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SyncTV: Litmus Test for à la Carte Cable

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Offering bundles of television channels no one wants to watch along with Showtime and HBO is one of the many things detractors say is wrong with the cable TV business. Many consumers would rather pick and choose channels they want and pay accordingly. The cable companies have countered that not many people want the hassle. I, for one, am happy to put up with hassle, but then that’s just me!

And while the debate goes on, SyncTV, a startup spun out of Pioneer Electronics (known for its audio-video gear and set-top boxes), is going to offer a similar à la carte service to those of us who want to watch television over the Internet. You can pick and choose channels for $2 to $4 per channel.

SyncTV was started as an experiment inside Pioneer, but spun out back in August. I can understand why Pioneer decided the project should be a standalone company. Pioneer, which sells set-top boxes to cable companies, can’t afford to antagonize those who are paying the bills, so to speak.

According to various news reports, many channels will be on tap. During the current beta-testing phase, Showtime is the only premium channel on offer. The service uses an open-source digital rights management solution called Marlin, and will work on both PC and Macs. SyncTV hopes that its service will be integrated into many digital devices and Internet set-top boxes. Those devices are likely to be available sometime next year.

“It will be as good as or better than your current TV experience,” SyncTV president John Gildred told the Financial Times. According to some reports, the beta will be available on Monday. A Reuters report indicates that the “public test will come in January.”

We are confused, but the company’s web site offers no information, except a terse “coming soon.” The service, if it becomes popular, will indicate that people do indeed want à la carte cable, thereby putting pressure on cable operators. And if it proves to be a damp squib, then cable companies can point to SyncTV and say: Told you so.