Time Warner Cable and Verizon have the boldest plans for their iPad apps, with both companies saying that they would like to deliver live TV channels to subscribers both inside and outside of the home. (See Verizon Goes iPad Crazy and TWC Preaches Openness With iPad Tilt .)
Cablevision is more conservative in its initial approach, saying it will only allow subscribers to watch live TV channels inside the home, in addition to using the iPad as a hi-tech remote control. (See Cablevision to Deliver Live TV & VoD to iPad.)
And while Comcast was the first MSO to tout the capabilities of the iPad for navigating TV, with CEO Brian Roberts demonstrating an Xfinity Remote app at The Cable Show in May, the nation’s largest cable operator hasn’t said whether it plans to offer other types of apps, including the delivery of linear TV channels, to the popular Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) gadget. (See To Xfinity... & Beyond!)
Engineers at Verizon and Time Warner say they have the capability to deliver live programming to subscribers on the iPad and other mobile devices, but the companies don't yet have rights deals with all programmers that would allow them to actually do it. However, recent retrans deals indicate that everyone's thinking along those lines. (See The New Deal .)
TWC wants to deliver live video to subscribers inside and outside of the home, but it will move forward with the rollout of its iPad app regardless of whether it has deals in place, spokesman Alex Dudley said. "If we get one [app] that works as a DVR manager and remote control, we may launch with that and update it with live streaming."
Although Cablevision has built an extensive WiFi network that could allow it to deliver streaming video to mobile devices, the company has emphasized that it won’t offer services to subscribers outside of the home with its iPad app -- initially at least.
Cablevision hasn’t revealed a launch date for its iPad app, but the company did launch an app for the iPad, iPhone, and Android devices that allows subscribes to access their DVRs remotely. The app allows digital TV customers to view a program guide, set recordings, and delete content stored on their DVRs. (See Cablevision DVR App Speaks Apple, Android .)
Apps that allow subscribers to control their DVRs remotely aren’t new. DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) began distributing a free remote DVR app in the iTunes store in March 2009. It allows owners of the iPhone and iPad to control their DVRs.
Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) launched a similar app in August. Later this month the company plans to launch an app that will allow subscribers with a Slingbox or a "SlingLoaded" HD-DVR to watch live TV and programming stored on their DVRs on an iPad, iPhone, and Android devices. (See Dish & the iPad.)
Dish may have a competitive advantage over rival providers since it is moving forward with plans to offer live streaming via Sling technology. But some of its rivals are hesitant to do the same until they're certain they're on solid legal ground.
“I think there are some questions about the rights structure around that [Sling] business,” Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said in August.
Timing, capabilities, and limitations vary
DirecTV will begin streaming live NFL games to the iPad this Sunday via an app available in the iTunes store. While the app is free to download, subscribers first must spend about $380 to subscribe to DirecTV’s exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket and SuperFan packages in order to watch the games on an iPad.
“We have plans to make more content available on portable devices like the iPad within the next 12 months,” DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said. He added that the company is developing several “experience enhancements” that rely on smartphones, tablet computers, and laptops.
Comcast is expected to launch its iPad app during the fourth quarter. Officials at Comcast declined to discuss the MSO's iPad plans in any more detail.
Verizon unveiled its iPad strategy in a briefing with reporters in August. The company said its initial iPad app will allow FiOS TV subscribers to access video-on-demand content on the device.
Verizon VP of consumer strategy and planning Shawn Strickland said the telco is talking to programmers about distributing live TV channels to the iPad. He said the company hopes to allow subscribers to view live video both in the home and outside of the home sometime in 2011.
Verizon also plans eventually to add a "What’s Hot" feature on its iPad app which will allow subscribers to track the 12 most popular networks in local FiOS TV markets in any given moment, based on viewing data.
Update: AT&T's iPad act
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the excusive 3G provider for the iPad, is also getting into the act with respect to its U-verse IPTV service.
AT&T launched a free U-verse Mobile app for the iPad and iPhone on August 9, allowing allows subscribers to browse TV listings, view program descriptions, and remotely program their DVRs.
The U-verse Mobile app also allows iPhone owners who subscribe to U-verse TV to download several programs from Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, PBS Kids, and other channels to the phone. But AT&T doesn’t yet have the rights to deliver linear programming from those networks to the iPad, according to AT&T spokeswoman Jenny Bridges.
AT&T said the U-verse Mobile app replaced a Mobile Remote Access app it had built for the iPhone. The company says more than 100,000 U-verse TV customers use its Web and Mobile Remote Access apps every month.
Here's a snapshot of the various iPad strategies that cable operators, telcos, and satellite TV operators currently have in play:
Table 1: iPad, YouPad, WeAllPad
|Operator||Use iPad as remote control?||Stream video inside home||Stream video outside the home?||iPad app launch date|
|AT&T||No||No||No||Launched remote DVR app for iPad and iPhone in August|
|Comcast||Yes||No||No||Prototype launch in late 2010|
|Time Warner Cable||Yes||Yes||Yes||TBD|
|Cablevision||Yes||Yes||No||Remote DVR app launched in September; in-home streaming app TBD|
|Dish Network||Yes||Yes||Yes||Remote DVR App launched in August; streaming feature launch in September|
|DirecTV||No||Yes, but only NFL games for Sunday Ticket subs so far||NFL games||Remote DVR app for iPhone launched in March 2009. Sunday Ticket To-Go app launched in August|
|Source: The companies|
To EBIF, or not to EBIF?
Comcast's coming Xfnity Remote uses Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), which could allow Comcast to run the app on millions of older boxes.
Dudley said Time Warner’s iPad app won’t rely on EBIF, but that subscribers would be able to change channels with the iPad via a signal that will be sent to the device to servers on its network.
One cable technology executive said there are multiple options that operators could pursue to allow subscribers to use the iPad as a remote control. One option would be to place an infrared adapter on the iPad, effectively turning it into a universal remote control.
In a second scenario, operators that have deployed digital set-tops with WiFi capability could allow subscribers to use the iPad to communicate directly with the set-top. A third option is to use the WiFi connection on the iPad to communicate with headend servers, and when a subscriber changes channels on the iPad, a signal would be sent from a remote server to the set-top box.
— Steve Donohue, special to Light Reading Cable