EchoStar Slings Over-the-Top Pitch

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EchoStar Technologies wants
to help midsize and independent operators
get their mitts on some cool new video
features — without having to plunk
down huge amounts of cash.

The vendor’s new Aria system features
an HD digital video recorder with
a high-resolution interactive program
guide, with a few twists including a
video-on-demand service delivered
over broadband (a la Netflix’s streaming-
to-the-TV capabilities).

The set-tops also will be “Sling-Loaded,” incorporating the Internetvideo
viewing technology developed
by EchoStar’s Sling Media, to provide
a TV Everywhere component of the service.
The object: to let smaller cable systems
better fight against DirecTV, Dish
Network, Verizon Communications’
FiOS TV and AT&T’s U-verse.

 “It’s a technology solution for midtier operators and independents
that brings them all the cool features that the
tier-ones are getting today that they can’t get into their system
for cost reasons or technology reasons,” EchoStar vice
president of sales and marketing Mike Hawkey said.
EchoStar plans to show off Aria, including
the DVR set-top that is central to the
service, at Th e Cable Show in Chicago
next week (June 14-16). And the name?
The company is pitching Aria as “the
new voice of cable operators.”

According to Hawkey, Aria requires
only a very small server in an operator’s
headend to handle data flow from
the EchoStar-hosted services. That’s opposed
to making an investment in an interactive-
TV infrastructure, VOD or a program guide.

“We have a very limited impact on the headend,” he said.
“We’re providing video through the traditional pipe, but the TV
Everywhere, VOD and user interface is coming over the top.”

Hawkey declined to provide pricing details, but said
EchoStar will sell the set-tops in small quantities and
charge a per-subscriber fee for delivering the guide and
VOD services.

The Aria HD DVR will support both MPEG-2 and MPEG-
4, and incorporates the adaptive bit-rate video delivery
technology from Move Networks, which EchoStar acquired
earlier this year.

The user interface is based on the high-end ViP922 Slingenabled
DVR that EchoStar built for Dish. It’s a hybrid of embedded
guide and an HTML platform and can be “reskinned”
to carry the cable operator’s brand.

When Aria commercially launches — set for this fall —
EchoStar hopes to provide about 12,000 transactional VOD titles
through the service, including movies and TV shows. (The
company declined to identify its white-label content suppliers.)
EchoStar plans to add free, ad-supported VOD to Aria as well.
Because the Aria set-top includes Slingbox technology,
EchoStar offers clients for Apple iOS, Google Android,
BlackBerry and Windows mobile devices. The system
also provides a remote DVR programming feature.

EchoStar has tried previously to hawk SlingLoaded
boxes and adapters to cable operators, but evidently
has not had much success. The vendor said at least
one “major mid-tier operator” is planning to test out
Aria this summer.

To date, more than 1 million retail Slingbox units
have been purchased.

Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar officially split
off from satellite-TV provider Dish Network in January 2008.
Hawkey insisted there’s no concern among small and midsize
operators about its history as part of Dish. “The smaller
ones just want a solution,” he said.

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