INTERVIEW: Mike Harris, CEO of AnySource Media, talks to hdtv.biz-news about his company’s Internet-enabled TV platform that will start appearing in HDTV sets in the second half of 2009.
Offering consumers dozens of "virtual channels" that can be viewed on their HDTVs alongside traditional TV networks – without requiring a separate box or complicated wiring – seems like a great idea.
As does the ability to easily navigate the Internet content using a standard remote, and the fact that all of this isn’t going to bump up the price of a new wide-screen set.
So where’s the catch?
Well, if you listen to Mike Harris, CEO of AnySource Media (ASM), there isn’t one.
His company provides a turnkey Internet-enabled TV platform, called the Internet Video Navigator (IVN), to silicon companies and HDTV manufacturers.
He told hdtv.biz-news that ASM is currently working with the makers of some high-volume, mass market HDTV brands to integrate the IVN client software directly into their sets.
While he couldn’t name names, the first ASM-equipped products will launch in the US in the second half of 2009 and will then be rolled out in Europe and Asia in 2010.
No-Cost Embedded Software
ASM’s embedded IVN software allows TV viewers to navigate Internet video, selecting sites and jumping to specific videos, or sit back and watch videos like a traditional broadcast experience.
|Mike Harris, CEO
Where ASM scores highly is that its software is simply layered on top of chip technology already in HDTV sets.
Harris said this gives it a big cost advantage – while providing manufacturers with a great opportunity to differentiate their sets in a competitive market.
Since the intention is to get the platform into the market in "high volume, very quickly", ASM is offering set manufacturers the software licence for free.
He said with no additional cost for the HDTV makers, the price of the television sets isn’t affected.
ASM’s full list of content providers is not yet available, however the company showed 80 different partner channels at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.
Harris said the idea is to provide complementary content rather than trying to be an alternative to satellite or cable providers.
"What we are offering is a high quality experience at no additional cost, which is very easy to use with a standard remote and is very scaleable," he said.
"The TV continues to grow even as you own it."
Key to this is the idea that it is "TV on TV" not "Internet on TV". For this reason, ASM has focused on major features such as video quality and channel change speed – which Harris said is almost as quick as a TV experience.
"It’s about sitting back and relaxing, watching content on a big screen when you have more time to spend surfing for content and discovering new things," he said.
To make all this possible on low-cost embedded hardware much of the processing burden has been moved to the IVN Data Center.
The back-end data center aggregates and streams content from providers to the IVN user interface on the television.
Harris said the mix of channels and content depends on the set manufacturer – and on where the user lives.
So when consumers buy an HDTV a certain list of channels will be available immediately.
"That list can be modified by the consumer, so if they like sports channels they can put them at the top of the list – or they can remove channels altogether," he said.
"New channels can appear all the time, without any change to the device being required.
"We have taken a very scaleable approach."
Harris said the result was that a particular HDTV, in a particular region would have its own unique look and feel.
How that was arranged was all taken care of in the backend.
"An HDTV in Germany will have a different list of channels to one, say, in the US," he said.
As well as issues such as language and cultural preferences, the fact some content sites are geo-targeted will also influence channel listings.
For ASM to make its money the IVN platform includes a targeted advertising and user management system, managed at the IVN Data Center.
Harris said that AnySource’s method of monetizing content depended on the given market.
"We have approached advertising in a way that makes it work for the content providers," he said.
"The service is free for consumers."
So AnySource doesn’t interfere with content providers’ existing business models, which means if they are ad-supported they keep all the revenues.
"What we have, through our user interface, is additional ad inventory," said Harris. "There are spaces for ads during the browsing period. That’s where we generate our ad revenue."
In addition, AnySource also receives commission for any paid content transmissions.
HDTV And Beyond
In March, ASM announced it had secured USD $3.2 million in additional funding.
As well as being used to bring the platform to commercialization and increase the number of content providers, it will fund the development of new technologies that will provide long-term flexibility for viewing online video on HDTVs.
While ASM is concentrating on HDTVs at present, Harris said the platform had been built for a wide range of devices.
He said they had had discussions with Blu-ray, MID and mobile makers about future possible applications for the software.
"What we have built on the cloud doesn’t know whether it’s dealing with a TV or whatever," he said.
"It just looks at the devices capability and the back-end makes available whatever it needs."
There’s no doubt that content quality will be a key determing factor in the race to bring the Internet to the TV.
But it also has to be content that is easy to access. ASM would appear to have that issue firmly in hand.