By Sahil Patel
A goal of great many subscription streaming services, especially Netflix and Hulu/Plus, is to eventually be available alongside linear television channels via a single user interface on the same set-top box.
The problem is, it’s going to be tough for any device maker to secure the necessary content deals with cable companies and television networks to launch such a unified platform. Many in traditional media are still very protective of their live TV assets, not to mention their hesitancy around relinquishing control over the TV user experience to an external party.
So instead we get connected-TV devices like the Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku, which offer a wide selection of streaming services — including many “TV Everywhere” apps created by cable companies and networks — but don’t have the “future TV” experience that many believe will one day, some day, happen.
A set-top box from Fan TV (formerly the video discovery service Fanhattan) is hoping to change that. Launched last year, the device was built to be the next-generation cable box. Problem is — again — that Fan TV hasn’t been able to secure deals with cable companies, rendering the box essentially useless.
Fan TV has inked a deal with Time Warner Cable to make the device available to the cable company’s subscribers. Set to ship in the second quarter, TWC customers can pre-order Fan TV for $99, a $50 discount from the planned retail price. There are no additional costs.
With the device, TWC customers will have access to live television and on-demand streaming services, as well as Fan TV’s legacy video discovery experience, which allows users to search for their favorite content across both live and on-demand channels/apps.
On paper, that sounds great. But here come some caveats:
Users will have access to live television through the TWC TV app, which means users will only be able to watch the channels that Time Warner Cable has the necessary mobile/streaming deals with. (In other words: Not every channel.) Also, there’s no DVR support right now, so if you want to record a show or movie, you’re still going to need your existing old set-top/DVR.
On the SVOD side, Fan TV will come with services such as Redbox Instant by Verizon, Crackle, and Target Ticket. What you’re realizing right now is that Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, and Hulu Plus are all missing. (The company says more streaming services will be added over time.)
Which brings us to the third catch: Time Warner Cable is currently in the process of being acquired by Comcast, which has its own next-generation set-top platform with X1. It’s very possible that if the merger goes through, Comcast elects to kill the deal with Fan TV.
That would put Fan TV back at square one, and could be a reason for why the likes of Netflix and Hulu Plus haven’t embraced the platform yet — they want to see first if Fan TV catches on.
With that said, if Fan TV does catch on with a decent portion of Time Warner Cable’s 30 million customers, then that certainly paves the way for the kind of TV experience that many in the digital space are hoping for.