Comcast, 1Cast and Boxee
Two seemingly unrelated announcements this week illustrate the intensifying pressure on cable TV's business model. Comcast announced this week that it would make more cable-TV programming available free through the Internet by the end of the year but only to people who get broadband and cable service from Comcast.
According to PaidContent.org, the additional programming includes fare from HBO, TNT and TBS, which have kept most of their shows off of Hulu and other online TV sites. The move might dissuade a subset of Comcast's customers from dumping cable in favor of free online TV but won't charm the ones who get their broadband from a phone company.
Granted, the masses still prefer to get their TV shows from cable and satellite operators rather than Hulu because they bring it to the TV, not the PC. But the momentum behind free online TV is unmistakable -- there are new devices, such as Netgear's Digital Entertainer Live, that make it easy to bring online video to the big screen in the living room, older devices such as the Roku Video Player with ever-expanding capabilities and services including Hulu and Netflix that are continually expanding their libraries of free content.
So here's the second announcement. 1Cast, a self-styled Hulu for news videos, unveiled a new partnership with Boxee, a program that provides a user interface for online video streams that's optimized for a TV set. The deal adds an important element to Boxee's entertainment-heavy lineup, while giving 1Cast a route to TV screens.
1Cast's approach is novel for an online news aggregator -- it strikes revenue-sharing deals with networks, rather than just monetizing the feeds that are freely available online. CEO Anthony Bontrager said his company gets clips directly from the networks in "near real time" -- typically within minutes of their appearance on air. Visitors to the 1Cast site can browse through thumbnails of the most recently added clips, or they can use the site's search function to gather all the clips related to a given topic. They also can create virtual newscasts on the topics of their choice that are dynamically updated whenever new material arrives. Or they can watch what other users have been watching or saving.
In other words, it's the Internet's remix power brought to bear on the TV news industry. It's not for people who like having someone else decide what the most important developments of the day are or who the most credible speakers might be. Instead, it's for those who want to be their own news directors or tap the collective judgment of the crowd and who like the idea of being able to view multiple perspectives on the same story. 1Cast draws from more than a dozen sources, including CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg, the BBC and MarketWatch. It's also expanding into entertainment news -- it just added clips from E! Entertainment and Style. What's in it for them? In addition to the shared revenue -- 1Cast adds post-roll advertising and some interactive overlays to the clips -- Bontrager said networks like the idea of getting their material in front of viewers who might otherwise be wedded to a competitor's channel.
One interesting tidbit about 1Cast's users: The big screen doesn't appear to be as important to them as the mobile one. Bontrager said viewers typically spend 12 to 15 minutes watching 1Cast on a PC, but the average session time on mobile (iPhone or Android phones) is 36 minutes. Sure hope they're not watching while they drive. ...
-- Jon Healey