Over-the-top (OTT) video has gone from being a fad to a must-have in the short time since Netflix started pushing its streaming service alongside the little red DVD envelopes. However, in the last year, OTT's really gone on a tear, and September kicked off with a rush of OTT news suggesting that more choice, flexibility and innovation are headed to the multi-screen.
Here are five OTT moments of note from the past week, and a look at why they're significant in the broader television landscape.
Apple TV tees up universal search -- With a new Apple TV scheduled to debut on September 9, BuzzFeed reports that the OTT box will get a much-heralded new feature allowing users to search for content across multiple video services. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) isn't the first to offer universal search. Google Fiber Inc. does it. So does TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO)
Critically, however, the feature is not something that traditional pay-TV providers deliver. Why? Presumably because universal search would direct people away from a service provider's own content, even showing when a paid title might be available for free somewhere else.
That cable strategy might be misdirected, however. A study commissioned by Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX) earlier this year found that 51% of North American consumers say they would refrain from canceling or reducing their pay-TV subscriptions if their service provider offered a unified interface for content search and discovery. That news should put pressure on MSOs to reconsider their stance. And the news from Apple should add further weight. (See Amdocs: Pay-TV Can Play With OTT.)
TiVo's next box gets a 4K upgrade -- A few pay-TV providers have made some early commitments to Ultra HD, but so far, only DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) has introduced a 4K set-top in the US. TiVo may yet beat everyone else to the punch, as Zatz Not Funny is reporting that the upcoming TiVo Bolt will support UHD. Content is still limited, but Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) are delivering a handful of 4K shows over-the-top, and more are sure to follow… particularly if the industry can work out its issues with next-gen video compression technologies. (See Meet DirecTV's 4K Genie Mini and New Alliance Aims at Royalty-Free Video Codec.)
Hulu nixes ads… for a price -- Hulu LLC 's gotten a bad rap at times for not offering an ad-free service to rival Netflix. That changed this week when the streaming video company introduced a commercial-free version of its product for $12 per month, just $4 above the regular monthly price for its ad-supported one. The timing is notable because the new service arrived only a short time after media stocks plunged in response to fears over a decline of the ad-supported TV model.
Hulu's not giving up on advertising, however. On the contrary, the company announced a new programmatic ad exchange just last week. That's called hedging your bets. (See Hulu Goes Ad-Free and Hulu Brings Next-Gen Ad Platform to TV.)
Comcast's "Watchable" makes an appearance -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) hasn't really defined whether its new OTT service, currently dubbed "Watchable," will be a YouTube competitor or something else. But an early look at the product has Variety calling it a "mix between YouTube and Hulu," with a big emphasis on an editor-driven experience. It's a bit of a risky experiment given Comcast's track record in OTT, but the company is investing a lot of money in both web media assets and ad technology, knowing it has to find a way to succeed in the online world. (See Comcast Readies 'Watchable' Online Service.)
Verizon's Go90 gets closer, we think -- Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) also appears to be inching closer to a launch of its OTT video service. Bloomberg reported earlier this week that Go90 will debut within days, although later reports have suggested that that timing might not be accurate. Whenever Go90 does launch, it will be the culmination of a very long effort by the telco to make a mobile video service available. Like Comcast, Verizon believes it can't be successful in the future without a significant online video play. (See Verizon Builds Toward OTT Launch .)
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading