TVTonic (Intervista)

TVTonic

Chi per il momento manca all’appello nella lista dei partecipanti del fenomeno RSS e Podcast è Microsoft. Solo nella versione 7 di Internet Explorer è stato introdotto il supporto per i feed RSS, quando tutti gli altri browser hanno questa funzionalità da molto tempo. Per il resto zero assoluto. Windows Media Player non ha il supporto il Video Podcasting, Windows Media Center nemmeno. Il nuovo Zune, oggetto che dovrebbe essere all’avanguardia e di tendenza, non ne ha sentito nemmeno parlare. Alla Microsoft danno il Podcasting come una delle funzionalità da inserire prima o poi nelle loro piattaforme ma, per il momento, dicono di volersi affidare a prodotti di terze parti. Questa politica ha fatto sempre bene a Microsoft che in questo modo ha costantemente alimentato un nutrito mondo di aziende che vivono intorno ai suoi prodotti. Forse però il Podcasting è una realtà troppo importante per decidere di non includerla direttamente all’interno dei propri prodotti, in special modo in quelli orientati al mondo dell’entertainment. Non avere questa funzionalità embedded nei Windows Media Tools significa chiedere agli utenti di queste piattaforme uno sforzo in più, spesso ai limiti del possibile per i meno esperti. Sta di fatto che soluzioni per il Podcasting per piattaforme Window Media esistono ed alcune sono veramente interessanti, tanto da superare per facilità e concezione d’uso alcuni tra i prodotti più affermati.

Per saperne di più abbiamo intervistato Mr. Michael Sprague il Presidente di Wavexpress, società che ha sviluppato una soluzione per il Video Podcasting integrata con Windows Media Player chiamata TVTonic. La chiacchierata è riuscita a risolverci qualche dubbio sulle politiche Microsoft riguardo al Podcasting ed al futuro di questa modalità di distribuzione video.

Microsoft doesn’t support Podcasting neither in Vista nor in Zune. Plug-ins and podcasting tools for Vista and Zune will likely come from third-party developers. TVTonic is one of these? Have you any plan to develop a similiar product also for Zune?

Yes, TVTonic is a podcasting plug-in client for XP and Vista. It is not entirely true, however, that Microsoft has no native support for podcasting. The new IE7 browser has RSS built in and will handle automatic downloads of item enclosures. TVTonic goes a step further by providing many enhancements specific to the operation of a video service.

As for synchronization with hand-held devices, we are working with a partner to make this available. Zune is certainly a device we would want to support.

Talking about something that sounds like “Pod” is so much Apple, so much iTunes. Do you think Microsoft is not embracing the podcasting wave to not encourage something that’s so related to Apple?

No. The name was a coup for Apple, but it has not deterred Microsoft from supporting podcasting in any way. RSS (really simple syndication), the syndication format behind podcasting, is becoming deeply embedded in the IE browser and other Microsoft products.

Which is the exact relationship between TVTonic and Windows Media Center? Can I use TVTonic as an extension of Windows Media or I’m obliged to use TVTonic Channel Guide?

TVTonic is an Online Spotlight partner. Depending on territory, every Media Center machine links to a list of a couple dozen applications which extend the features and services available to the user. Microsoft carefully vets each of these applications for suitability and reliability. Each of these applications run in their own area. They are easily linked off of the main guide of MCE, but then often contain guides of their own.

TVTonic is free. Which is your business model?

We execute agreements to place interstitial ads on our channels and share the subsequent revenue with content partners. We only place ads when we have a contract with the content partners, so our business is to sign content to our ad program and expand our viewer base.

TVTonic is optimized to be used with a remote. Which is the most typical usage scenario you envision for your product? In other words: where and how user will interact with this new kind of TV?

We design it primarily for your living room. It’s the ideal viewing environment for many types of video. We try to achieve an experience for the user that is as entertaining and reliable as traditional television. However, we also have designed it to work well in a traditional computer environment. The laptop is a portable entertainment center for many travelers and thus another environment well suited for TVTonic, not least because TVTonic remains fully functional when the computer goes offline.

Apple have announced iTV, the missing piece of technology to connect PC to TV letting user really watch TV content on TV screen. In Apple vision user will use the PC as a “planner” to subscribe or unsubscribe to podcast and then iTV to simply interact with content using the remote in front of the TV. TVTonic is optimized for Window Media Center thus I need to have a complete PC near my TV (not just a bridge as iTV will be). Don’t you think this is a costly approach that discourage users to user it?

Microsoft announced a similar bridge product two years ago. It’s called a Media Center Extender and is available for $299 from LinkSYS. The Extender not only projects the media assets into the TV environment but also enables the full MCE menu and all the add-on applications, such as TVTonic. Furthermore, the Xbox 360 is an extender out of the box. If you have an Xbox somewhere in your house (likely in the living room), you can use it to access all the features of your MCE PC (perhaps in your home office). Apple has tremendous clout as a media trend setter, but Microsoft is years ahead in this space. One major feature missing from Apple’s Front Row is the ability to add additional media experiences, such as ours.

TVTonic have a great feature: it permits to play an entire Channel. That way users could see Video Podcast as really channels, playing “linearly” all the downloaded content. Do you plan to have some playlist or smart playlist feature so users could set up their personal channels and play it all along?

We have explored adding features to enable you to apply aspects of the TVTonic interface to your local media collection, but have not released anything in this area. Often we find, in fact, that adding features tends ultimately to denigrate the experience. The beauty of TV is you turn it on… and watch. There are many products out there that give the user infinite control over their media experience, but control can equate to work. We do what we can through thoughtful content programming and simple design to keep the user from having to work for their entertainment.

tv tonic cache

A huge business in Video Podcasting will be advertising. This is one of the most promising benefits for YouTube to be part of Google AdSense family. But this kind of business doesn’t seams to feet perfectly with Podcasting, where user downloads and store locally the contents thus is not possible to change advertising every time the user re-watch a video. What do you think about it? Have you any mechanism to persuade users to periodically delete downloaded content?

TVTonic has a smart managed cache where the content publisher can control what’s on the local drive and what is not. If they want to remove an item from circulation they simply pull it from their feed. On the client we also control disk usage by capping each channel at a set limit, editable by the user. Our ads are delivered separately and inserted into the experience at playback time. This way we can rotate ads independently of content.

Another business opportunity for Podcast are Premium contents protected by some DRM. What do you think about it? Is podcasting a real platform for this kind of content or we will remain using iTunes or Windows Media Player? In any case how could users interact with DRM protected content using TVTonic?

We currently operate a couple pay channels already. The experience for the user is the same, however, they need to have an active license to pull the content. I believe this model will start seeing more use as the free services expand familiarity of the delivery model. In fact, the market may see a radical shift as service providers realize that most new PC’s now ship with a security chip that enables them to add or remove subscriber access much as is done with Set-Top boxes today. Our parent company, Wave Systems, is a leading provider of tools for these chips known as Trusted Platform Modules (TPM). Foreseeing the widening availability of MCE PC’s with TPM’s, we have been working with Wave to integrate our subscriber management with the TPM.

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