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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 24, 2013

Cable Technology Week in Review

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

The overall subscriber results from the second quarter are in, and for the U.S. pay-TV market, it’s not exactly great news. Unless you’re a telco, because then life is pretty awesome. Cable and satellite saw a plunge in subscribers, with cable losing 588,000 video customers and satellite shedding 162,000 (the latter is up sharply from 62,000 a year ago). But IPTV on the other hand is a lone bright spot, with AT&T Uverse, Verizon (News - Alert) FiOS and other telcos (plus Google in Kansas City) boasting a net addition of 398,000 during the April to June period, up from 304,000 in the second quarter of 2012. You’ll notice, though, that IPTV’s gain doesn’t offset all of the losses. Traditional pay-TV as a whole shed 352,000 subscribers in Q2. More significantly, 2013 is set to mark the first year ever that there will be an annual decline in total U.S. pay-TV subscriptions.

And what does that say?

For one, clearly cable and satellite need to step up their game. Google however may take part of the game directly away from them, in the form of the NFL Sunday Ticket package. The add-on subscription offers coverage of every game on Sundays, and right now it’s on DirecTV (News - Alert). The satellite company has had a lot of traction with the package, which is arguably one of the best defenses again customer churn that one could offer. But its contract with the NFL for Sunday Ticket is up at the end of the 2013-2014 season in January, meaning that it’s up on the block for a new distributor. At $1 billion per season for the carriage rights, let’s just say there are only a handful of contenders. One of them, according to reports, comes from the new entrant camp: Google. While adopting that package offers a range of challenges for the search giant, the fact that it’s even mulling it says volumes about how the pay-TV business is evolving.

For its part, Canadian telco Bell is doing what it can to boost the IPTV love by embracing TV Everywhere. A new Bell TV app, which lets customers watch channels they receive in their programming package at home on tablet or smartphones at no extra charge. The Bell TV app offers a programming guide and interface that supports searching by program name, description, channel, live or on-demand. Bell Fiber TV customers can also stop and resume on-demand programming between their TV at home and their mobile device. "Bell has invested billions in building next-generation Canadian wireless and fiber networks to execute our commitment to deliver the best TV experience across every screen," said Wade Oosterman, president of Bell Mobility and residential services, and chief brand officer at Bell. "The Bell TV app gives customers the flexibility to watch TV everywhere, at home or on the go. It's the latest proof that with Bell, TV just got better."

Cable may be struggling in the north, but in another part of Latin America, pay-TV is going like gangbusters thanks to an unprecedented network build out ahead of the upcoming Olympics and the World Cup. And Grupo TV Cable Ecuador, a cable system operator based in Ecuador, is partnering with Bireme Systems to provide wide-ranging assistance to vendors entering the Latin American market. "As the fastest growing region in terms of communications equipment, software and services, Latin America represents a tremendous market opportunity," George Kassas, founder and CEO of Bireme Systems said. "Bireme Systems and Grupo TV Cable have the expertise and market insight to help the vendor community to capitalize on the 750 million smart devices already in the market, and to introduce new technology, content, and smart capabilities."

What all of these market shifts demonstrate is the fact that one of the great things about television and movies is the sheer versatility when it comes to consumption models. Both can be an experience enjoyed alone or in a group, though often for different reasons. Grouper and TiVo (News - Alert) want to underscore the social side of television and movies, and are doing so as part of a new partnership that will help put each others' brands front and center in each others' products. The Grouper experience—described as a “technology-based social club”--will be getting a whole new set of TV- and movie-centered themes added to it as a result of the partnership, which is set to activate later in August. Grouper gatherings will get access to TV trivia games, as well as themed parties and even photo challenges. Since Grouper gatherings are focused on small groups—traditionally, two groups of three—and commonly requires the group in question to meet at some kind of bar or the like (“pre-pay for the first round of drinks” is actually part of the abbreviated instruction chart) slipping TV and movie trivia into the event is a fairly natural extension.

TiVo made some additional news this week, launching the TiVo Roamio DVR. It acts as a gateway for live and on-demand TV, DVR functionality and streaming services like Netflix, Hulu (News - Alert) and YouTube. "While so many people love TV, they have no idea what TiVo can do for their love of TV,” said Tom Rogers, TiVo president and CEO. “TiVo Roamio is so much more than just the best DVR, it's for people who are all about loving their TV -- that's why we call our latest offering Roamio.” He added, "Take every box or device out there -- Roku, Apple (News - Alert) TV, Slingbox, Google TV, your standard cable box -- all rolled into one. This is quite simply the best TiVo we have ever made and is truly for people who love TV."

Have a great weekend!

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