Bit Rate

Sling Now Swings Both Ways

10/09/2008 1:53 AM

Video content has been locked into the cage of its distribution medium.

It’s been hard to take, say, DVR’d cable content on the road. Or play Internet movies or TV episodes on a TV. Part of this is by design – studios and programmers don’t want to make it easy to make thousands of perfect digital copies of their content.

But like it or not, those cages are being cracked open.

The latest on this front: EchoStar’s Sling Media says it is now shipping SlingCatcher — a $300 television set-top box that pipes any Internet video content to the TV.

The SlingCatcher also acts like a multi-room DVR, letting a user access and control any device connected to a Slingbox (i.e. cable set-top box) in another room in the house or even from a Slingbox in a remote location. The SlingCatcher also can display your home movies and personal videos on the TV.

Cable operators aren’t sitting idly by watching these waves crash into their hulls. They’re going to have to co-opt these technologies instead of letting them undercut their core franchise.

Time Warner Cable and Comcast both say they’re cooking up services that will let subscribers play Web-based video on TVs.

Comcast also has filed for trademarks on two new devices that appear to break TV programming out of its set-top silo: AnyReach, a portable TV and video player, and XtraScreen, which appears to provide a way to sling television content to computers over a wireless connection.

There will be a key difference to watch for, though: The MSOs, preserving their business model as distributors, are likely to initially offer a preselected/curated set of Internet video services. (Verizon is in this bucket too.) Meaning, unlike with SlingCatcher, you wouldn’t be able to watch anything and everything available on the Web on your TV.