Light Reading

iPad, Xoom Get First Crack at Comcast's AnyPlay

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPads and Motorola Mobility LLC Xooms will get the first taste of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s AnyPlay, a CableCARD-based device that transcodes QAM video into MPEG-4 based IP streams for mobile-device consumption. (See Comcast AnyPlay to Stream Live TV to Tablets .)

The MSO is about to start customer trials in two markets. Comcast isn't identifying them yet, but a company spokesman confirmed a CNN report that the MSO intends to start AnyPlay tests in the "next few weeks."

The spokesman said AnyPlay will be compatible with the Xoom and the iPad's iOS platform out of the chute, and that Comcast intends to support an array of other Android-based tablets later on.

Initial support for the iPad was a given considering its popularity and the fact that Comcast has already developed several apps for iOS, including Xfinity TV, which turns the tablet into a fancy remote control, a program guide and a conduit to authenticated video-on-demand from HBO and other programmers. Motorola, meanwhile, helped develop AnyPlay (Motorola calls its product the Televation, which came away with a Leading Lights award this year), so it's logical that the Moto-made tablet also made it to the front of the line. (See Moto, Comcast Team on In-Home TV Streamer and LR Names 2011 Leading Lights Winners.)

Like similar apps from Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and, most recently, Cox Communications Inc. , Comcast's version will limit live TV streaming to the reach of the customer's Wi-Fi home network. (See Cox Connects With the iPad and Cablevision Launches iPad App With 280+ Channels .)

However, Comcast's stab at live TV on tablets, at least at the start, won't rely strictly on a native app but will lean on a separate, sidecar-like device outfitted with a CableCARD to transcode incoming MPEG-2 QAM video signals into IP streams. That approach should let customers surf Comcast's entire live TV lineup. By comparison, Cox expects its app to start off with access to about 35 live TV channels, with more coming as Cox obtains more channel rights.

The AnyPlay device itself sources video via a standard coax cable, and then formats it and sends the video to the router on the home network. The router distributes the video feeds to tablets over Wi-Fi. Comcast isn't disclosing how it might price AnyPlay and isn't saying whether it would lease the device or sell it outright.

Motorola has plenty of ideas on how cable operators can take advantage of Xoom. Here's what CEO Sanjay Jha and President Daniel Moloney had to say about it at last week's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo in Atlanta.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2012 | 4:48:10 PM
re: iPad, Xoom Get First Crack at Comcast's AnyPlay

How much consumer demand do you think there will be for live TV streaming service to tablets when you can't take it outside of the home?? The QAM/IP transcoding trick by Comcast seems like a nifty technical play, but to me the niftier play with tablets is when you turn them into TV remotes and create an interactive platform for companion apps and social media that's synced to live content on the TV. The second screen apps, as they're getting called.      

Jeff Baumgartner
Jeff Baumgartner,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:48:09 PM
re: iPad, Xoom Get First Crack at Comcast's AnyPlay

Like we saw with CVC and TWC, there will be an early novelty effect, but I think this initially is all about recognizing that the iPad and other tablets are media consumption devices and akin to  another TV screen, and rights issues are going to keep this limited to within the reach of the home network (unless you just want to go and buy a Slingbox and use it to access everything in and out of the house to your heart's content).  Uptake on this will also be determined by how much Comcast charges for this, if anything at all?  What's a fair lease fee? $2 per month?

I think Comcast is taking its initial approach so it plays nice wiht programmers and can deliver the full TV lineup without having to worry about some of the rights issues other MSOs have had with iPad apps that allow live TV streaming.  Televation/AnyPlay isn't a set-top... or is it? There's a CableCARD in that device, and it's really just a precursor to fancier hybrid gateways that can do this on the fly MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 transcode.

Plus it's just a start.  I think every MSO wants to be able to let customers access their subscriptions on the go without having to buy a place-shifting device at retail. The rights, not the tech, is what's mucking things up. JB


User Rank: Blogger
12/5/2012 | 4:48:08 PM
re: iPad, Xoom Get First Crack at Comcast's AnyPlay

"The rights, not the tech, is what's mucking things up."

AGREE. The rights issues are a bigger obstacle than the technology.

Service providers and television networks need to figure out a workable rights model supported by an easy, automatic DRM solution.  

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 4:47:58 PM
re: iPad, Xoom Get First Crack at Comcast's AnyPlay

Another angle is how much will Comcast charge subscribers. And how long the premium content provider will provide their service on top of their DOCSIS network. Look Charter's case, they are thinking if they should work with Netflix to get the content. Content right is the biggest expense to cable operator. 

Comcast now focus on profit generation not subscription addition. They already lose customer for 2 years sequentially. It is very obvious this program is a retaining program. 

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