One zillion reasons why I'm skeptical about Zillion TV
Silicon Valley start-up, Zillion TV, made a big embargoed announcement today about its new IPTV service.
I was briefed last week on this service, currently in beta, and I was left with far more questions than answers.
At base, Zillion TV will deliver “personalized TV to the consumer over a broadband connection to the TV,” Patrick Gauthier, Zillion TV’s senior vice president of product marketing and strategy, told me.
So the core premise is nothing new: deliver video over the Internet to the larger living-room TV instead of just to the computer. Do that in a way that makes it easy for consumers to find and watch content, as opposed to the way my boyfriend does it, which is by hooking a computer to our HD flat screen and then monkeying with it for approximately one million hours until he can get what he wants to watch over the Internet even if he could much more easily get that same content over our Comcast VOD or Netflix or Amazon Unbox via TiVo. It might even be faster to walk to Hollywood Video down the street and rent something. But that’s a different story for a different day.
Lots of companies are working to do this: Apple offers Apple TV. Sony said in October 2007 that it was adding IPTV to its Playstation 3 console. And Microsoft said at CES 2008, probably in reaction to Sony, that it was adding IPTV to its Xbox console.
Fast forward to today. Apple TV is one of the few Apple products that haven’t taken consumers by storm. In fact, it’s been largely ignored. Sony’s tried to include several online video/IPTV services with Playstation but it hasn’t really taken off (although I know people love having its Blu-Ray capabilities). And the headlines about Microsoft Xbox’s IPTV service at this year’s CES were along the lines of “Xbox IPTV not dead yet.” That’s never a good sign.
Meanwhile, there are many other partial solutions. I mentioned this in a previous blog, but TiVo subscribers can access video content over the Internet via their TiVo boxes. Comcast and Time Warner each are working on technology that would allow subscribers to watch the content they have paid for over the Internet — sort of a virtual Sling. And simply hooking your computer up to your TV will allow you to watch Internet video on your TV — it’s a little clunky, but it’s a solution.
I’m providing all of that background to demonstrate why I’m skeptical about Zillion TV.
The company’s presentation was full of broad ideas: “consumers must be able to access entertainment on their volution and control,” “advertisers are under pressure to increase the efficacy of their marketing dollars,” and “studios need to transform themselves for the digital revolution.” I would argue that those are the guiding principals of TV today, so thanks for the recap. The announcement was light on specifics, however.
Gauthier said Zillion TV has content deals with studios such as Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Sony, Warner Bros. and NBC, all of whom are also investors in the company. Perhaps that’s a good sign, but those studios also were investors in MovieLink — remember that online movie service — and that never went anywhere. Gauthier says Zillion will have about 15,000 titles available on-demand at launch, although would not mention which ones. Consumers would get the service through their ISP, and pay a yet-to-be-determined service fee to get Zillion’s set-top box. Content would then be instantly streamed to subscribers’ TV sets with no delay or waiting for downloads – which will be a neat trick if Zillion can pull it off since no IP video that I know of streams perfectly all the time. Zillion’s content will be available in three different ways: free and ad-supported, in which the ads are targeted at the viewer; rented for one-time viewing or “buy to own.” I don’t really understand that phrase — if you buy something, don’t you own it?
Finally, Zillion is very excited about the electronic commerce piece of this service, which it is working on with Visa, that will allow consumers to buy things through their TV sets. Hasn’t this been tried about 100 times to no avail? I’m not saying it won’t work, but I am saying that it hasn’t so far. Do we really need to be able to buy fake gold jewelry or Dominos pizza with our remotes? Hasn’t everyone already gotten the message that we are poor and obese and that the apocalypse is upon us?
Meanwhile, what Zillion can’t tell you is a lot: which ISPs will offer this service? What would motivate them to do so? What specific content will be available? Will everything I want to watch be available? Why would I get this if I already have Comcast and TiVo? And I asked where this service is being beta tested and with whom and was told that this is confidential information. OK, troop placement in Iraq might be confidential, but Zillion TV beta tests?
For IPTV to work, in my opinion, it either has to be a perfect but less expensive TV option to what people have now, which means it offers everything that Comcast or DirecTV offers and it does it for less, or it has to be a perfect complement to what people have now. It can’t just offer an alternative way of delivering content that people already have. If Zillion TV falls into one of those two categories, then Godspeed, but I’m going to need more information first.