Once again, a retail DVR company is leapfrogging the pay-TV industry. As first reported by GigaOM, Simple.TV has introduced a new feature for its digital video recorder that allows users to share recorded shows with up to five additional viewers. By assigning guest passes, Simple.TV subscribers can offer friends access to their personal recordings on the Simple.TV website and the company's mobile and Roku apps. Guests can't tune in to live television or schedule new recordings, which leaves subscribers in control of all TV tuners.
The Simple.TV sharing feature treads a fine line between Aereo Inc. 's illegal approach to making over-the-air television available on the Internet, and Sling Media Inc. 's legal solution for streaming home-based TV content over the web. Unlike Aereo, Simple.TV doesn't collect and transcode OTA television signals in one centralized location. Everything happens within a user's home. However, unlike Sling, Simple.TV is explicitly promoting the ability to share content with other non-subscribers.
Simple.TV also heavily markets its product to cord-cutters, while Sling has slithered its way into the pay-TV industry with Sling-enabled hardware for Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH), and a partnership with Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) that is putting Sling-based media gateways in select cable subscriber homes. (See Arris Gives Sling a Shot.)
Pay-TV companies have come a long way on the TV innovation front in recent years. Beyond new cooperation in the industry with Sling and TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) to enhance DVR hardware and software solutions, service providers are experimenting with more and more of their own cloud-based features that give users greater access to TV over the Internet. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has even rolled out a feature with its X1 cloud DVR that allows subscribers to download select shows to a mobile device for out-of-home viewing. (See Comcast Cloud DVR Storms Down East Coast.)
However, with all of the progress that service providers have made, it still often ends up being consumer electronics and Internet companies -- Roku Inc. , Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), Simple.TV, etc. -- that push the boundaries of the television experience. Pay-TV companies are largely content to remain fast followers, adapting technology as it suits their business and revenue needs.
In addition to introducing the new guest pass feature, Simple.TV has also just updated its Android mobile app and has software upgrades planned for its Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps. Customers can buy Simple.TV for $199 with a basic subscription service, $249.99 with one year of renewable premium service, or $349.99 with a lifetime premier subscription. Premier service adds several goodies to the basic service package including "whole-planet" access to recordings, automatic series recordings, pause-and-resume functionality on select devices and early access to new features.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading