Cloud Services

Synacor Upends the App Concept

4:15 PM -- Synacor Inc. didn't have to dig very deep into its piggy bank for its first-ever acquisition (about $1.1 million, according to an S-1 document filed in January) of Carbyn Inc., but the purchase could provide some fairly sizable multi-screen help for its cable and telco customers. (See Synacor IPO Could Fetch $94M .)

Synacor's specialty is authentication systems that let MSO customers access TV Everywhere fare and other types of content that comes with their video, voice and broadband subscriptions. With the acquisition of Carbyn, a Canadian startup founded in November 2010, Synacor now has a way to create HTML5 apps that can run natively on the browsers of PCs, tablets, smartphones, TVs and other connected devices without having to develop separate apps. That's because it's all running (and being tweaked and changed) in the proverbial cloud and unified under HTML5. (See The iPad: a Threat to Flash's Video Dominance? )

That's important for MSOs that want to let customers access email, voice mail and TV Everywhere content via a browser while also preventing those service operators from having to create eight different apps. But, perhaps more importantly, it will also help service providers avoid having to pay additional app tax to the likes of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) just for the privilege of running apps on their devices and operating systems. VUDU Inc. and Aereo Inc. are already some prime examples of companies that are using HTML5 to sidestep those costs on devices like the iPad.

"Everything looks and acts like it's native, but it's happening in the browser," explains Carbyn founder and former CEO Jaafer Haidar, who is now VP of mobile for Synacor. "You'll forget you're in a browser. ... [HTML5] gets rid of the apps concept." Carbyn's platform went to private beta last September, and Synacor will be showing off its latest handiwork later this month at The Cable Show in Boston.

But HTML5 doesn't crack every nut ... at least not yet. It's not great at running high-end games, and (here's a biggie) digital rights management (DRM) for streaming video in-browser is still lacking. There are some ways to get around the DRM problem (i.e. the device can handle it, or rights can be established before a video stream is allowed to even spawn), but that piece will need solving before HTML5 and premium TV Everywhere content become a match made in multi-screen heaven.

HTML5 adoption may be in its early stages, but Synacor's buy could end up giving a multi-screen leg-up to Charter Communications Inc. , CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) and its other service provider partners.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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