September 27, 2012
With celebrities tweeting and viewers sharing Facebook "likes" for TV shows, Comcast Corp. and NBCUniversal will announce today that they will invest in the British social-TV start-up zeebox and help launch its app in the United States. It's a huge boost for zeebox, as it enters the U.S. market on the nation's largest cable system.
Zeebox aggregates TV show information, Twitter feeds, and other data for smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Using the zeebox app, TV viewers can toggle their attention between a live show and its real-time social-media buzz on a "second screen." Comcast and NBCUniversal officials said live TV is becoming an increasingly social activity that makes it more engaging for viewers. One concern in the TV industry has been the growth of DVRs that allow viewers to record shows and watch them later, skipping through advertisements. Social TV could reengage viewers with live TV, the officials said. An estimated 40 percent of TV viewers use a second screen - a smartphone, tablet, or laptop - while watching TV, Comcast officials said.
Page Thompson, executive vice president of strategic integration at NBCUniversal, said zeebox could be the "dawn of a new era" in watching TV, and "NBC is making an unprecedented commitment to this."
Information on more than 300 NBC shows will be available on zeebox, whose content will be expanded this fall with custom video clips that users can share, he said. Zeebox could make advertising on network shows more valuable by supplementing or localizing it, Thompson said. NBCUniversal will promote zeebox this fall on the NBC network to drive zeebox downloads. HBO also has agreed to help launch zeebox. The terms of Comcast and NBCUniversal's investment in zeebox were not disclosed.
"We're excited to team with zeebox on their U.S. launch," said Steve Burke, chief executive officer at NBCUniversal. "As the Olympics demonstrated, the second-screen experience has become an increasingly important platform to engage audiences." Zeebox is one of several "second-screen" apps that seek to develop loyalty or interest in TV shows. Others are Viggle and Get Glue. Zeebox was cofounded 18 months ago by Anthony Rose, formerly of the BBC and the file-sharing service Kazaa. Zeebox is 10 percent owned by BSkyB, the largest pay-TV distributor in Britain, and has had 1.5 million downloads there.
Samuel H. Schwartz, Comcast president of converged products, said, "Today, there is a ton of social interest in television and television content." The goal is to connect the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the TV-viewing experience, Schwartz said. Traditional TV viewing is considered linear, he said, while with zeebox, the experience can be more three-dimensional. Philadelphia Inquirer; more in USA Today
Dish Network Corp. plans to launch a nationwide broadband service next Monday under the brand dishNET, hoping to add a new revenue stream on top of its pay-television business.
The satellite-TV company on Thursday is expected to disclose plans to sell broadband, at a speed of between five and 10 megabits per second, for between $39.99 and $69.99 a month for customers who also take Dish's TV service. Those who aren't TV customers will pay $10 more a month, a similar pricing approach to that used by cable operators. While dishNET won't be able to match the high-speed connections sold by cable-TV rivals, the satellite broadband will be aimed at rural customers with little or no current Internet access. "If you have fiber to the curb in midtown Manhattan, this will not be for you," said Dish Chief Executive Joe Clayton.
Cable operators for years have been selling broadband and phone service, giving them a competitive edge over satellite. Until recently, technological differences meant that satellites could offer only very slow speeds to a large number of customers at a reasonable cost. Dish, for instance has long offered Internet-access at between 250 kilobits and 1.5 megabits a second through a partnership with satellite-communications firm WildBlue Communications Inc., now owned by ViaSat Inc. Recent improvements in satellite technology have made satellite component parts lighter and more efficient in their use of airwaves to transmit data. That has brought down the cost of high-powered satellites able to deliver faster speeds and handle more capacity, according to Jimmy Schaeffler, chairman of the Carmel Group, a telecom consultancy firm. The cost of providing customers with better modems has come down as well. ViaSat earlier this year boosted the speed it could offer, using a new satellite. In July, Dish sibling EchoStar Corp. also launched a new high-powered satellite that has 10 times the processing power of older satellites, paving the way for the new dishNET service.
Dish's satellite rival, DirecTV, says it plans to roll out a nationwide broadband offering by the first quarter of next year, in partnership with a number of firms including ViaSat and using Echostar's satellite. To be sure, dishNET's speed will be well below that available from cable and phone companies, which is now a maximum of 305 mbps. And the satellite's data capacity remains lower than wired broadband. As a result, Dish's broadband offering comes with data-limits much like those offered by wireless carriers. The cheapest plan, for instance, allows for a monthly five gigabytes of "anytime" data usage and five "offpeak" gigabytes to be used between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. Five gigabytes would be about enough to stream three high-definition movies.
Dish plans to target rural customers, the "underserved market of America," according to Mr. Clayton. Some 19 million Americans-14.5 million in rural areas-remain without access to fixed broadband, according to a report released by the Federal Communications Commission in August. Wall Street Journal
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