Spring Streaming Update: 2015
As the first tulips of spring poke their way through the snow, we’re looking back at some of the recent developments in the world of OTT video. And despite a brief lull in the action, we’re once again seeing new services pop up, just as others vanish. So without further ado, here’s our Spring Streaming Update for 2015:
Shuttered Services: Samsung Video Hub, Redbox Instant, and Target Ticket
The shutdown started with Samsung, which closed down its Video Hub on August 1, 2014. Video Hub streamed only to Samsung smart TVs and mobile devices, and allowed users to purchase and rent movies and TV episodes.
A few months later, on October 7th, Redbox Instant closed its doors. The service, a joint venture between Verizon and Redbox (part of Outerwall), bundled unlimited streaming video with Blu-ray and DVD rentals from Redbox kiosks. But Redbox Instant failed to gain traction with customers, in part because it was slow to roll out to new devices and the streaming catalog looked an awful lot like Netflix, only with fewer titles.
Target Ticket soon followed suit, with the retailer announcing it will cut off the transactional streaming service on March 7th. Target’s service didn’t offer any unlimited streaming – like Walmart’s VUDU, it offered streaming titles to rent or buy only. But with the exception of parental guidance ratings from Common Sense Media, there wasn’t much to differentiate Target Ticket from its more established competitors.
For customers who purchased video from these services, you should still be able to access your content — but it may be a tricky process. Redbox Instant and Video Hub are making subscribers’ video purchases and credits available via M-GO, and Target Ticket will be sending its customers to CinemaNow (the streaming venture that Best Buy picked up back in 2010).
At best, customers will need to sign up with another service just to get access to the titles they already own. But different services often have different agreements with studios, so there are no guarantees that every title you purchased through a cancelled service will be available through its replacement.
The End for UltraViolet?
On a somewhat related note, we’ve been hearing rumblings for months now that the UltraViolet initiative may be winding down. When we wrote about UltraViolet nearly three years ago, the service – which acts as a “digital locker” to let you access copies of movies you purchase – had buy-in from all the major studios except Disney and MGM. Instead of joining UltraViolet, Disney introduced a competing service called Disney Movies Anywhere back in February 2014, and now UltraViolet’s studio partners are reportedly in talks about joining forces with Disney.
But at least as of last December, UltraViolet was optimistic, adding new studio partners and anticipating new growth as it expanded to more countries. It’ll be interesting to see how the spin shakes out on this one…
New OTT Streaming Service: Sling TV
And finally, lest you think this post is all about services closing their doors, we do have a new addition in the form of Sling TV – a new web TV service from Dish Network, which launched to the public February 9th. Back in 2012, Dish partnered with Sling Media, makers of the Slingbox, to bring out-of-home streaming to the set-top boxes known as “The Hopper.”
The new Sling TV service is delivered purely OTT, with live TV and VOD from a lineup of about 15 cable networks for $20/month (with more being added, including AMC last week). We’ve been testing out the new service and will be back shortly with an in-depth review. Stay tuned!
Software, Sandboxes, and the Back Office
Sandbox. Another everyday noun stepping out in different stripes, especially amongst Software People.
Here it is as a verb, from a recent batch of notes: “When you’re sandboxing, you’re allowing people to fail without killing anything.”
And as an adjective: “It’s more of a sandbox-y thing than a bag of tools.”
On the surface, the notion of a “software sandbox” is perhaps obvious. It’s a place where developers can try out their code, using the same raw resources as a production environment, but without causing anything in production to break.
Why the sandbox is of increasing importance in broadband technology circles is perhaps less obvious. To get the head around it, point toward open source software, as a staple in the transition to all-IP (Internet Protocol) everything.
Let’s say we all agree that a) it’s a software world anymore. And that b) next-gen competitors who grew up on broadband just move faster. Lastly, that OTT competitors move faster, in part because they live on open source software, and make it easy for developers to try stuff out.
In other words, they sandbox.
Let’s further say we agree with the one about “if you can’t beat’em, join’em.”
So far, in the realm of what we used to call “cable,” most sandboxing happens at the interactions of “old” and “new,” also known as “now” and “next,” and especially with back office stuff. For instance, maybe you want to experiment with how people navigate video. One option: Build some kind of software-based emulator, so that developers can work within a semi-real environment.
Another option: Create a sandbox that links developers into the live elements of the back office that really do link to video navigation — the billing system, the conditional access/encryption components, the provisioning experience, as three of several examples. Developers can develop away, without damaging anything happening live, in the back office.
As for whether the software sandbox ever encounters gifts akin to what cats leave in sandboxes? In practice, developers usually get their own sandboxes, electronically cordoned off from anybody else writing code. Which is good, because there’s not any actual sand.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.