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Cable, Television Face Mobile Phone, TiVo Dilemma

Television networks continue to shop shows across multiple mediums, while defending traditional, linear programming.
April 20, 2006

Two years ago, I was working at a small independent cable network as the director of new media, and I found myself consistently having conversations with technology companies – mobile service providers, middleware companies, set-top box makers – about how to meld the television and Web experience into something new.

It was a frustrating endeavor, at least on our end, because our network was shown on Comcast. Unlike more traditional (re: larger) companies, though, we were a part of the grand On Demand experiment, which meant Comcast used our content to test out new features for its service. And the frustration associated with working to develop a new way to view content spilled over into the business development departments of many of the folks with whom we worked.

Akimbo, a set-top box maker that downloads pre-packaged shows to deliver an on-demand experience, was one of those companies. According to this Reuters story, it appears as if they finally struck a deal with AT&T, which plans on offering its own television/Internet service later this year.

Akimbo Systems Inc.’s library of more than 10,000 television shows and movies, including “Citizen Kane,” the BBC’s “Fawlty Towers” and baseball highlights, will be available on demand through AT&T Inc.’s upcoming Internet/television package.

While I’m not completely sold on traditional cable’s move into the digital, on-demand content world (which my old friend Jim Griffin refers to as “Tarzan Economics,” where each vine shows up just in time for the user to grab), television is at least embracing the consumer’s move to the mobile world.

According to this Reuters story, a new study found that mobile phone use is growing, and in some markets (re: outside the United States), Web surfing on the small screen is outpacing laptop growth.

“Accessing the Internet on a wireless handheld device is no longer a novelty for consumers in the major global economies,” Brian Cruikshank, managing director at Ipsos, said in a statement. “It’s becoming a common, everyday occurrence for many people.”

Television makers are still working out how to deal with this content (see “The Small Screen” in the Dec/Jan issue of Technology Review) on the mobile phone, but I think ESPN is headed in the right direction. Soon after I wrote that review, I received a call from their PR department (after they hadn’t returned any of my messages while I was writing the story). They filled me in on their upcoming mobile strategy, which includes complete streaming video coverage of the NFL draft on Sprint TV.

Of course, for every perceived step forward going on in the world of television and screens, there are news items such as this, which remind me that no matter how progressive networks appear, there is still an intrinsic desire to protect the linear network.

From the Reuters article:

A patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says researchers of the Netherland-based consumer electronics company have created a technology that could let broadcasters freeze a channel during a commercial, so viewers wouldn’t be able to avoid it.

The pending patent, published on March 30, says the feature would be implemented on a program-by-program basis. Devices that could carry the technology would be a television or a set-top box.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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