Game Time for Web TV


GridNetworks, an Internet video-delivery startup whose backers include Comcast and Cisco Systems, has launched a service that lets content providers funnel Web video to TVs by way of Microsoft's Xbox 360 video-game console and other devices.

The company's GridCast TV service is supposed to work with any device that supports Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) home-networking protocols. Initially, it will work with Xbox 360s, and GridNetworks plans to extend it to Sony's PlayStation 3 and other UPnP-enabled products.

The idea: to provide a path for Internet video to the TV without requiring consumers to buy and install an extra set-top device.

“We're showing the industry that you can get Web content directly into the living room today,” GridNetworks CEO Tony Naughtin said. By pushing that video to TVs, “we're getting the content in front of three sets of eyeballs instead of one.”

Separately, Microsoft has been busy building the Xbox 360 into a home-video hub. Last week the company announced the “New Xbox Experience,” which among other features will let users stream 300 high-definition video titles and more than 12,000 standard-definition movies and TV episodes from Netflix, along with more than 15,000 on-demand high-definition TV shows and movies from partners including Walt Disney Studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, NBC Universal and Warner Bros.

GridNetworks said three video-content providers — Revision3, IndieFlix and HavocTV — are testing out GridCast TV. According to the company, the service already has the potential to reach millions of homes, with roughly 25 million Xbox 360s and 15 million PlayStation 3s sold worldwide. However, not all of those consoles are hooked up to the Internet; Microsoft, for example, said it currently has 14 million subscribers to its Internet gaming service.

To use the service, a consumer first must have an Xbox 360 or other supported device connected to a home network. Then he or she downloads and installs a 3-Megabyte application, the GridCast Connector, on either a PC or Mac. That application is automatically discovered by a UPnP device, such as an Xbox 360.

When the consumer selects GridCast-enabled video on a content provider's site to watch on TV, the software streams the video to the UPnP device. The video is then accessible from the device's on-screen menu.

“One of the key values of this service is, we isolate the content providers from having to worry about what device consumers are going to use to watch on TV,” Naughtin said.

GridNetworks director of product management Tim Fujita-Yuhas said the Web-to-TV service preserves a content owner's existing business models, including pay-per-view, subscription pricing and in-line video ads.

“We don't force the content provider to conform to a business model that we support,” Fujita-Yuhas said. “We're not a distributor — there's no licensing to us. We're not a portal for the TV.”

GridCast TV delivers video in Microsoft's Windows Media format. The company will provide encoding services and media management, reporting and analytics, storage and video delivery. Naughtin said pricing has not been finalized, but the company is looking at charging per view, per byte, per minute per user, or some combination of those.

Currently, the GridCast TV service does not support any digital rights management technologies. However, Naughtin said the company would be able to accommodate customers' DRM requirements if necessary.

The Seattle-based company, founded in 2005, has raised $9.5 million from Comcast, Cisco and Panorama Capital.

Eventually, Naughtin imagines the GridNetworks technology will be embedded into cable or telco TV set-top boxes.

“This is really no different than going to Blockbuster, renting a DVD and playing it on the DVD player,” he said. “The only difference is, the source is different — it's a public Web service, and that's very powerful.”