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Set-top boxes

Rovi Takes Fanhattan

Bolstering its content discovery and navigation portfolio, Rovi is gobbling up the startup company Fanhattan in an all-cash deal.

The two companies didn't disclose the price of the acquisition. But they did say that Fanhattan LLC founders Gilles BianRosa and Olivier Chalouhi will join Rovi Corp. 's leadership team as part of the Rovi Discovery Products Business Group.

Fanhattan launched its first product -- a web-based content discovery app -- in early 2011 after buying up metadata provider The Open Movie Database (TMDb). Apps for the iPad and iPhone quickly followed, all offering users a way to search for video content across linear, on-demand and over-the-top services. Nearly four years later, the metadata collection powering these apps is curated by more than 2,000 human editors, and Fanhattan's iOS app currently boasts around 2.3 million users in the US.

The app isn't the whole Fanhattan story, however. The company surprised the industry in 2013 when it took a left turn and introduced the Fan TV experience. Unlike the original Fanhattan app, Fan TV is a platform that includes a tiny set-top box and motion-sensitive remote control paired with a slick on-screen television interface. Fan TV isn't a direct-to-consumer solution, but rather it's designed to be bundled with a pay-TV service. (See Fan TV Courts Cable for New Box.)

Cox Communications Inc. was the first cable operator to sample Fan TV, launching a limited test run of the product in July 2013. That trial didn't last long, but Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) followed up with a more substantial deal this past April, saying it would roll out Fan TV to its entire subscriber footprint. (See Cox Flirts With Fanhattan, Cox's IPTV Trial Flames Out and Fan TV Scores With TW Cable.)

Fast forwarding to today, BianRosa says Fanhattan has been shipping to TWC customers since August. The deployment is still in its early stages, but BianRosa noted in an interview with Light Reading that customers with Fan TV are already using the product about five hours a day on average. Fanhattan and Time Warner Cable have been targeting millennials and families that have already expressed interest in Fan TV. "The important thing is not to go fast, but to go right," said BianRosa.

Fanhattan's next goal is to integrate its iOS app with the TV experience to make the two platforms work together.


Want to know more about pay-TV service trends? Check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.


For Rovi, the acquisition of Fanhattan builds on what EVP and COO John Burke described as "a healthy amount of change within Rovi." Historically a dominant player in the set-top software space, Rovi now faces significant competition from companies big and small with cloud-based user interface solutions.

With Fanhattan, Rovi is bringing on board both hardware and software that could help it differentiate itself from market rivals. According to Burke, Rovi will continue to support the Fan TV rollout with Time Warner Cable while also exploring interest from other pay-TV providers. "I think every service provider that's out there today is looking for more next-generation solutions that can provide people … with content from a multitude of sources across a multitude of production types," said Burke.

The Fanhattan purchase also fits well with another recent Rovi acquisition -- the $62 million buyout of Veveo Inc. in February. Veveo's technology focuses on natural language user interfaces and should make good use of Fanhattan's vast metadata repository in combination with Rovi's existing metadata stores. Fanhattan's gesture-based UI could also provide a nice complement to the Veveo voice-enabled software. As Burke put it, "[that's] exactly one of the areas of synergy potential." (See Rovi Snaps Up Veveo.)

Among Rovi's current products, the company has recently been promoting a Personalized Discovery Solution with content discovery and recommendation features that put it head to head with competitors like ThinkAnalytics Ltd. and Jinni Media Ltd. Rovi also introduced a new cloud-based HTML5 program guide in September that is targeted for deployment on legacy set-tops, as well as more modern IP devices. The Fan TV technology could be integrated with both Rovi solutions and potentially sold through both the service provider and consumer electronics channel. (See Rovi Makes It Personal and Rovi Debuts Cloud-Based Multiscreen Guide.)

According to Burke, Rovi will show the early integration of Fan TV with existing company products in 2015.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

danielcawrey 11/3/2014 | 5:56:41 PM
Underestimated I think most of us underestimate the power of content discovery. 

The reality is that it is really hard to create algorithms to enable really great discovery. The technology seems to be in its infancy. 
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