Disruptive technology is making content providers nervous.
Slingbox... doesn’t let viewers skip ads, not intentionally anyway
Unless you’re addicted to your favourite shows and travel a lot, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what Slingbox is. Launched last year by California-based startup Sling Media, a Slingbox is a set-top box that picks up your TV feed and sends it to almost any screen connected to the internet, like a mobile phone or laptop. Be it DVR or HD, a Slingbox delivers TV content in the manner you receive it at home.
And it’s slowly making its way to Asia. Already available in Japan and Taiwan, Hong Kong is the latest to offer it through a global tie-up with Hutchison Whampoa 3. The telco has bundled the technology in a new 3G service, as well as in broadband subscriptions. Admitedly it’s still niche, but should the industry stand guard?
1 By now alarm bells may be ringing in the ears of broadcasters, telcos and content owners. That’s because a very illegal, and alluring, use for Slingbox is watching content from Slingbox owners overseas. Since feeds are delivered via the web, location is not just removed domestically, but also internationally. So, technically, users aren’t restricted to limited TV options or delayed broadcasts and could, for example, follow Lost (season seven, not three) while transiting in Vietnam.
2But this, obviously, isn’t something Sling Media wants you to know. Since its launch, the company has had to fend off accusations from telcos and broadcasters wary of content theft. “We’re walking a fine line in terms of rights to content and being cognisant to rights-holders,” says Sling Media spokesman Brian Jacquet, “But we’re not looking to be our own free-standing company.” Instead, he says, Sling’s strategy is to turn content owners and broadcasters into distribution partners.
3Scalability could prove problematic. Slingbox only allows a one-to-one touchpoint, meaning that only one person can receive content (Jacquet assures that it has been encrypted to prevent multi-casting). Ian McKee, CEO of Vocanic, makes the analogy of Slingbox being like a phone call as opposed to a conference call, such as IPTV. Claudio Checchia, research manager of consumer markets at IDC Asia, doesn’t see it making an impact. “A nice add-on to have, but a must-have? No,” he says, adding that the need to schedule what shows to watch and when could make it just another interesting concept that won’t take off.
4 But in its finest moment, Slingbox could disrupt the way media planners, well, plan. Given that the technology removes proximity restraints from one’s TV, allowing a full-time director to catch his beloved re-runs of the Bold and the Beautiful everyday, more eyeballs could be watching ads at traditional off-peak hours. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it should be noted that Slingbox viewing hasn’t even factored into Nielsen TV ratings yet in the US. However, Jacquet says plans are already underway to make that happen.
5Meanwhile, Slingbox has yet to make a dent in Taiwan, where the technology has been available for nearly a year. But according to Jimmy Kuo, Mbassador and manager of MindShare Taiwan, this could be a consequence of the local media landscape rather than what the box offers. “Taiwan is a very fragmented television market, so there’s not much of a need for it,” he says. “However, Slingbox hasn’t pushed itself out there much. The same thing’s happening with Tivo.” Other Taiwan-based industry executives contacted by Media hadn’t even heard of Slingbox.
6For domestic regulatory bodies, however, it’s a headache particularly in tightly-monitored markets. In Singapore, the Media Development Authority recently stated that it would adjust its regulatory framework to befit new technology such as the Slingbox. Easier said than done, perhaps, considering that Slingbox delivers content through the same port as internet data — a tougher mouthpiece to censor.
7Clearly, Sling Media has an uphill battle ahead as it tries to woo both broadcasters and viewers. And in trying to tiptoe around potential lawsuits, it must rely on a belief that people in Asia love their television. Call it wishful thinking or a cultural difference, but Jaquet is haplessly optimistic: “I’m of the impression that places like Singapore and Hong Kong get great TV content,” he says.
This article was first published on Media Asia
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