic and LG have all signed licensing agreements to use the technology in TV sets that will go on sale as soon as the upcoming holiday season. Sony’s participation is a little different from those previous arrangements as it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, Cablevision and Bright House Networks that commits everyone involved to using tru2way, sets certain milestones and even allows consumer electronics companies to be more active in establishing the tru2way standard.

Combined, those cable systems reach 82 percent of all U.S. cable subscribers. Now that is an install base.

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Why I Can’t Break Up With Cable

Cable prices suck, you’re paying more for less — that’s the gist of a New York Times report that said cable prices have gone up 77 percent since 1996, almost double the rate of inflation. Adding insult to injury, we’re only watching 13 percent of the channels offered. I hate dealing with the cable company, but I just can’t seem to break up with it. Maybe NewTeeVee readers can offer a few suggestions to help me cut the cord.

There are three main reasons why I stay in this lopsided relationship: laziness, HD and discovery. Read More about Why I Can’t Break Up With Cable

No Free Ride From Cable Programmers

The web may be packed with free content, but don’t look for cable programmers such as Time Warner, Disney or MTVN to follow suit any time soon. During a panel discussion at this year’s Cable Show, the networks rejected the notion that they will have to give away their content in order to remain competitive.

Broadcasting & Cable quotes George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, as saying that just because the Internet has lots of free, user-generated content, “I wouldn’t be too quick to give away [professionally-produced content] for free.” He added that, “I think we deliver value and I think we need to keep that dual stream going.”

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Research: Kids Influence Parents Over TV

Kids these days are wielding more power over how video and televised entertainment are being pumped into their homes, according to new research from Motorola. The company studied the influence and behaviors of the Millennial generation (young adults ages 16 – 27), and the results are not surprising: They want HD content when they want it, wherever they want it.

Some highlights from the Motorola study include:

  • 71 percent of Millennials influence parental decisions about cable, DSL or satellite services.
  • 62 percent have influence over purchasing an HDTV set and programming package.
  • Nearly 50 percent of DVR-owning Millennials use it for half of their TV watching.
  • 84 percent are interested in TV and movie content on demand.
  • 83 percent want to be able to download TV from a DVR to their mobile players.

Again, the results of the study aren’t surprising. Modern TV setups are complex, so its natural to lean on the guidance from your connected child. Additionally, this generation was the first to get a taste of consuming content on its own terms. Just wait until the post-Millenials, who have never known anything but on-demand, start making the decisions.

Essay: Can We Stop with the Video CE Hardware Already?

Silicon Valley is littered with the carcasses of set-top boxes that were going to revolutionize entertainment. Rather than learning from this grim history, however, some kind of failure torch is being passed from one generation of dying-out hardware makers to a new breed angling to take a prize that just isn’t there.

MovieBeam is emblematic of both the failures of video CE’s hardware past, and the futility of its future. After floundering for years, being bought and subsequently killed by Movie Gallery, MovieBeam is now in the process of being sold to Dar Capital for $2.25 million. Is that a bargain or a big waste of time and money?

We’re guessing the latter. The only companies who have shown any success in getting consumers to adopt set-top box hardware for video content on a massive scale are the cable and satellite companies (OK, the telcos are making strong headway, too).

And it’s not like a bunch of no-names have tried.

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Time Warner to Release VOD and DVD on Same Day

In another bit of news from its earnings call today, Time Warner says it will release all of its DVD titles on VOD on a day-and-date basis this year. That means you’ll be able to order a movie like The Dark Knight via your cable operator on the same day it comes out on DVD, instead of waiting through the usual release window.

Time Warner conducted numerous tests of the program last year. CEO Jeff Bewkes said on the company’s conference call with analysts that DVD sell-through went up (a bit) during the trials, and that the margins from day-and-date VOD were between 60 and 70 percent, compared with 20 to 30 percent for the shiny discs. Bewkes said he expects that the move will “capture a disproportionate VOD share.”

While Time Warner is a big believer in VOD, as far as the cable biz in general — not so much. Bewkes also said during the call that the company plans to spin off its Time Warner Cable division.

Do Movies Matter on Pay TV?

Why do you subscribe to HBO or Showtime, is it for the movies or the original series? It’s a question that sprang to mind when Viacom, Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM announced they were creating a new pay TV network. There was a lot of hubbub over Showtime losing all of those theatrical films, but in a post-Sopranos, Weeds-filled era, do movies on pay TV networks even matter anymore?

To find out, I spoke with reps from both Showtime and HBO, and the answer I got was a mixed bag.

Perhaps it’s just putting on a brave face in light of its loss, but Showtime says that while movies are still important to the network, more people are signing up for the original series like The Tudors and Dexter. According to the Showtime spokesperson, 18 of the network’s top 20 shows in 2007 were originals.

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Time Warner Defies Subscriber Expectations

The big news coming out of Time Warner this morning was that the company is finally selling off its cable division, the second largest in the country (our pal Stacey at GigaOM says its the beginning of Time Warner’s death by 1,000 cuts). But the other, not-quite-as-big-but-still-big news from the earnings call was that Time Warner cable added 55,000 basic subscriptions during the quarter.

Analysts had predicted Time Warner would lose anywhere between 21,000 to 32,000 customers as cable companies wage a multifronted war against satellite, aggressive telcos and even a souring U.S. economy. Adding 55,000 isn’t huge, especially compared to the hundreds of thousands of video customers Verizon and AT&T are racking up, but at least Time Warner isn’t losing ground… yet.

Comcast reports tomorrow, which should further clarify the state of cable.

Vid-Biz: ScanScout, Satellite, Scarlet

ScanScout Hooks Up with ClearSpring; in-video ad company partnering with widget maker for broad social platform distribution. (MediaPost)

Economic Slump Hurting Cable, Not Satellite; perception of satellite’s HD programming as superior helping growth. (Reuters)

New TV Series Scarlet a Marketing Hoax; elaborate ad campaign promotes LG’s new TV sets. (The Wall Street Journal)

Can DVD Sales Rebound? DVD sales held steady last quarter at $3.5 billion, but high gas prices are putting the squeeze on the shiny discs and could impact Blu-Ray adoption. (Variety)

National Geographic Channel Changes Up; site now allows video previews of upcoming episodes and makes 800 videos available. (MediaWeek)

Sling Media Updates Mobile Player; new versions add support for more handsets, improve streaming quality and add support for more set-top boxes. (TV Squad)

TVGuide.com Sees Traffic Growth; site says it is getting 12 million unique visitors a month, up 40 percent over 2007. (TVWeek)

For Comcast, Broadband Slows

Comcast, thanks to some stiff competition from lower-priced DSL offerings and Verizon FiOS combined with economic woes and fears of a recession, is beginning to see some slowdown in its broadband growth. Broadband has traditionally been a growth engine — and a big moneymaker — for Comcast, so this is a disturbing sign. Of course, the stock market is pretty pleased with Comcast today — dividends, stock buybacks and the perceived pragmatism of management (exemplified, in Comcast’s case, by not buying Sprint or Yahoo, as if they really can) usually provide a short-term boost to shares before reality kicks in.

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