Interactive TV News Round-Up (VII): Verizon FiOS, Virgin Media, Spotify, Wired City, YouTube

Behind the Scenes of the Verizon Fios Interactive Media Guide

--Verizon Resumes Roll-Out of Version 1.9 of its Interactive Media Guide
--Virgin Media to Offer Spotify on its TiVo-Powered Hybrid-TV Service
--Funding Sought for "Internet Television Network," Wired City
--YouTube Invites Users to Check Out Experimental Re-Design of its Service

Because the [itvt] editorial team is on the road this week, we are covering stories in this edition of the newsletter in round-up format:

  • Verizon has resumed the roll-out of version 1.9 of its FiOS TV Interactive Media Guide, with launches in the Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay areas. The IMG 1.9 roll-out began in Harrisburg, PA, and Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse, NY in April, but was then suspended so that the company could "make some tweaks based on customer feedback," a company spokesperson told Multichannel News's Todd Spangler (note: the "tweaks" were apparently mostly of the IMG's look-and-feel). The resumed roll-out is expected to continue in other Verizon markets throughout the summer. Key features of IMG 1.9, according to Verizon, include: "1) 3D content software, which automatically detects when a customer tunes to a 3D program or channel and instantly changes the necessary settings for watching those programs on a 3D television set. 2) DVR enhancements, which give FiOS TV customers more control with the following: a) DVR chaptering, giving viewers DVD-like capabilities to jump ahead or resume viewing at a particular moment of recorded programming by using on-screen thumbnails in 10-minute increments, providing more visual navigation. b) Multi-hub DVR, which turns any DVR or HD set-top box in the home into a 'hub,' allowing customers to record and manage DVR settings from any room in the home, provided one of the DVR's is a multi-room DVR. c) eSATA external storage device compatibility, available with most FiOS TV DVR's, allowing for increased overall storage capacity. eSATA hard drives can be purchased at most consumer electronics stores and will automatically record customer selections once plugged into the DVR. d) New 'play all' and 'delete all' options, allowing customers to play episodes back-to-back and automatically delete all episodes of a show with the push of a button. 3) Personalization features, which let FiOS TV customers enjoy entertainment on their own terms, including: a) New parental control options that make monitoring children's viewing even easier, with the ability to block out portions of programming by rating during key hours of the day, like homework time, and schedule certain times for Parental Controls to be automatically turned on and off for greater flexibility. b) Guide customization, enabling a variety of settings, with a mini guide on the bottom of the screen, a half guide on the right side of the screen, and a full guide with a look at more hours of scheduled programming. 4) Improved search capabilities, which provide a smarter search function that predicts what the customer is looking for and automatically provides potential matches. FiOS TV customers also can filter and sort by channel, and more easily locate favorite programs." An explanatory video from Verizon is embedded above.
  • UK cable operator, Virgin Media, has announced an exclusive (in the UK) deal with digital music service, Spotify, to offer the latter's catalog of approximately 13 million music tracks on its recently launched TiVo-based hybrid-TV platform, as well as online and on mobiles. "Virgin Media's groundbreaking agreement with Spotify will mean over 4 million fiber optic broadband customers will have the option to access music online in a safe, legal way for the whole family whenever they want," the company states in its press materials. "Virgin Media will also be the only digital entertainment provider in the UK to integrate Spotify into its TV offering through its cutting-edge 'connected' TV service powered by TiVo, as well as being able to provide a bundled solution for customers with Virgin Mobiles...Virgin Media customers enjoying Virgin Media TV powered by TiVo, the UK’s first next-generation 'connected' TV service, will be able to enjoy their Spotify service through a jointly developed app for subscribers."
  • Internet entrepreneur, Josh Harris (founder of JupiterResearch and Pseudo.com), is seeking funding on Kickstarter.com for Wired City, an "Internet television network that enables the audience to watch and interact with each other (chat-video, text and audio). The citizens in the Wired City are you, your friends and your future friends who have earned (or are earning) their way onto our cyber-stage," Harris's Kickstarter pitch continues. Key elements of Wired City, according to Harris, include the following: "1) Real-time chat video switching (next-generation social graph). 2) 24/7 netcasting studios that efficiently process mass data signals generated by the audience. 3) Massive Multi-Player Online Gaming (MMOG) element (winning audience members get to live on set and earn special powers and privileges). 4) Hollywood-style production values produced by and for netcasting audiences. 5) Hearts and minds. Audience members are letting each other into their homes and lives (the camera is turned on you). 6) Bonafication. Audience members get their 15 minutes of fame every day. 7) One million hours of net-generated programming is distilled into one hour of primetime broadcast programming, every day."
  • YouTube is inviting users to try out "Cosmic Panda," an experimental re-design of its service. "Today, we'd like to invite you to play along with us by participating in one of our latest TestTube experiments: Cosmic Panda," the company states on its corporate blog. "To take this experiment for a test drive, go to http://www.youtube.com/cosmicpanda and click 'Try it out!' Once you're in the experiment, much of YouTube will look different, including videos, playlists and channels...We're eager to hear your feedback as it's a great chance for us to incorporate your ideas into future designs for YouTube. To give us your thoughts, click on the blue flag on the left hand side of the page labeled 'Feedback.' We'll be making changes to the experiment regularly, so check back to see if some of your suggestions have made it onto the site or to give us more feedback on the latest updates."
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