Two new services unveiled last week will allow viewers to receive programming on their TV sets via the Internet.
KyLinTV, a new Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) service that offers a subscription package of Chinese-language programming, significantly expanded its offerings by signing deals with major Chinese programmers. TiVo, meanwhile, introduced TiVoCast, which delivers specialized video content from such partners as the National Basketball Association and iVillage to broadband-enabled TiVo boxes.
While their target audiences are different, KyLinTV and TiVoCast have two things in common: Both use the public Internet to deliver video, and both use a proprietary set-top box that connects to a TV set to display it.
KyLinTV, based in Plainview, N.Y., is backed by Long Island neighbors Cablevision Chairman Charles Dolan and Computer Associates founder Charles Wang and headed by Wang's wife, Nancy Li, another former CA executive (Wang resigned from CA in 2002 in the wake of an accounting scandal). The company launched in September with a sole focus on the Chinese-American market. Last week, the principals gathered in Garden City, N.Y., to announce that KyLinTV will increase its offerings from eight channels to 26 by September, including new entertainment programming from Hunan TV and news channels from Phoenix TV.
Li notes that there are 4 million Chinese-speaking Americans and that the Chinese represent the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., with a high penetration of broadband usage. Yet, she points out, only a smattering of Chinese-language offerings are available from cable and satellite operators. “This is an underserved market with huge potential for IPTV,” she says.
For a monthly subscription starting at $15, KyLinTV gives consumers a set-top box that hooks up to a broadband connection on one end and a TV on the other. The box, using a proprietary flavor of MPEG-4 compression, is manufactured by sister company NeuLion, which Li also heads. Another company, TransVideo, aggregates content in Beijing, which is delivered to NeuLion's distribution center in New York.
The service then delivers its broadcast channels, which are time-shifted for the U.S. audience, as 700-kilobit-per-second (kbps) data streams. The service also offers streaming downloads of up to 20,000 hours of on-demand content.
Although KyLinTV is delivered via the Internet, the television—not the computer—is the target receiver. “IPTV cannot be a small window on a PC with pixelated video, waiting for buffering and downloading,” says Li.
While Cablevision does not have a financial stake in KyLinTV, Dolan himself does. Asked if a cable operator could make a viable business out of providing a similar package of Chinese-language programming on a digital tier, Dolan shook his head, saying, “Everybody loves to talk about it, but nobody knows how to do it yet.”
TiVo, facing competition from cable operators' DVR offerings, is looking to make its core service stickier with subscribers through TiVoCast, which will download video through a broadband connection and store it on the TiVo hard drive for later viewing. Some of the content will also be found on partner Websites but not on any linear networks.
“The content that you are going to find coming through TiVoCast, you can't find on television,” says TiVo VP/General Manager of Programming Tara Maitra.
The service is available only for the 400,000 TiVo boxes that have broadband capability. A free service for customers, TiVoCast will offer higher-quality pictures than streaming video, says Maitra, because the files are compressed as fatter MPEG-2 files and sent to the TiVo box as asynchronous (non–real-time) downloads.
No money is changing hands between TiVo and its content partners, which include The New York Times and CNET. But TiVo and its partners intend to sell advertising on the new platform.
With its championship series under way, the NBA provided TiVoCast with a four-minute package showing highlights of past championship games. Steve Herbst, general manager of NBA TV, says the service will likely show WNBA highlights and NBA player profiles this summer.
To Herbst, TiVoCast represents a compelling delivery channel for distributing the NBA's growing collection of content. “This is a new, interesting avenue,” he says. “Starting off with the Finals, it's a great way to tip off the relationship.”