Cable Technology Feature Article
Four-Stream TV: 4SeTV Looks to Woo Cord-Cutters and Cable Alike
By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor
Let’s face it: we’re all content junkies. We want to watch our favorite shows, catch up with our favorite TV series and keep up with live sports and news, all at the same time. So far though, apart from the occasional picture-in-picture and split-screen user interfaces, that kind of simultaneous viewing has been out of reach for more viewers.
4SeTV is looking to change that; it is getting ready to debut a set-top box tuner next month that allows users to simultaneously watch four over-the-air (OTA) live broadcast streams on any screen. For instance, a user could be watching a football game on a big-screen TV, while streaming up to four shows on an iPad—or, vice versa.
“Right now, we see a lot of good content is being made and plenty of opportunities to make it more worthwhile to watch it live,” he said in an interview. “Sports is and always has been interesting as live content, but the same is becoming true for reality shows and sitcoms, as media companies incorporate more social networking and second-screen apps to make live viewing more interesting.”
And indeed, the lift from social media for viewer engagement is re-charging the live-TV proposition. “Some of these guys are trying really hard to bring up their ratings using social media, encouraging viewers to tweet during the Bachelor or vote during the voice, then post to Facebook (News - Alert) about it,” Lim said. “They are in a critical moment with social TV and second-screen, so even without the sports content angle it’s a great usage case.”
The idea is also to unify the multiscreen experience. For example, users on an iPad can combine channels as they like, and then use the functionality from a navigation perspective, pushing individual feeds from the device to a TV.
“A lot of people have a big-screen TVs at home, smartphones and tablets, and Wi-Fi, and we make a product that uses all of those technologies,” Lim explained. “We have a box that makes it easy to pull that content experience together across screens, so that you never have that moment of frustration when flipping between channels of, say, missing a big play.”
Aside from the sports and social TV examples, he pointed out that another use case is the “disagreeing family” scenario.
“So often, everyone wants to watch something different,” Lim explained. “With our technology, everyone can stream different shows on their personal screens.”
Future Cable MSO Plans
For now, the set-top is OTA-only and will be offered direct-to-consumer. However, down the road, 4SeTV will incorporate built-in IP encryption and digital rights management, and, with a customer base hopefully established, plans to approach pay-TV operators to partner on a wider content play.
“We’ve already had a lot of good feedback, and now we’re looking to fine-tune the approach,” Lim said. “As far as the demos have gone—we’ve done this for many CTOs from cable operators—we found that everyone was interested and had a great experience.”
He added, “what we are doing isn’t really new, but getting this kind of functionality set up in the headend in order to allow subscribers to choose the content that they want to stream through this is technologically difficult, and the success rate of that hasn’t been great. Typically those kinds of features are static, offering specific channels to everyone. But not everyone likes the same thing.”
The plan is to give cable MSOs a low-cost, turnkey way to offer the functionality. And, Lim noted that it’s possible to include a monetization piece: the operator can control of a quarter of the screen, and push ads or account information, or send relevant messages, via that real estate.
“This is a business opportunity for them,” Lim said.
The company is gearing up for its moment in the sun: production units should start shipping in the next month or two—pre-order devices are going for $99. The company showed the first public demos at CableLabs (News - Alert) and carried out a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to bring the technology to a wider audience. It raised just shy of $19,000 in that effort, but the campaign wasn’t really about the funding—it was more of a strategy to drive grassroots awareness of the technology.
And that will be important for gaining additional distribution and availability. “Consumer investment will give us power to negotiate with the pay-TV guys, and we can also talk to retailers like Best Buy (News - Alert). Our distribution model will be multipronged,” Lim said.
And he does indeed mean multipronged: One of the company’s stretch goals is a revenue-sharing program for consumers.
“I can envision paying consumers to watch TV,” he explained. “That way, I know what they’re watching, and can serve a relevant ad to one of the quarters of the screen. Whatever revenue I can generate I will share with the end user. It will be like a loyalty program.”
Edited by Maurice Nagle