Time Warner Cable subscribers who are frustrated with the ancient, poorly performing cable boxes issued by the cable TV provider will soon have another option in Fan TV.
Fan TV, which began as TV recommendation and programming guide service Fanhattan, debuted a slick new set-top box last year that promised a TV-watching experience that truly integrated both on-demand/streaming video content with linear TV.
The combination of the set-top box’s user interface and buttonless touch-based remote control made it seem very close to the revolutionary TV product envisioned by late Apple founder Steve Jobs, as VentureBeat previously reported.
Now, the startup has forged its first big partnership with Time Warner Cable to bring its set-top boxes to cable TV subscribers. (The startup previously partnered with Cox for testing purposes, too.) Fan TV announced that pre-orders for its set-top box begin today for $99 (as opposed to the regular price of $149 when it hits retail shelves), and would be available to TWC subscribers in 29 states.
“We’ve designed everything around live TV,” Fan TV CEO Gilles BianRosa said in an interview with VentureBeat. He added that this strategy includes making the experience of switching between live TV and streaming video services like Crackle much easier — meaning not having to exit out of whatever app or service you’re using then wait several seconds for another app/service to boot up.
Fan TV also gives you lots of background information — cast lists, actor bios, reviews from reputable critics, etc. — on the content you’re watching or about to watch, which makes it competitive with the recently launched Fire TV from Amazon. And instead of navigating through the service using direction pad buttons, you simply flick the touch screen remote to flip through channels or pull up an options menu to watch something else.
At launch, Fan TV will have support for just a handful of third-party services, including RedBox Instant, Rhapsody, Crackle, and Target’s digital video store. That’s significantly fewer services than the initial demo showed off a year ago.
Part of the reason Netflix and Hulu aren’t on the device at launch could have something to do with the device’s focus. The Fan TV box leans more toward the linear TV experience offered by TV service providers like TWC.
See, Fan TV’s business model is unlike Roku’s, for example, because it actually wants to evolve how we think of set-top boxes.
Think of it more like the current business model used by wireless carriers: You purchase a smartphone from a hardware maker like Apple, but you still need to subscribe to a wireless service provider. Customers will still need to buy a Fan TV separately from a retail store for $149, but they can then authenticate that they subscribe to TWC to turn it into their primary TV box without having to pay an additional monthly fee. And since Fan TV adds value to TWC’s existing linear (and on-demand) TV service, TV providers like it better than other set-top boxes.
So why is this model just now coming about? BianRosa said there are a few reasons.
“Only two kinds of companies can do this: giant companies like Apple and Amazon, and startups. With big companies, they have an existing video strategy that would not benefit from focusing on live TV service,” BianRosa told me.
“For startups, it’s been much more difficult because most cable, fiber, and satellite TV providers weren’t set up to [integrate with a Fan TV-like service] until very recently.”
One thing I was very curious about was how Fan TV’s partnership would be affected if (or perhaps when) Comcast’s merger with TWC gets approved by federal regulators. Comcast already has a pretty nice next-gen set-top box of its own, the X1, which it intends to license out to other TV service providers.
“That’s something you’ll have to ask Time Warner Cable,” BianRosa told me.
That said, he did explain that his company is in talks with several TV service providers, and that the Fan TV box shouldn’t get in the way of what companies like Comcast are doing with their own next-gen boxes.
We’ll have to wait and see if that’s true. I’d hate to see Fan TV pushed aside, especially because its existence shows that TV service providers are finally finding ways (albeit through other companies) to stay innovative and more competitive.
For a closer look at Fan TV on TWC’s service, check out the gallery of screenshots embedded below.