Web Videos Come to FiOS TV

Verizon Communications plans to make some 7 million Web video clips available to FiOS TV customers within the next few weeks, but for now the biggest whales in the Internet-video ocean — YouTube and Hulu — won't be in the lineup.

Meanwhile, the telco has launched a closed “alpha” test of on-screen widgets for Facebook and Twitter, which let users see their friends' posts and can send updates of what someone is watching on FiOS TV to the Web.

The Web-video-to-TV service, scheduled to launch in the second quarter, will serve content from Dailymotion, Veoh Networks and Blip.TV. FiOS TV customers will be able to browse and search the clips using their set-top remotes.

Verizon has not yet reached an agreement with Google for distributing YouTube content on FiOS TV, director of product development and management for video services Joe Ambeault said.

As for Hulu, he said that didn't fit with his team's mission of reaching outside the traditional television context. “The strategy was to increase the amount of content available on TV,” Ambeault said. “The commercial theory was that this would add value to the DVR.”

The service will require FiOS TV customers to install Verizon's Media Manager software on their PCs to index and transcode video clips. When a viewer selects a video, the software pulls it off the partner's Web site and then streams it to the FiOS digital video recorder set-top.

At some point, the feature may be embedded directly into the set-top box. However, Ambeault said, “you don't want to drive additional cost into the set-top box at the beginning of the adoption curve.”

The telco kicked off a beta test of the Web-to-TV service in July 2008.

Based on feedback from the beta-testing cycle, Verizon modified certain features. One addition was a column with thumbnails of related videos to the left of the clip that's playing, so the experience “becomes very similar to channel-surfing,” Ambeault said.

Another finding: Even though subscribers understood that the video originated on the Internet, they still expected the clips to start instantaneously and be as high-quality as the rest of FiOS TV.

Next on the FiOS TV team's test track are social-networking features. The Facebook and Twitter apps, which run on the Verizon-developed Interactive Media Guide, were deployed to 100 employees about three weeks ago.

The Twitter widget can pull up “tweets” related to the show that the set-top is currently tuned to — so you can see what the Twitter-sphere is saying about, say, Bravo's Top Chef.

Facebook users who log in through that widget can see their friends' status updates, pictures and newsfeeds.

And it can post automatic status updates — “Joe is watching Prison Break on FiOS TV” — with the caveat that it won't give you the option to broadcast that you're watching a show with a TV-MA rating or higher.

However, such experiments with new features may not find their way to the general FiOS TV customer base.

“A big thing for us culturally was to accept failure,” Ambeault said. “You're never going to get innovation if you want everything to become a commercial product.”