Content Goes Beyond Mobile

Jan 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Move over, mobile phones, iPods and the Internet: At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, a number of broadband entertainment companies announced partnerships with consumer electronics manufacturers to distribute content on additional devices.

Among the announcements from last week’s show was news that AOL has partnered with Intel to make its AOL Video service available on Intel’s new entertainment technology platform, Viiv, which debuts next quarter; that the revamped Starz Entertainment broadband movie service, Vongo, will be available across many portable devices now as well as via the Web; and that Internet-delivered niche VOD service Akimbo has partnered with RCA to make set-top boxes for the Akimbo service.

The broadband opportunity is now big enough to attract the attention of consumer electronics manufacturers and device makers, said Joni Blecher, associate analyst for JupiterResearch. “It’s another business opportunity … This is a whole new world for them,” she said.

Also, partnerships with consumer electronics manufacturers allow broadband services like AOL Video to distribute their content more widely and not be shackled to the PC. “You really want people to have it mobile and through next-generation laptops as well as in the living room. To thrive and grow, [Web video] has to be broadly distributed beyond a traditional PC,” said Kevin Conroy, executive VP for AOL. “Don’t think of this as a linear path to the TV from the desktop … think of all this content as being Internet protocol. It should be distributed to any device you want. The Viiv platform will enable people to have a rich media Web video experience.”

Under the AOL-Intel deal, AOL Video content will be available on Intel-powered Viiv platforms. Intel’s Viiv technology is similar in concept to its Centrino chip, which is used in many laptop computers and provides wireless capability. Along those lines, Viiv technology will be used to enable on-demand and Internet-delivered digital entertainment to laptops, PCs, handheld devices and the TV itself. To that end, AOL said it is in the process of optimizing AOL Video for the so-called “10-foot living room” experience so consumers can easily navigate through AOL Video using a remote control.

The AOL Video service includes music videos, AOL’s original Web programming such as its online reality shows, as well as its new broadband TV network In2TV, which is launching next month with an array of classic TV shows such as “Welcome Back, Kotter,” “Babylon 5” and “Growing Pains.”

When AOL introduced the service last fall, Mr. Conroy was asked when it would be available in the living room. The Intel partnership is the first step in answering that, he said, adding that AOL is likely to strike deals to make its AOL Video service available on other devices and platforms.

Also, as part of the deal, Intel will be the presenting sponsor for AOL’s In2TV service at launch. “Equally important in order to build a market quickly for consumers is to be able to have these experiences for free, which is the importance of an ad-supported model,” Mr. Conroy said.

Other deals announced at the show include Akimbo’s partnership with RCA to design a co-branded Akimbo player, Akimbo’s first deal with a major consumer electronics manufacturer to develop a set-top box for the type of niche content Akimbo specializes in.

The deal signifies that Internet-delivered content is no longer solely the purview of small startups like Akimbo and has now become important to large CE manufacturers like RCA, said Joshua Goldman, president and CEO of Akimbo.

The company will no longer manufacture its own box and will instead focus on the software and niche on-demand content it’s delivering through its partnership with RCA. That partnership also includes a deal with broadband video-on-demand service Movielink to offer 1,200 films on the RCA-Akimbo player, effectively extending the reach of Movielink from the PC to the TV.

Agreements like the one Starz struck with Microsoft indicate that it’s also increasingly important for entertainment companies to partner with CE companies to make content available on portable devices. The Vongo service, a revamp of Starz Ticket, includes about 1,000 movies and is based on Windows Media Player rather than RealPlayer, the original provider of Starz Ticket. It also will no longer just be a PC-based broadband service. As part of the relaunch, the movies will be available on a host of Windows-based portable devices. In fact, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said during his keynote address at the show that Toshiba, Tatung and LG Electronics are making portable video players that will deliver the mobile version of the movie service early this year.

According to JupiterResearch data provided by Starz, 58 percent of online consumers said their favorite use of portable media players would be for watching full-length movies, and 23 percent said they would also be interested in watching prerecorded TV shows on such a device.