Streaming Media East 2007 News Briefs: Microsoft Sees the Light, Sprint Learns its ABCs, and TiVo Finds itself

Microsoft used this morning’s keynote presentation at Streaming Media East 2007 to show off the workflow for its Silverlight technology, and Steve Mack will be writing a detailed overview of the keynote that will post later Tuesday.

In short, Microsoft showed off the $599 suite of products that form Expression Studio during the keynote, then had several partners show off applications built on top of the Silverlight technology plugin. At the booth an hour after the keynote, the company was showing off a rudimentary live encoder that—along with updated video codecs that will be released when the final release of Silverlight 1.0 is available later this year—provide a potentially compelling toolset for Microsoft to enter the consumer-generated content game. Much work is left to do on basic tools, and the consensus among floor visitors is a cautious interest, with judgment deferred until the final product ships this summer.

In Other Streaming News . . .
There was plenty of news happening away from the Streaming Media East floor, as well. Sprint and ABC have announced a deal that provides free access to commercial-free versions of some of the network’s highest-rated shows, as long as a Sprint wireless phone user has signed up for the $20 monthly data plan and has a streaming-capable cellular handset. The companies jointly announced access to shows from the flagship network, with shows such as Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty, plus content from additional ABC properties such as the Disney Channel and ABC News.

ABC also said it will eventually put commercials into the shows as well. A look at today’s updated Sprint video player shows ABC News content streaming at about 12 frames per second, close to the maximum 15 frame per second limit of the majority of Sprint’s phones.

Sprint’s VP for wireless data services, John Burris, feels that the ability to download the shows directly to the phone will be beneficial to users.

"You won’t need to buy episodes individually or sync up to your PC to access the content," said Burris in the announcement, with a colleague adding that on-demand has become de rigeur for those used to time- or place-shifting.

Speaking of time-shifting, TiVo is pushing further into search, trying to combat the growing problem of viewers who don’t differentiate between online and traditional broadcast content. The search engine, dubbed Universal Swivel Switch, covers prime-time content as well as Amazon’s Unbox video service and other TiVo online partners—including CNet, iVillage and Rocketboom.

TiVo’s move comes at a time when other players, such as Apple with its Apple TV and Sling Media with its upcoming Sling Catcher, are working to blur the lines between the living room and the desktop. It also is a welcome relief to those 20-somethings that have grown up watching video online, on TV and on DVD. Bob Poniatowski, TiVo’s product marketing manager, describes the typical user as one who doesn’t differentiate where the content they want to view is stored.

"They tend to be task-based—you already have in mind what you want to find," said Poniatowksi in the announcement. "Swivel Search allows you to explore things that you don’t know are on TV."

TiVo expects to roll out the search capability to its Series 2 and Series 3 box owners over the next two months, but due to a business decision it won’t be available for TiVo’s new partners—Comcast and Cox—who have recently struck deals with the company to include TiVo’s user interface on cable box DVRs.

Comcast also announced today that it was ending a relationship with Microsoft that was announced with great fanfare in 2004: the use of Microsoft's on-screen interface for Comcast's cable boxes. Comcast used Microsoft's software on cable boxes in the state of Washington, but used Guideworks, which is partially owns, across the rest of its cable TV footprint.

The move solidifies Guideworks at the key interface for Comcast cable boxes, according to Steve Kipp, a Comcast spokesman.

"We're focused on developing a single guide and a platform across the country," said Kipp. "We believe this will bring our customers a consistent user experience and allow us to integrate new features onto the guide more quickly than in the past."

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