Light Reading

Fan TV Scores With TW Cable

Mari Silbey

After a false start last year, Fan TV is officially breaking into the cable business. In a new deal with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Fan TV will bring its unique user interface to TWC subscribers. The agreement marries Time Warner Cable's linear TV and video-on-demand services with the Fan TV set-top box, user interface, and buttonless touch remote control. Fan TV will also support streaming services at launch, including Redbox Instant by Verizon, Crackle, Target Ticket, and Rhapsody.

Time Warner Cable customers can pre-order Fan TV today for $99. The product is scheduled to ship later in the second quarter.

Fan TV surprised many last year when it morphed from being a web-based app provider to offering its solution, complete with hardware and a TV UI. The company's app, originally branded under the name Fanhattan, integrates program guide information across pay-TV and over-the-top video services in a way designed to make it easier for users to discover and navigate content options. The Fan TV solution also goes much further, transferring navigation to the primary screen and packaging the experience with a unique remote control that relies solely on motion and touch. (See Fan TV Courts Cable for New Box.)

Unlike other TV hardware and software start-ups, Fan TV never intended to offer its solution as a retail-only product. Instead, the company has always aimed to partner with pay-TV providers. Last summer Fan TV ran a trial with Cox Communications Inc. in Orange County, Calif., which appeared to be a positive sign that the technology could gain some traction. The trial ended quickly, however, and little information was shared publicly about the results. (See Cox Flirts With Fanhattan.)

Fan TV CEO Gilles BianRosa told Light Reading that much has changed since the experiment with Cox. "It was a lot of work because it's a very new model," said BianRosa. "We're very happy that it actually did take a while because this is, it's one of those game-changing partnerships that it doesn't matter if you're first to market, you need to be the best to market."

BianRosa said that among the improvements to Fan TV, live TV is now always in the background of the UI, so that users can scan other services without disrupting the live feed. Previously, linear television was just one tab on the Fan TV menu. The company has also added a pausing feature for live TV that wasn't present during the Cox trial.

Mike Angus, general manager and senior vice president of video for TWC, has been a longtime Fan TV fan. Although he couldn't comment on any specific company plans at the time, Angus told us last fall, "I love their product… You put that experience front and center on a device like that -- that's what customers who are buying cable want. That's where they watch the overwhelming majority of their content, and it's an intuitive way to bridge the CE and pay-TV world." (See TWC's Mike Angus Unplugged.)

The Fan TV partnership also falls in line with Time Warner Cable's strategy to place its content on as many devices as possible. TWC has apps for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, as well as the Roku, Xbox 360, Samsung smart TVs, and Kindle Fire HD.

The Fan TV deal is somewhat different, because the integrated UI is fully branded around the Time Warner Cable service. However, Angus said in a more recent interview, "It really is the same process for us, and it's the same content that we make available. It just has a different look and feel in terms of presentation to the customer."

Time Warner Cable and Fan TV will also offer integrated customer support. Details on marketing and promotion are now being worked out.

BianRosa said he sees other opportunities in the cable industry beyond Time Warner Cable, but noted that he's learned that "cable companies want to move at their own pace." He also said his company will focus a lot of its resources in the near future on making the TWC deployment successful.

He should be particularly happy about the timing of the Time Warner Cable deal, given the proposed pending acquisition by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). In contrast to TWC, Comcast has focused heavily on offering its own advanced hardware, rather than spreading its service to numerous third-party devices.

However, Angus pointed out, "I think if you look across the industry, especially even over the last six to twelve months, there's been a lot more folks who are really starting to embrace this world of alternate devices for customer consumption… While I wouldn't go so far as to call it mainstream… I think that others really are starting to look at this as not really a competitive or customer fragmentation, but rather how do we embrace the customer and deliver the experiences that continue to deliver value for the subscription that they have with us."

As part of a larger Comcast entity, it's hard to say if Time Warner Cable would have taken a chance on Fan TV. But Angus, at least, believes the entire industry is becoming more flexible in how it defines the cable TV experience.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
4/22/2014 | 6:29:35 PM
Sounds like Apple vs. PC
"He should be particularly happy about the timing of the Time Warner Cable deal, given the proposed pending acquisition by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). In contrast to TWC, Comcast has focused heavily on offering its own advanced hardware, rather than spreading its service to numerous third-party devices."

I'm not quite sure how to react to this.  IBM went the third party route, and thus PC's were the bulk of market share compared to Apple.  If that was still the case I'd say that the Time Warner Cable deal was the smart move.  Considering Apple's power these days I'm not so sure.  My gut says that the third party is what will get the ball rolling though -- it happened with VHS and again with PC's.  So going by history, TW Cable's making a strong play.  And yet Apple showed that control has its perks too...
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