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Amazon Introduces Fire TV: $99 for Voice Searchable Set-Top Box

Phillip Dampier April 2, 2014 Consumer News, Online Video, Video No Comments

amazonAmazon.com today introduced Fire TV, its entry in the increasingly crowded online video set-top box marketplace.

Fire TV is among the first boxes that supports voice search. The old way of dealing with scroll-and-click searching from an on-screen keyboard is replaced with a microphone on the remote that allows users to speak the title, actor, or genre and quickly find results.

Amazon.com is selling Fire TV for $99 — the same price as Apple TV — but considerably more expensive than Google’s Chromecast or entry-level Roku boxes.

Amazon’s box supports Certified Dolby Digital Plus surround sound and up to 1080p HDMI video. It offers access to Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, and many other TV Everywhere services (but not HBO Go). Fire TV is also a game console, with access to an online store selling more than 100 games at prices averaging $1.85 each.

“It has a powerful quad-core processor, dedicated GPU, 2 GB of memory, and dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi,” says Amazon. “With a fast, fluid interface, high definition 1080p video, and Dolby Digital Plus surround sound, Fire TV looks—and sounds—amazing. We also added an exclusive new feature called ASAP that predicts what movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. No one likes waiting for videos to buffer.”

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amazon fire

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Amazon Fire TV 4-2-14.flv

Gary Busey is featured in this humorous introductory advertisement for Amazon Fire TV. (1:00)

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Amazon Fire TV Voice Search 4-2-14.flv

Amazon elaborates further on its voice search feature for Fire TV in this video. (0:27)

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Peer Wars: Netflix SuperHD Streaming May Explain Video Traffic Slowdowns for Some Customers

The largest drops in streaming speeds are coming from ISPs that may be stalling necessary upgrades at the expense of their customers' online experience.

The largest drops in Netflix streaming speeds are coming from ISPs that may be stalling necessary upgrades at the cost of their paying customers’ online experience.

Netflix performance for Verizon customers is deteriorating because Verizon may be delaying bandwidth upgrades until it receives compensation for handling the growing amount of traffic coming from the online video provider.

Verizon customers have increasingly complained about Netflix slowdowns during prime-time, especially in the northeast, and Netflix’s latest statistics confirm FiOS customers have seen average performance drop by as much as 14% in the last month alone.

Verizon told Stop the Cap! a few weeks ago the company was not interfering with Netflix traffic or degrading its performance, but there is growing evidence that may not be the whole story. The Wall Street Journal reports Netflix and at least one bandwidth provider suspect phone and cable companies are purposely stalling on upgrading connections to handle traffic growth from Netflix until they are compensated for carrying its video traffic.

The dispute involves the plumbing behind parts of the Internet that are invisible to consumers. As more people stream movies and television, that infrastructure is getting strained, intensifying the debate over who should pay for upgrades needed to satisfy America’s online-video habit.

Netflix wants broadband companies to hook up to its new video-distribution network without paying them fees for carrying its traffic. But the biggest U.S. providers—Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and AT&T Inc. —have resisted, insisting on compensation.

The bottleneck has made Netflix unwatchable for Jen Zellinger, an information-technology manager from Carney, Md., who signed up for the service last month. She couldn’t play an episode of “Breaking Bad” without it stopping, she said, even after her family upgraded their FiOS Internet service to a faster, more expensive package. “We tried a couple other shows, and it didn’t seem to make any difference,” she said. Mrs. Zellinger said she plans to drop her Netflix service soon if the picture doesn’t improve, though she will likely hold on to her upgraded FiOS subscription.

She and her husband thought about watching “House of Cards,” but she said they probably will skip it. “We’d be interested in getting to that if we could actually pull up the show,” she said.

Netflix relies on third-party traffic distributors to deliver much of its streamed programming to customers around the country. Cogent Communications Group is a Netflix favorite. Cogent maintains two-way connections with many Internet Service Providers. When incoming and outgoing traffic are generally balanced, providers don’t complain. But when Cogent started delivering far more traffic to Verizon customers than what it receives from them, Verizon sought compensation for the disparity.

“When one party’s getting all the benefit and the other’s carrying all the cost, issues will arise,” Craig Silliman, Verizon’s head of public policy and government affairs told the newspaper. The imbalance is primarily coming from the growth of online video, and as higher definition video grows more popular, traffic imbalances can grow dramatically worse.

A spat last summer between Cogent and some ISPs is nearly identical to the current slowdown. Ars Technica reported the traditional warning signs providers used to start upgrades are increasingly being ignored:

“Typically what happened is when the connections reached about 50 percent utilization, the two parties agreed to upgrade them and they would be upgraded in a timely manner,” Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer told Ars. “Over the past year or so, as we have continued to pick up Netflix traffic, Verizon has continuously slowed down the rate of upgrading those connections, allowing the interconnections to become totally saturated and therefore degrading the quality of throughput.”

Schaeffer said this is true of all the big players to varying degrees, naming Comcast, Time Warner, CenturyLink, and AT&T. Out of those, he said that “AT&T is the best behaved of the bunch.”

Letting ports fill up can be a negotiating tactic. Verizon and Cogent each have to spend about $10,000 for equipment when a port is added, Schaeffer said—pocket change for companies of this size. But instead of the companies sharing equal costs, Verizon wants Cogent to pay because more traffic is flowing from Cogent to Verizon than vice versa.

Cablevision, which participates in Netflix's Open Connect program experiences no significant speed degradation during prime time. The same cannot be said with Time Warner Cable, which refuses to participate.

Cablevision, which participates in Netflix’s Open Connect program, experiences no significant speed degradation during prime time. The same cannot be said of Time Warner Cable, which refuses to take part.

Netflix offered a solution to help Internet Service Providers manage its video traffic. Netflix’s Open Connect offers free peering at common Internet exchanges as well as free storage appliances that ISPs can connect directly to their network to distribute video to customers. Free is always good, and Netflix claims many ISPs around the world have already taken them up on the offer, slashing their transit costs along the way.

A few major North American ISPs have also agreed to take part in Open Connect, including Frontier Communications, Clearwire, Telus, Bell, Cablevision and Google Fiber. Open Connect participating ISPs also got an initial bonus for participating they could offer customers – exclusive access to SuperHD streaming.

But most Americans would not get super high-resolution streaming because the largest ISP’s refused to participate, seeking direct compensation from content providers to carry traffic across their digital pipes instead.

On Sep. 26, 2013 Netflix decided to offer SuperHD streaming to all customers, regardless of their ISP. As a result, one major ISP told the newspaper Netflix traffic from Cogent at least quadrupled. ISPs taking Netflix up on Open Connect saw almost no degradation from the increased traffic, but not so for Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast customers.

Net Neutrality advocates fear the country’s largest phone and cable companies are making an end-run around the concept of an Open Internet. Providers can honestly guarantee not to interfere with certain web traffic, but also refuse to keep up with needed upgrades to accommodate it unless they receive payment. The slowdowns and unsatisfactory performance are the same in the end for those caught in the middle – paying customers.

“Customers are already paying for it,” said industry observer Benoît Felten. “You sell a service to the end-user which is you can access the Internet. You make a huge margin on that. Why should they get extra revenue for something that’s already being paid for?”

Some of the web’s biggest players including Microsoft, Google and Facebook may have already capitulated — agreeing to pay major providers for direct connections that guarantee a smoother browsing experience. Netflix has, thus far, held out against paying ISPs to properly manage the video content their subscribers want to watch but in some cases no longer can.

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House of (Credit) Cards: How to Blow Through Your Usage Cap With One Netflix Show

house-of-cards

“…every kitten grows up to be a cat. They seem so harmless, at first, small, quiet, lapping up their saucer of milk. But once their claws get long enough, they draw blood, sometimes from the hand that feeds them. For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: Hunt or be hunted.” — Francis Underwood

Addicts of Netflix’s hit series House of Cards may need to grab a card of a different kind to cover overlimit fees charged by your Internet Service Provider for blowing past your usage allowance.

As online video streaming moves into the realm of 4K — the next generation of high-definition video — watching television shows and movies online could get very expensive because of the massive file sizes involved. It’s all just in time for ISP’s increasing enforcement of usage caps.

courtesy-notice-640x259Gizmodo just did the math for those intending to spend a weekend watching the entire second season of the made-for-Netflix series in high-definition:

Streaming in 1080p on Netflix takes up 4.7GB/hour. So a regular one-hour episode of something debiting less than 5GB from your allotment is no big deal. However, with 4K, you’ve got quadruple the pixel count, so you’re burning through 18.8GB/hour. Even if you’re streaming with the new h.265 codec—which cuts the bit rate by about half, but still hasn’t found its way into many consumer products—you’re still looking at 7GB/hour.

But you’re not watching just one episode, are you? Of course not! You’re binging on House of Cards, watching the whole series if not in one weekend then certainly in one month. That’s 639 minutes of top-quality TV, which in 4K tallies up to 75GB if you’re using the latest and greatest codec, and nearly 200GB if not. That means, best case scenario, a quarter of your cap—a third, if you’re a U-Verse customer with a 250GB cap—spent on one television show. Throw in a normal month’s internet usage, and you’re toast.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, but you can't watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing past your AT&T DSL limit.

Sure you can send 900+ emails, download hundreds of songs, upload hundreds of pictures, and play online games 24 hours a day, but you can’t also watch one standard and one HD movie a day at the same time without blowing well past your AT&T DSL limit.

What is worse is that h.265 is still more theoretical than actually available to most consumers, so customers will either have to settle with degraded video or prepare to eat close to 19GB an hour at the highest resolution. No wonder Netflix has introduced video degradation settings to save you from your ISP’s arbitrary cap. Of course, your video quality will suffer, especially on a big screen television.

Comcast customers (and presumably Time Warner Cable customers also eventually subjected to Comcast’s cap) will still have a generous 100GB left over to watch, browse, and send that avalanche of e-mails usage cappers love to boast about. If you live in the reality-based community and have a family active online, that 100GB isn’t going to go too far. Video game addicts regularly face downloading huge updates, many ranging from 8-12GB apiece. Call of Duty: Ghosts? That’s 39.5GB. Madden NFL 25? Another 12.51GB, says Gizmodo. Using a file backup cloud storage service can also eat your allowance for breakfast.

Gizmodo also mentions Sony’s Unlimited Video service has 70 titles (and growing) available in 4K. A Sony representative admits a single two-hour movie will burn up 40GB. Watch a few of those and you are well on your way to blowing your allowance Vegas-style.

AT&T cooked up the arbitrary de facto standard overlimit fee now adopted by many American ISPs, and granular it isn’t. Exceed your allowance by even 1 kilobyte and you will be charged an extra $10 for 50 extra gigabytes. Because AT&T, Comcast, Suddenlink, and others are not already paid enough for broadband service and their modem rental.

Online video is the online application most likely to put you over your limit. Most ISPs don’t like to talk about that, however. They prefer to explain caps in terms of activities no online user is likely to ever exceed, including sending thousands of e-mails, viewing hundreds of thousands of web pages, transferring boatloads of songs and images, and watching YouTube videos at low resolution.

If you don’t watch online video, your cable or phone company thanks you for paying for cable television instead. If you haven’t used a peer-to-peer network in years, chances are you won’t exceed any limits either. But as Internet usage continues to evolve, anything that appears to be a competitive threat delivered over your ISP’s broadband pipe can be effectively controlled with the elimination of flat rate Internet service and imposing overlimit fees that deter usage.

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How Charter Communications Let Time Warner Cable Slip from its Grasp

surpriseFew were surprised more by the sudden announcement that Comcast was seeking to acquire Time Warner Cable all by itself than the negotiating team from Charter Communications.

Working for weeks to settle how Comcast and Charter would divide the second largest cable company in the country between them, they learned about the sudden deal with Comcast the same way the rest of the country heard about it — over Comcast-owned CNBC.

After Charter endured weeks of rejection from Time Warner Cable executives over what they called “a lowball offer,” Comcast had entered the fray to help Charter boost its offer and bring more cash to the table to change Time Warner Cable’s mind. In return, Comcast expected to acquire Time Warner’s east coast cable systems and much more.

That is where the trouble began.

Charter_logoAccording to Bloomberg News, the talks broke down because Charter wanted to hold onto as many Time Warner Cable assets as possible. Comcast chief financial officer Michael Angelakis expected Charter to divest more than just the New England, New York, and North Carolina Time Warner Cable systems. Angelakis also wanted control of Time Warner’s valuable regional sports networks in Los Angeles. When he didn’t get them, he stormed out of a meeting threatening to do a deal for Time Warner Cable without involving Charter at all.

The Wall Street Journal confirms the account, adding that both Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Angelakis agreed the talks with Charter seemed to be going nowhere.

Roberts

Roberts

Roberts called a secret meeting with top Comcast executives including Angelakis, Comcast Cable head Neil Smit, Comcast’s lobbying heavyweight David Cohen, and NBCUniversal CEO Steven Burke. Roberts asked each about the options on the table and their conclusion was to buy Time Warner Cable by themselves and cut Charter out of the deal.

Within days, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts reinitiated talks with Time Warner Cable CEO Robert Marcus. The two companies had talked off and on ever since Charter Communications set its sights on acquiring Time Warner Cable. It was clear from the beginning Marcus and his predecessor Glenn Britt were cool to Charter’s overtures. Not only was Charter a much smaller operation, it also had a checkered past including a recent bankruptcy that wiped out shareholder value and was loaded with debt again.

The alliance between Charter and Liberty Global’s John Malone was also unsettling. Those in the cable industry had watched how ruthless Malone could be back in the 1990s when a then much-smaller Comcast secretly attempted to acquire control of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) — then the nation’s largest cable operator run by Malone. Malone was furious when he learned about the effort and went all out to kill the deal, acquiring the stake Comcast sought himself.

Malone’s cable empire would eventually fall with the sale of TCI to AT&T just a few years later. When AT&T decided it didn’t to stay in the cable business, it sold TCI’s old territories to Comcast, making it the largest cable operator in the country.

Malone

Malone

Malone’s brash attitude has also occasionally rubbed the cable industry’s kingpins the wrong way, especially in his public comments. Last year, Malone criticized Roberts’ more conservative operating style, which means Comcast pays a higher tax rate. Malone specializes in deals that leave his acquisitions with enormous debt loads, manipulating the tax code to stiff the Internal Revenue Service. In June, Malone was back again criticizing the lack of a unified national cable cartel better positioned to defeat the competition.

Under his leadership at TCI, many cable programmers didn’t get on TCI’s cable dial unless they sold part-ownership to TCI. Competitors were dispatched ruthlessly — home satellite dish service, then the most viable competitor, strained under TCI-led efforts to enforce channel encryption.

TCI-owned networks routinely required satellite subscribers to sign up with the nearest TCI cable system, which often billed them at prices higher than what cable subscribers paid. Subscribers had to buy not one, but eventually two decoder modules for several hundred dollars apiece before they could even purchase programming. The cable industry also worked behind the scenes to promote and defend enhanced zoning laws that made installing satellite dishes difficult if not impossible, and denied access to some programming at any price, unless it was delivered by a cable system.

Comcast-LogoMalone called today’s divided industry “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and insisted on a new major consolidation wave to enhance “value creation” and deliver some major blows to satellite and telephone company competitors.

Despite Liberty Global’s ongoing consolidation wave of European cable systems, his lack of financial resources to put his money where his mouth was left Time Warner Cable executives cold.

Already loaded with debt, Malone’s part ownership stake in Charter could not make up for Charter’s current status — a medium-sized cable operator with dismal customer ratings primarily serving smaller communities bypassed by larger operators.

A deal with Charter would mean Time Warner Cable's bonds would be downgraded to junk status.

A deal with Charter would mean Time Warner Cable’s bonds would be downgraded to junk status.

Moody’s Investor Service warned Charter’s offer to acquire Time Warner Cable was primarily financed with the equivalent of a credit card, and would leave the combined entity with $60 billion in debt with bonds promptly downgraded to junk level. Time Warner Cable had always considered its bonds “investment grade.”

Charter’s first clue something was wrong came when Comcast stopped returning e-mail and phone calls. That’s always cause for alarm, but Charter officials had no idea Comcast was secretly negotiating with Time Warner Cable one-on-one. In fact, Comcast’s Roberts was negotiating with Time Warner Cable over a cell phone while attending the Sochi Olympics.

Malone finally got the word the deal was off just a short while before Comcast and Time Warner Cable leaked the story to CNBC.

Ironically, it was Malone who convinced Comcast to seek out a deal with Time Warner Cable. Comcast’s thinking had originally been it had grown large enough as a cable operator and sought out expansion in the content world, acquiring NBCUniversal. But Malone warned online video competitors like Netflix would begin to give customers a reason to cut cable’s cord or at the very least take their business to AT&T or Verizon’s competing platforms.

Comcast executives were convinced that gaining more control over content and distribution was critical to protect profits. Only with the vast scale of a supersized Comcast could the cable company demand lower prices and more control over programming. By dominating broadband, critics of the deal warn Comcast can also keep subscribers from defecting while charging higher prices for Internet access and imposing usage limits that can drive future revenue even higher.

Just like the “good old days” where customers had to do business with the cable company at their asking price or go without, a upsized Comcast will dominate over satellite television, which cannot offer broadband or phone service, as well as the two largest phone companies — AT&T, which so far cannot compete with Comcast’s broadband speed and Verizon, which has pulled the plug on further expansion of FiOS to divert investment into its highly profitable wireless division. If Comcast controls your Internet connection, it can also control what competitors can effectively offer customers. Even if Comcast agrees to voluntarily subscribe to Open Internet principles like Net Neutrality, its usage cap can go a long way to protect it from online video competitors who rely on cable broadband to deliver HD video in the majority of the country not served by U-verse or FiOS.

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HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

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Marked Down: Intel’s $1 Billion Online Cable System Technology Sold to Verizon for $200 Million

Behind the 8 ball.

Behind the 8 ball.

Intel has sold its never-launched Intel Media OnCue system, which planned to compete for cable TV viewers using online video, for a deeply discounted $200 million to Verizon Communications, according to media reports.

The would-be virtual cable competitor had initially put its technology up for sale for $1 billion but dramatically reduced its asking price to make a quick sale.

Intel proposed to launch its online competing cable system sometime this year, but pulled back after determining its business plan was untenable. The problem was programming costs — entrenched satellite, cable and phone company competitors receive substantial volume discounts off cable programming but an upstart like Intel would face much higher pricing.

The ongoing effort to establish usage caps or metering Internet usage has also been cited by other would-be competitors as a major deterrent to launch competing video ventures online which can chew up usage allowances.

Variety reports Verizon will use the Intel platform to launch a new TV Everywhere concept for its customers that will deliver the FiOS TV lineup online.

Intel also gets to solidify its working relationship with Verizon’s wireless unit.

 

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Comcast Launches X2 Set Top Platform to Selected Customers As Nationwide Rollout Begins

Phillip Dampier January 7, 2014 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Online Video, Video No Comments

x2-mosaic-1Just months after starting to rollout a new generation of Comcast’s X1 “entertainment operating system” set-top boxes, the cable company is preparing to upgrade the cable television experience with X2.

Comcast, like many other cable operators, is gradually moving to IP and cloud capable set-top equipment as television transitions towards an all-digital platform. The traditional set-top box has proved expensive, cumbersome, and often annoying for customers trying to navigate through hundreds of cable television channels with a less-than-ideal on-screen program guide.

X2 hopes to change that perception with a customizable dashboard that learns viewer preferences over time and makes intelligent suggestions for customers looking for something to watch. Using a cloud based platform also means much easier upgrades. X2 also erases the line dividing traditional cable channels and streaming online video, which would allow Comcast to use its broadband network to distribute video programming and integrate social media.

X2 has, so far, been largely a “by-invitation” affair, with customers invited to preview the new interface on their current X1 equipment by pressing this key sequence with their remote control: EXIT-EXIT-EXIT-X-T-W-O

In addition to improving TV viewing, X2 also sets the stage for a cloud-based DVR being tested in Boston and Philadelphia and live-streaming Comcast’s TV lineup direct to wireless devices in the home.

A Comcast spokesperson tells us the X1 (and X2) platforms will be available to a substantial number of customers this year.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Comcast The Making of X2 8-2-13.mp4

Comcast produced this video showcasing the development of the X2 platform. (3:07)

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CenturyLink’s Prism TV Expands in Omaha; Expands Lineup Through Online Video App

Phillip Dampier January 6, 2014 CenturyLink, Competition, Consumer News, Video 2 Comments

prism tvCenturyLink has launched an aggressive new marketing campaign to promote its fiber to the neighborhood service in the greater Omaha area.

Prism TV is CenturyLink’s equivalent of AT&T’s U-verse — a fiber-copper network that delivers video, phone, and broadband service to customers over their existing copper phone lines.

Currently available to about one-third of Omaha homes, CenturyLink plans to expand Prism TV to the entire area by early 2016.

CenturyLink has not broadly promoted the service in Omaha because so few homes could buy the service when it soft launched around six months ago. The earliest customers were company employees and those in selected neighborhoods where it was sold door-to-door.

CenturyLink says their early experience with the service proves customers are unhappy with the dominant cable company in the area — Cox Communications.

omahaLike AT&T, CenturyLink has put its DVR front and center in its marketing efforts. Most cable company DVRs allow two simultaneous recordings — Prism TV supports up to four. The service also introduces the “whole house DVR” concept to customers without an expensive add-on. This feature lets customers pick up watching recorded shows where they left off when switching rooms.

Cox has responded to the competitive threat by beefing up its own services. The cable company recently introduced a DVR that can record six shows at once, as well as the Cox Contour smartphone/tablet app to watch cable programming on personal devices.

“We’ve been competing with other communications providers for decades and aggressively invest in our infrastructure and technology to ensure that our products are superior,” Cox spokeswoman Gail Graeve told the Omaha World-Herald. “Our customers are looking for viewing options that are both personal and portable, and Contour meets those needs.”

CenturyLink has already upgraded its own viewing app, which now includes more channels and an expansion of live and on-demand content. The newest version allows Prism TV customers to watch two dozen networks while traveling and up to 100 channels while streaming from home. There are versions of the TV Everywhere app for iOS, Android tablets and smartphones, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet.

Prism TV is now available in selected neighborhoods in the city of Omaha, as well as in Belle­vue, Ralston, Papillion, La Vista, Springfield, Gretna, the Elkhorn area and in unincorporated Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Nationwide, CenturyLink ended the third quarter of 2013 with 149,000 Prism TV subscribers in the following areas: La Crosse, Wis.; Columbia and Jefferson City, Mo.; Tallahassee, Fla., various communities in central and southwest Florida where CenturyLink is the local telephone company; Las Vegas; central North Carolina; Phoenix; Colorado Springs and Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Channels Available for Viewing Outside the Home:

CenturyLink offers a $300 rebate to new customers.

CenturyLink offers a $300 rebate to new customers.

  • AWE
  • Bloomberg
  • Cars
  • Comedy
  • CSPAN
  • CSPAN-2
  • FearNET
  • FOX Business Network
  • Fox News Channel
  • Justice Central
  • MAVTV
  • PAC 12 Arizona
  • PAC 12 Mountain
  • PAC 12 National
  • Pets
  • Pixl
  • Recipes
  • Shorts East
  • Sony Movie Channel
  • Sportsman
  • STARZ – East
  • STARZ – West
  • Travel
  • Universal Sports
  • World Fishing Network

In-home Viewing Only:

  • prism on the goA&E
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • Aspire
  • AWE
  • BBC America
  • BBC World
  • Big Ten National
  • Biography
  • Bloomberg
  • Boomerang
  • Bravo
  • Cars
  • Cartoon Network
  • Chiller
  • Cloo
  • CNBC
  • CNN en Espanol
  • CNN
  • CNN International
  • Comedy
  • CSPAN
  • CSPAN-2
  • prism featuresDiscovery
  • E!
  • ENCORE – East
  • ENCORE – West
  • Encore Action
  • Encore Español
  • Encore Suspense
  • Esquire TV
  • FearNET
  • FOX Business Network
  • Fox News Channel
  • Fox Sports 1
  • Fox Sports AZ (Phoenix)
  • Fox Sports AZ Plus (Phoenix)
  • Fuse
  • FX
  • FX Movies
  • FXX
  • G4
  • Golf Channel
  • H2
  • Hallmark Channel
  • Hallmark Movie Channel
  • HeadLine News
  • History
  • HRTV
  • IFC East
  • Indiplex
  • Inspiration Network
  • Justice Central
  • Lifetime
  • Lifetime Movie Network
  • Lifetime Real Woman
  • MAVTV
  • MGM
  • Movieplex
  • MSNBC
  • Mun2 West
  • National Geographic Channel
  • National Geographic Wild
  • Oprah Winfrey Network
  • Outside
  • Oxygen
  • PAC 12 Arizona
  • PAC 12 Mountain
  • PAC 12 National
  • Pets
  • centurylink prismPixl
  • Recipes
  • Retroplex
  • Science
  • Shorts
  • Smithsonian – East
  • Smithsonian – West
  • Sony Movie Channel
  • Sportsman
  • Sprout
  • STARZ – East
  • STARZ – West
  • Starz Black
  • Starz Cinema
  • Starz Edge
  • Starz Kids & Family
  • SYFY
  • TBN
  • TBS
  • The Weather Channel
  • TLC
  • Travel
  • TRUTV
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • Universal HD
  • Universal Sports
  • UP
  • USA
  • WGN
  • Women’s Entertainment
  • World Fishing Network
http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CenturyLink Prism Demo Overview 1-6-14.flv

CenturyLink Prism: An introduction and demonstration. (2:25)

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Wall Street Erupts in Frenzy Over Proposed Sale and Breakup of Time Warner Cable

News that two major cable operators are contemplating breaking up Time Warner Cable and dividing customers between them has caused stock prices to jump for all three of the companies involved.

CNBC reported Friday that Time Warner Cable approached Comcast earlier this year about a possible friendly takeover under Comcast’s banner to avoid an anticipated leveraged takeover bid by Charter Communications. Top Time Warner Cable executives have repeatedly stressed any offer that left a combined company mired in debt would be disadvantageous to Time Warner Cable shareholders, a clear reference to the type of offer Charter is reportedly preparing. But the executives also stressed they were not ruling out any merger or sale opportunities.

feeding frenzyNews that there were two potential rivals for Time Warner Cable excited investors, particularly when it was revealed possible suitor Comcast is also separately talking to Charter about a possible joint bid that would split up Time Warner Cable customers while minimizing potential regulatory scrutiny.

The Wall Street Journal reported Charter is nearing completion of a complicated financing arrangement that some analysts expect could include up to $15 billion in debt to finance a buyout of Time Warner Cable. Such deals are not unprecedented. Dr. John Malone’s specialty is leveraged buyouts, a technique he used extensively in the 1980s and 1990s to buy countless smaller cable operators in a quest to build Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) into the nation’s then-biggest cable operator.

In addition to Barclays Bank, Bank of America, and Deutsche Bank — all expected to finance Malone’s bid — Comcast may also inject cash should it team up with Charter’s buyout. Comcast is interested in acquiring new markets without drawing fire from antitrust regulators.

If the two companies do join forces and pull off a deal, Time Warner Cable’s current subscribers will be transitioned to Charter or Comcast within a year. That is what happened in 2006 to former customers of bankrupt Adelphia Cable who eventually became Comcast or Time Warner Cable customers. Analysts predict the two companies would divide up Time Warner Cable territory according to their respective footprints. New York and Texas would likely face a switch to Comcast service, for example, while North Carolina, Ohio, Maine, and Southern California would likely be turned over to Charter.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Comcast Charter consider joint bid for Time Warner Cable 11-22-13.mp4

CNBC reports Charter Cable and Comcast might both be interested in a buyout of Time Warner Cable that would dismantle the company and divide subscribers between them. (4:18)

Reportedly financing the next era of cable consolidation.

Reportedly financing the next era of cable consolidation.

Both bids are very real possibilities according to Wall Street analysts. Comcast has sought formal guidance on how to deal with the antitrust implications of a controversial merger between the largest and second-largest cable operators in the country. The industry has laid the groundwork for another wave of consolidation by winning its 2009 court challenge of FCC rules limiting the total market share of any single cable operator to 30 percent. Despite that, a Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal would still face intense scrutiny from the Justice Department. Getting the deal past the FCC may be a deal-breaker, admits Craig Moffett from MoffettNathanson.

“The FCC applies a public interest test that would be much more subjective,” Moffett said. “It wouldn’t be a slam dunk by any means. The FCC would be concerned that Comcast would have de facto control over what would be available on television. If a programmer couldn’t cut a deal with Comcast, they wouldn’t exist.”

Roberts

Roberts

Supporters and opponents of the deal are already lining up. Charter shareholders would likely benefit from a Charter-only buyout so they generally support the deal. Time Warner Cable clearly prefers a deal with Comcast because it can afford a buyout without massive debt financing and deliver shareholder value. Comcast shareholders are also encouraging Comcast to consider s deal with Time Warner Cable. Left out of the equation are Time Warner Cable customers, little more than passive bystanders watching the multi-billion dollar drama.

The personalities involved may also be worth considering, because Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and John Malone have history, notes the Los Angeles Times:

Malone and Roberts first brushed up against each other more than two decades ago. At that time, both Liberty and Comcast were shareholders in Turner Broadcasting, the parent of CNN, TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network. When Time Warner, which was also a shareholder, made a move to buy the entire company,  there was tension because Comcast felt Liberty got a better deal to sell its stake. Roberts grumbled at the time that Liberty was getting “preferential treatment.”

A few years later, it was Malone’s turn to be mad at Roberts. When TCI founder Bob Magness died in 1996, Roberts made a covert attempt to buy his shares, which would have given him control of [TCI]. Malone beat back the effort, but it left a bad taste in his mouth.

“Malone was livid,” wrote Mark Robichaux in his book, “Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CNBC Comcast seeks anti-trust advice over TWC deal 11-22-13.mp4

Even cable stock analyst Craig Moffett is somewhat pessimistic a Comcast-TWC merger would have smooth sailing through the FCC’s approval process. Moffett worries Comcast would have too much power over programming content. (3:53)

justiceIronically, when Malone sold TCI to AT&T, the telephone company would later sell its cable assets to Comcast, run by… and Brian Roberts.

Most of the cable industry agrees that the increasing power of broadcasters, studios, and cable programmers is behind the renewed interest in cable consolidation. The industry believes consolidation provides leverage to block massive rate increases in renewal contracts. If a programmer doesn’t budge, the network could instantly lose tens of millions of potential viewers until a new contract is signed.

Many in the cable industry suspect when Glenn Britt retires as CEO by year’s end, Time Warner Cable’s days are numbered. But any new owner should not expect guaranteed smooth sailing.

“We expect a Comcast-TWC deal would draw intense antitrust/regulatory scrutiny and likely resistance, stoked by raw political pushback from cable critics and possibly rivals who would argue it’s simply a ‘bridge too far’ or ‘unthinkable,’” Stifel telecom analysts Christopher C. King and David Kaut wrote in a recent note to clients. “We believe government approval would be possible, but it would be costly, with serious risk. This would be a brawl.”

Usage Cap Man may soon visit ex-Time Warner Cable customers if either Charter or Comcast becomes the new owner.

Usage Cap Man may soon visit Time Warner Cable customers if either Charter or Comcast becomes the new owner.

While the industry frames consolidation around cable TV programming costs, broadband consumers also face an impact from any demise of Time Warner Cable. To date, Time Warner Cable executives have repeatedly defended the presence of an unlimited use tier for its residential broadband customers. Charter has imposed usage caps and Comcast is studying how to best reimpose them. Either buyer would likely move Time Warner Cable customers to a usage-based billing system that could threaten online video competition.

“Our sense is the DOJ and FCC would have concerns about the market fallout of expanded cable concentration and vertical integration, in a broadband world where cable appears to have the upper hand over wireline telcos in most of the country (i.e., outside of the Verizon FiOS and other fiber-fed areas),” Stifel’s King and Kaut wrote. “We suspect the government would raise objections about the potential for Comcast-TWC bullying of competitors and suppliers, given the extent and linkages of their cable/broadband distribution, programming control, and broadcast ownership.”

Since none of the three providers compete head-on, the loss of “competition” would be minimal. Any Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal would likely include semi-voluntary restrictions like those attached to Comcast’s successful acquisition of NBC-Universal, including short-term bans on discriminating against content providers on its broadband service.

Customers can expect a welcome letter from Comcast and/or Charter Cable as early as spring of next year if Time Warner Cable accepts one of the deals.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bloomberg Comcast and Charter Reportedly Weighing Bid for TWC 11-22-13.flv

Bloomberg News reports if Comcast helps finance a deal between Charter and Time Warner Cable, Comcast would likely grab Time Warner Cable systems in New York for itself. (2:26)

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Satellite Fraudband: Australia’s Rural Internet Solution Hopelessly Overloaded

slow lane

Horse and buggy broadband in the slow lane.

One of Australia’s largest broadband suppliers has declared the country’s satellite solution for rural broadband hopelessly overloaded to the point of being “almost unusable” and has stopped selling access.

iiNet announced this week it would no longer sign up new customers of NBN Co’s rural satellite network because the service is oversold in their view.

“We could not continue to offer a service markedly below both our own and our customers’ expectations,”  iiNet’s chief executive Michael Malone said in a statement. “During occasional peak periods the service was so slow as to be almost unusable. As more people are added to the network, quality will only decline further. In the absence of any action by NBN Co to increase transmission capacity, I call on the rest of the industry to respect their existing customers and also cease sale.”

NBN Co, however, claimed it still had room for an extra 5,000 customers — mostly on its spot beam targeting central and western Australia. A spokesperson for the satellite venture did admit satellite beams covering NSW, Tasmania and Queensland were near capacity. NBN Co is investigating leasing more bandwidth on board the satellite, but cost concerns may make that impossible.

The venture claims 48,000 Australians can satisfactorily share the interim satellite broadband service, which is supposed to offer 6Mbps speed. But as Australians join others around the world favoring online video and video conferencing over services like Skype, those original estimates have to be scrapped. In the evenings, some customers report speeds drop below 56kbps or the service simply freezes up and stops working altogether. In response, NBN has adopted a strict monthly usage limit of 9GB and has told customers they will likely have to wait up to two years for a capacity increase.

The government is planning to launch two new custom-made satellites in 2015 to ease capacity concerns. NBN Co claims the two satellites will deliver 25/5Mbps service for 200,000 rural Australians, assuming usage estimates of today’s average broadband user.

iinetCritics contend satellite broadband is not a good long-term solution except in the most rural of sparsely populated areas. Although providing wired service may be too costly, ground-based wireless services could be the most capable technology to contend with future demand and capacity concerns.

iiNet and other ISPs may already be headed in that direction. Some are advising customers to choose fixed wireless options from Australia’s cell phone providers, although those plans are heavily capped and very expensive.

Broadband availability has a direct impact on property sales in rural Australia. A couple that purchased a home in Mount Bruno, near Wangaratta in north-east Victoria discovered only after closing the deal that NBN Co would not sell them satellite broadband because the spot beam targeting Victoria was full.

The couple needs Internet access for work and their telephone line is unsuitable for ADSL. Mobile broadband in the Mount Bruno area is sub-par and expensive as well. As a result, the couple will have to rent office space in Glenrowan or Wangaratta that qualifies for wired broadband until at least 2015, when the next NBN satellite is launched.

iiNet regrets having to turn customers away.

“At its peak, we had 500 customers signing up every week for our NBN satellite services. There is clearly a significant demand for higher quality broadband in remote Australia, and we’re absolutely gutted that we’ve had to withdraw this crucial service from sale,” said Malone.

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