Cox Snuffs flareWatch Trial

Cox Communications' ambitious, experimental IP video beta trial in Orange County that relied on Fanhattan-made video clients and a fancy user interface has come to an abrupt end.  

Word that the trial had concluded began to circulate on Tuesday on the blog of media consultant Peter Litman, followed by user comments posted to the message board of the ZatzNotFunny blog. It was reported Thursday morning by Light Reading. As of Thursday, the Web site dedicated to flareWatch shows only the “flare” logo with the message, “Service Unavailable.” 

Cox confirmed Thursday that it had ended the trial, noting that results from it could factor into future product offerings. 

“This limited trial was conducted as part of Cox’s ongoing customer research to determine how to best evolve our offerings to meet customers’ changing needs," a Cox spokesman said via email. "We remain focused on helping customers discover and connect to the things they care about in ways that are easy-to-use and reliable and we will continue to test and explore new products. We will continue to evaluate the flareWatch trial results to determine how this might impact future product plans.”

Ever since the flareWatch trial first came to light in June, Cox has stressed that it was a small trial and that the operator remained focused on its “personalized video experience,” which includes the operator’s recently launched “Contour” app for the iPad and a souped up video gateway/DVR made by Cisco that packs six tuners and a 2 terabytes of storage.

Cox’s booted up the flareWatch trial this summer, offering an IP-delivered lineup of almost 100 live TV channels for $34.99 per month, paired with a cloud DVR service. Viewed by some as a product to help Cox fend off an emerging cord-cutting trend or possibly as a cloud-based service Cox could market outside its traditional franchise areas if it could secure the programming rights to do so, flareWatch was offered only to broadband customers in the Orange County area that subscribed to at least Cox’s Preferred tier, which delivers downstream speeds up to 10 Mbps.

Cox expanded and tweaked the trial during its brief life. In July, it added a small video-on-demand offering and access to the Rhapsody streaming music service while also raising the monthly service price by $5 and cutting the unit price of the Fanhattan-made boxes to $49.99, from the original $99.99. Cox was also preparing to add a gaming service to flareWatch.

The trial served as an early showcase for Fanhattan, a startup that got off the ground with a video search and discovery app for the iPad. It has since moved forward with a strategy to work directly with pay-TV operators using an integrated product arsenal that ties its user interface with an IP-only set-top, touch-based remote control, and a cloud DVR service.

"As planned, the Orange County trial has successfully completed. We collected excellent customer feedback and usage data to inform our broader deployment of Fan TV," a spokesperson said, in a statement. "As announced in May, Fanhattan plans to work directly with pay TV service providers to distribute Fan TV. Making sure it's ready for primetime requires rigorous testing, trial customer feedback and constant iteration. This limited trial was a small, early step in that direction."

Cox, meanwhile, continues to use its "flare" brand in other cloud-based products. In April, the operator launched myflare, a personal media management service that lets customers store digital pictures, video, music and documents in the cloud and share and sync access to those files with authorized PCs and Android- and iOS devices. That service, which starts at $4.99 per month, remains operational.