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Dash to Multiscreen More Like a Marathon

Dash to Multiscreen More Like a Marathon 12/09/2012 7:00 PM Eastern

The race to colonize the multiscreen TV frontier is in full swing among operators. But in many cases, they’re far from the finish line in trying to bring live TV and video-ondemand to subscribers’ shiny new gadgets.

The multiscreen challenges are multifold: They include business issues, as operators need to secure rights to distribute content to non-TV platforms, as well as technical hurdles in developing for a diverse array of smartphones, tablets, connected TVs and game consoles.

Cox Communications expects to ring in 2013 by adding more than 50 live channels to its Internet-protocol television service, bringing its lineup to more than 90.

The MSO originally launched the Cox TV Connect service with 35 channels available via iPad last December, accessible only via a subscriber’s home Wi-Fi connection. Last month, it introduced an iPhone version and expects to release an Android app in the first half of 2013.

“The emphasis is: We are building an IP video infrastructure capable of both inside the home and outside the home distribution,” Cox vice president of video product development and management Steve Necessary said. “The intent is to make sure the delivery infrastructure is capable of linear and on-demand.”

Gaps still remain. For one thing, Cox TV Connect does not include local broadcast channels. “Those have to be negotiated market by market,” Necessary said, adding that Cox expects to initiate a trial in one market shortly.

To beef up the Cox TV Connect lineup, the operator had to deploy more encoders from its supplier, RGB Networks. The MSO worked with NDS (now owned by Cisco Systems) to develop the interface for the app.

In addition, Cox had to enable its back-office systems to differentiate which channels a given subscriber is entitled to receive by service tier. “The first iteration we launched a year ago, the channel lineup was the common denominator,” Necessary said.

The Cox TV Connect service is similar to those launched by other operators, including Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems.

Cablevision’s IPTV service offers the full lineup of several hundred channels (including local stations) and VOD over in-home Wi-Fi. But even though Cablevision was in front of the pack with its iPad app more than a year and half ago, the MSO just last week introduced a version for Android devices — and that works only with certain smartphones from Samsung Electronics and Google’s Motorola Mobility, as well as Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire tablets.

And while Cablevision demonstrated its guide and IPTV service running on Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics earlier this year at the 2012 Cable Show, it hasn’t launched that capability yet.

Meanwhile, Verizon Communications now is streaming up to 75 live TV channels to FiOS TV and Internet subscribers on iPad tablets and LG’s Internetconnected TVs, although that lineup does not include any broadcast networks.

Another wrinkle: The older FiOS TV apps for Xbox and Samsung TVs deliver a subset of just 26 channels.

Asked about the discrepancy, Verizon spokeswoman Heather Wilner said in an email message, “We’re working on expanding the channel lineup” for the Xbox and Samsung TVs. According to industry sources, given the way the FiOS apps for each device are implemented, the iPad and LG can deliver more channels, although Xbox and Samsung are expected to catch up shortly.

Verizon and LG took at least a year to release their IPTV app, indicating that it wasn’t a simple development project.

The consumer-electronics firm officially published the app on its Smart World service on Nov. 15, after the companies announced plans to bring FiOS TV programming to Samsung devices at the 2012 International CES last January.

“As you know, we have a clear commitment to offering FiOS TV on a variety of platforms (LG, Xbox, iPad, Samsung) and we’ll continue to expand,” Wilner said.

TAKEAWAY

Pay TV operators are rushing to make more content available across more screens to subscribers in their homes, but there remain gaps in channel lineups and device support.

October