OTT Specialist, Roku, in Multi-Year Deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

--Two New Subscription-Based Channels--Kung Fu Theater and Cowboy Classics--also Launch on Roku
--Sony Teams with FIFA to Stream World Cup Programming on Bravia Connected TV Devices in Europe
--Playcast's Games-On-Demand System Now Supports HD
--Netflix Now Supporting Instant Streaming of HD Titles to PC's and Macs

OTT specialist, Roku, and pay-per-view event provider, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), announced a multi-year deal, late Sunday, that will see all major UFC events featured on Roku, starting with the May 29th UFC 114: Rampage vs. Evans PPV event from the MGM Grand Garden Arena. "We are always looking at the latest technology and the newest ways to bring the UFC experience to our fans," UFC president, Dana White, said in a prepared statement. "Roku is another way for fans to get more UFC and watch all of the UFC events live and in HD, starting with UFC 114 on Saturday, May 29th." Added Roku founder and CEO, Anthony Wood: "The Roku player is capable of delivering amazing live events, in HD, on the TV. We are excited to be UFC's lead partner in bringing the total UFC experience--from live events and classic fights to insider previews, countdowns, and training coverage--to fans everywhere, whenever they want it. The new UFC channel joins a growing list of major streaming content services for the TV that started first on Roku, including Netflix, MLB.TV, and Amazon Video On Demand--further strengthening our position as the leader in delivery of premium streaming content."

In addition to UFC 114 and other live fights, Roku and UFC say, Roku users will have access to the UFC's collection of archived fights, the UFC Vault, as well as live access to UFC pre-fight events including the official weight-ins, and pre- and post-fight press conferences, hosted by the UFC's White.

In other Roku news: The company contacted [itvt] last week to let us know that Solve, LLC has launched two new channels--Kung Fu Theater and Cowboy Classics--in the Roku Digital Video Player Channel Store. According to Solve, Kung Fu Theater is a campy offering consisting of "Chop Socky" movies with implausible storylines, "lots of action and badly dubbed voices"; while Cowboy Classics offers a range of Westerns, featuring such stars as John Wayne, Tom Keene, Roy Rogers and Jack Palance.

Each channel is priced at $1.99 per month, and, according to Solve, will be regularly refreshed from what it claims is a "huge" archive of movies. Solve--which currently supports only the Roku DVP, but says it is also developing solutions for other connected TV devices and platforms--bills itself as specializing in "creat[ing] the interface and backoffice services that allow the delivery of HD or SD content to 'over-the-top' video players."

In related news:

  • Sony said last week that, starting in late May, it will begin streaming the FIFA World Cup Collection, a collection of programs from soccer's international governing body, to connected TV's and Blu-ray Disc players across Europe via its Bravia Internet Video platform. The programming will initially be available in English, though Sony says that French-, Italian-, German- and Spanish-language versions of the service will be available shortly. According to Sony and FIFA, the programming line-up--which they say will be continuously expanded--will include "20 FIFA World Cup Moments" (a countdown of classic moments from the FIFA World Cup); 14 official films from the 1930-2002 FIFA World Cups; a selection of short films "reminding us of the debut of legendary players, celebrated moments and intense penalty shoot-outs"; "The A-Z of Football" (billed as a series of "60-second vignettes of the most spectacular action from exclusive film footage from the 1954-2002 FIFA World Cups"); "FIFA World Cup Classic Players" (billed as "celebrat[ing] 15 of the greatest players to have graced the world stage during the distinguished 76-year history of the FIFA World Cup"); and "FIFA Mini World Cups 1966-2006" (billed as allowing viewers to "enjoy the highlights of each FIFA World Cup tournament, starting with the memorable 1966 finals in England and ending with the magnificent 2006 finals in Germany").
  • Playcast Media, a start-up with offices in Israel and London that was founded by two Harmonic veterans--Guy De Beer, who previously managed that company's VOD product lines, and Natan Peterfreund, who was previously its principal scientist and who is one of the originators of the H.264 compression standard-- last week announced the launch of an HD version of its flagship games-on-demand system. According to the company, the new version is the result of "months of development and trials" with its technology partners to ensure "the highest quality of video signal with bandwidth-efficient delivery using optimized bit rates" and enables it to "match the video and graphics quality of next-generation games consoles and to align itself firmly with the ubiquitous take-up of HD television. Put simply," the company says in its press materials, "this means playing one's favorite next-gen video games in HD through the cable or IPTV set-top box--without the need for any console." According to Playcast, the new HD version of its service, which it says will launch later this month with a "leading European operator," supports HD at 720p resolution (1080p support is slated for later this year) and is available for both MPEG-2 and H.264 codec formats: with MPEG-2, the company says, a single stream requires 4Mbps (compared to the standard 15Mbps of natural video), while with H.264, it requires 3Mbps. "We have achieved new levels of compression efficiency," Playcast co-founder and CTO, Natan Peterfreund, said in a prepared statement. "Using this new system, HD games can be streamed even on legacy MPEG-2 cable set-top boxes, at the same bandwidth footprint of standard definition video. While standard definition is by far the dominant TV transmission technology, many high-end gamers expect to play next-generation titles in HD. It was quite an engineering feat to provide such a leap in game performance and video quality, while reducing the network resources by more than 60%."
  • Netflix is now supporting instant streaming of HD titles to PC's and Macs, the blog Hacking Netflix reported last week, after confirming the development with a company representative. Previously, instant streaming of Netflix HD titles was available only on certain games consoles, set-top boxes (such as Roku's) and Blu-ray players.


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