Telco Verizon has enhanced the online content features of its FiOS TV pay-TV service by providing direct access to Web videos from YouTube through subscribers' remote controls. Verizon is also integrating Internet Radio programming, from the Clear Channel portal iheartradio.com, into the FiOS TV service.
The new capabilities are being made available Tuesday (Apr. 27) to subscribers with high-definition set-tops, which have the processing power necessary for the YouTube application.
FiOS TV, which now counts around 3 million subscribers, has provided some Internet content, such as local weather information, through its "widgets" feature for several years. Last year it integrated the social networking tools Facebook and Twitter into the service, and also added access to the online video-sharing sites blip.tv, Dailymotion and Veoh.
According to Verizon VP of consumer strategy Shawn Strickland, Verizon has been focused on steadily improving the Widgets functionality, which he says "enables the whole network to seamlessly bring Internet content into the living room."
The new YouTube feature, which Verizon demonstrated to reporters at a media briefing Monday in New York, is similar to capabilities provided in the newest broadband-capable TVs and Blu-ray players. It allows subscribers to browse through various categories of YouTube videos, such as "Most Watched" and "Top Rated," and watch them in partial or full-screen mode on their living-room TV. Viewers can also use an alphanumeric search tool to track down content.
Unlike those connected TVs and Blu-ray players at the CES show in January, however, the YouTube functionality isn't achieved by just plugging an Ethernet cable into the Verizon HD set-top. Instead, the YouTube and Internet Radio content is driven by Verizon's Media Manager software, which is loaded onto a Windows-based PC or laptop within the home network that Verizon creates as part of a typical FiOS TV installation.
The Media Manager software, which also allows Verizon subscribers to pull photos, music and video from their computer and send them to the TV over the home network, actually handles the requests to YouTube and also receives the incoming Web video streams. It then transcodes the YouTube videos from the H.264 format to the MPEG-2 format used in Verizon's set-tops and sends them back over the home network to the set-top for display on the TV. That means a subscribers' PC or laptop must be plugged in and powered on for a FiOS TV viewer to enjoy YouTube on their TV.
Verizon doesn't see the requirement for a functioning PC to be a significant stumbling block, says Strickland, as the company's research indicates that most of its subscribers have their PCs turned on at the same time they're watching TV. Eventually, Verizon plans to move the YouTube functionality to the network and deliver Web videos directly to the set-top, he says. But using the Media Manager/PC approach is the quickest way to bring this functionality to its subscribers, and Verizon will be marketing the new service as a more affordable way to enjoy the connected-TV experience today than buying a new set.
The Internet Radio service is aimed at subscribers who already use their TVs as a source of "background noise" throughout the day, says Strickland. It will allow subscribers to enjoy the 750 Clear Channel stations that stream their programming through iheartradio.com.
Like the Internet Video feature, the Internet Radio service can be controlled via a smartphone through Verizon's "Mobile Remote" feature. Mobile Remote allows a Wi-Fi-capable smartphone to communicate with the FiOS TV set-top through the home network, and provides a user interface with essentially the same functionality as a standard remote.
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