Fan TV to Blend Live TV With OTT and Cloud DVR

Startup  Fanhattan hopes to achieve video nirvana with Fan TV, an IP streaming device outfitted with an advanced navigation interface made to access live TV, cloud-based DVR recordings, and over-the-top content from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and dozens of other sources.

But the company readily admits that it will need to partner up with cable operators and other pay TV operators to deliver on its do-it-all vision.

Fanhattan, a company founded in 2011 that cut its teeth developing a video search and discovery app for the iPad, showed off its new device, a button-less remote, and overall vision Thursday at the D11 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

The demo by  Fanhattan CEO Gilles BianRosa was light on technical details, but he did show off a system that aims to be an “input 1 set-top box” that can seamlessly toggle between pay TV and OTT content via a user interface that’s accessed by a touch-controlled remote outfitted with about 200 sensors. The remote, which resembles a touchpad that is cradled in the user’s palm, is managed by the kind of finger taps and swipes typically relegated to smartphones and tablets. As is the trend, the UI running on the device will tie in with Facebook and other social networking services to help users share and get recommendations from friends.

The general aim is to bring to market a tiny device that replaces not just the traditional set-top but specialized streaming devices as well. All of those video sources would be streamed to the Fan TV device over IP, erasing the need for manual input switching.

At the event, BianRosa stressed that the live TV piece will come way of cable, satellite and telco TV deals. Fan TV, he said, lives “outside the ecosystem” because  Fanhattan does not license content and is only focused on content discovery.

“On paper we can work with everybody. There is no conflict of interest here,” he said at the unveiling. “We are partnering with the pay TV industry to do this.”

And who might those partners be? “We’re not announcing partnerships today,” he said.

When pressed if that’s because he’s not at liberty to reveal them or because no such deals yet exist,  he responded: “Those partnerships take time.”

But he fully expects to have some in tow when Fan TV enters the market later this year. “We don’t want to launch it without…a pay TV partnership.”

And he insisted that the pay TV industry is ready for a new approach that will merge their services with the OTT world. “The real competition for…the entire pay TV industry is time,” he said, noting that consumers are becoming more engaged with devices like the iPad.

Fan TV is targeting a do-it-all vision shared by a crowded group that includes TiVo, Samsung, Roku, Microsoft and Boxee.

Among them, Samsung recently laid out plans to launch a retail CableCARD device later this year  that blends an MSO’s subscription TV service with OTT content and wraps it into a proprietary user interface. Microsoft’s coming Xbox One console aims to source live TV by connecting to a set-top box via an HDMI interface.  

Fanhattan’s BianRosa did not go into the technical details of how it would access live TV from MSOs and other pay TV partners.  The Fan TV device won’t use a CableCARD or connect via coax. But there are a number of technical options it could pursue. It could get those streams natively if the partnering operator happens to offer a managed IP service. Short of that, Fan TV could work in conjunction with  a new class of cable gateways that can transcode QAM video into protected IP streams and then shuttle them along to the device via the home's Wi-Fi network.

BianRosa told TechCrunch that he expects his platform to be available to as many as 60 million pay TV homes by the end of 2013.

Fan TV is slated to launch “later this year.” The company’s Web app – rebranded as just “Fan” -- is now available to anyone following a limited private beta test.

Fanhattan claims its content discovery system is already integrated with 29 OTT sources, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Vudu, iTunes, as well as authenticated apps from HBO, Fox, Cartoon Network, and Comcast.