Posts from Television

The Aereo Ruling

The Supreme Court just issued its opinion in the case between the TV broadcasters and Aereo over the legality of the Aereo service. It was not particularly close. Six Justices felt that Aereo was infringing broadcaster copyrights. Three dissented.

I just read Justice Breyer’s majority opinion (available on the link above). As I read it (recognizing that I am a layman), the majority went with “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck” argument. They felt that, as delivered, the Aereo service is essentially equivalent to a cable TV service and the rules should be applied similarly.

Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion rejects the “it must be a duck” argument and goes further to suggest that it ignores widely recognized “service provider liability protections” and will cause confusion for years to come:

The service provider liability protections are near and dear to Internet startups. Many of the companies we have backed over the years have relied on these protections to avoid getting sued out of business the way that Aereo may have just experienced. These are important protections and it is very unfortunate to see a majority of the Supreme Court set a precedent here that goes against those protections.

It seems to me that the majority opinion creates an incentive for engineers to build hardware that would be operated by individuals to create a similar benefit but that doesn’t look and act sufficiently like cable to be infringing. Our former portfolio company Boxee, which was sold to Samsung last year, built something similar to Aereo but instead of provisioning it as a full blown cloud service, required each user to buy a BoxeeTV to get similar functionality. Boxee was not sued by the broadcasters and is now part of Samsung which may not push forward with that part of Boxee’s business (I have no idea), so it’s not clear if that approach will be legally tested any time soon.

But I do believe that customers want to be able to DVR and stream HD content that they can get for free over the air from the broadcasters and I imagine that engineers are already working on other approaches to give the users what they want.

There’s a discussion of this issue brewing over at USV.com as well if you want to check that out.

Feature Friday: Voice Search For Your TV

So Amazon launched its over the top TV device this week called Amazon Fire TV. I took some time today to look it over.

It looks a lot like the AppleTV and Roku devices that many of us have.

But there is one  feature that Amazon Fire TV has that AppleTV and Roku don’t have and that is voice search.

voice search

It is unlikely that any of us have this device in our homes yet, but I thought it might make for an interesting discussion today.

Does talking to your TV sound like a better experience than picking up a remote and pointing it at the TV? Will the experience actually work. Or will it be another Siri that is more frustrating than helpful?

I am going to get one and try it out. But I’m curious what folks think about this voice search feature.

Maintaining High Maintenance

The New Yorker gives high praise for this web video series called High Maintenance. The episodes are short (~5min) and there are eleven episodes in all. It is about a pot dealer who rides around NYC and meets all sorts of strange and outrageous people. This bit from the lead actor in the New Yorker piece rings true to me after I watched a bunch of episodes last night:

The thing about weed is, we didn’t want to use it as a punch line. Instead, it’s this substance that, like chocolate, causes people to expose their own foibles. People become so human in pursuit of this thing. And the interaction they have with the person bringing it is often tragic, because there are a lot of lonely people out there who order it and then that is their human interaction for the day.

But here's the part of the New Yorker article that has me thinking outloud this morning.

When I spoke with Sinclair and Blichfeld recently, they were on the West Coast signing a script deal with a major network, newly on the path to converting “High Maintenance” into a full-length cable show.

It's a bit upsetting to me that the "major leagues" for filmmakers, writers, and actors who make it on the web is still the cable business. Why can't entrepreneurs build something that will work better for emerging web filmmakers than that? We have investments in Kickstarter and VHX, both of which are changing the game for filmmakers. We are also big fans of Vimeo, where High Maintenance is hosted.

But this High Maintenance story tells me that we haven't yet built enough technology, distribution, and monetization systems so that filmmakers can be truly independent and realize their vision and have the financial sucess that should come with great work.

So there is more to do here.

Video of the Week: Kevin Spacey at the Edinburgh Television Festival

I suspect most of you have seen this by now. It's been coming at me for the past 10 days from all angles. I must have had it sent to me a dozen times and I've come across it in social media another dozen times. But that's because it is spot on and excellent.

This is a 5min edited summary of the talk. For the full thing, go here.

Feature Thursday: YouTube What To Watch

Can't do feature friday this week because Arnold suggested a great fun friday for tomorrow. So we will do feature thursday instead.

I got an update of the Android YouTube app this week and when I launched it, the home screen looked like this:

Screenshot_2013-08-22-09-57-41

That is just the first two videos of the "what to watch" feed but you can scroll forever and the recommendations are awesome. After Matt Cohler and Mark Zuckerberg, I got the top 10 Knicks plays of the 2012-2013 season, an Arctic Monkeys video, and a video about a 3D printed prefab house.

This is like the #discover tab on Twitter but for video. It's awesome and I've added the YouTube app on my Nexus7 to my daily content consumption flow now. I don't watch every video, but I watch a bunch of them. I think this is a killer feature.

Strangely enough I don't get the same recommendations when I visit YouTube on the web. I get recommendations but they aren't as good. I wonder if they've rolled out something new on mobile first and will bring it to the web shortly.

I spent some time a few months ago setting up some subscriptions in YouTube and that is certainly a big reason for why the recommendations for me are so good. I would recommend doing that as well.

In any case, if you haven't checked out the new YouTube app and the "what to watch" feature, I strongly suggest giving it a whirl. 

Video of the Week: My Slovenian TV Interview

Last month I made a brief visit to Slovenia and while I was there I did an interview with RTV Slovenia. I have tried for the past twenty minutest to figure out how to embed the video on this blog but I cannot figure it out. 

So if you want to watch a five minute interview with me on Slovenian television, click here.

If any of you are brighter than me and can figure out how to embed the video here, let me know in the comments and I will do that.

Update: Tom Sella hacked this player together for us so now this video is embedded here at AVC. Thanks Tom! 

Chromecast

I've written a fair bit about the fact that I think we will use our mobile devices (phones, tablets, watches, glasses, etc) to control the more expensive devices in our lives (TVs, car dashboards, refridgerators, etc). I think this mode of user interaction will win out over software solutions built for and running on the more expensive and therefore longer lasting devices we own.

Until now, Apple's Airplay and Bluetooth were the only good solutions for this kind of interaction. I use both in my home and office and I use them every day. But, as I have written here before, both have issues. Airplay is proprietary and not available on all devices (Sonos being a prime example). And Bluetooth is old and doesn't scale well into high bandwidth applications.

I've tried DLNA which Google and others have supported and its wonky right now. It's possible that DLNA will evolve and emerge as another good alternative.

But yesterday Google announced Chromecast which is an interesting take on this approach. Chromecast is a HDMI dongle that you put into the HDMI port of your TV and then connect to your home wifi network.

Chromecast

I've just purchased four of them from the Google Play store. I will put them on all the TVs I've got in my homes and see how they work. We use Nexus 7s to control the TVs in our homes and so those Nexus 7s will now be able to do a lot more than switch inputs. They will be able to be the input.

It's too soon for me to know how big of a deal Chromecast will be. I need to get my hands on it, use it, and then I will have a better feel for it.

But this much I know. This commenter on Hacker News is spot on:

people should just think of TV's the way they think of their jamboxes: a higher fidelity dumb pipe for their existing content

Video: Avner Ronen on The Future Of TV

I am under the weather today. Not feeling too well. So instead of posting, I am embedding. I watched this video yesterday and thought it was a really good discussion of where TV is headed. Avner has had a front row seat in his role as founder and CEO of our portfolio company Boxee and his views on the broader TV industry are interesting and very insightful.

House Of Cards

The Gotham Gal and I have been watching House Of Cards on Netflix. I haven't enjoyed a TV show so much since The Sopranos.

It all starts with Kevin Spacey. He is terrific in general and particularly in this show. But that's not the only thing we like about the show. It's about power and intrique in the nation's capital which makes for entertaining plotlines. The characters are strong, the writing is good, the direction is inspired, and the acting is great.

House of cards

The other thing that is great about the show is you can watch all thirteen episodes one after another. We got through two episodes in our first spin. We got through two more a week later. We got through three when we were in Utah and then two more last night. We've seen nine of the thirteen episodes in less than a month. We will probably finish the first season this weekend or next weekend.

This is how many of us consume TV these days, but we have to hack the system to do it this way. We have to wait for a season to be over and then watch it on demand. Netflix has taken the "hack" out of the system and just gives viewers the flexibility to watch the series when and how they want. I think that's a big improvement to the delivery model and I am loving it.

If you like quality TV entertainment and are looking for something new to watch, check out House Of Cards.

HBO Go

Yesterday as I was getting off a plane, I saw this tweet on my phone and replied to it:

Jason probably tweeted that news at me because of the HBO No Go post from last August in which I expressed my exasperation that I could not airplay the HBO Go content from my iPad to my TV via  AppleTV. So that nuttiness has been addressed by HBO. Nicely done HBO.

But there's more to ask of them. It would be nice if the HBO Go app came pre-installed on connected devices like AppleTV, Roku, Boxee. It would also be nice if HBO Go supported AllShare so Samsung users could have the same thing that Apple users have.

HBO’s Eric Kessler said yesterday at an AllThingsD event that "Our long-term goal for Go is to be on all devices and all platforms." That is exactly right. That's what Netflix has done for years now and that is what HBO needs to do.

Slowly but surely HBO is evolving to being more like Netflix and that's a good thing for its subscribers. Now if we could only subscribe without having to go through a cable company. But we've already talked about that this month and I don't expect that to happen so quickly for all the reasons we discussed in the comments to that post.