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Fanhattan (sort of) pulls a Microsoft

Apropos this week’s Weekly Update, TV discovery app developer Fanhattan today unveiled Fan TV at the D11 conference, a nifty new set-top device with a very slick, touch-driven interface that, like the Xbox One, aims to integrate linear and OTT video (see my colleague Mike Wolf’s take here). Unlike the Xbox, however, Fan TV will enable DVR functionality and access to on-demand content from your pay-TV provider.

But there’s a catch: Fanhattan intends to bring Fan TV to market only in conjunction and in partnership with cable operators. Consumers will not be able to buy a Fan TV device retail and simply plug it into what cable service they may have. Instead, they’ll get it through their cable operator, like a CableCard.

The reason is obvious: As I noted in the Weekly Update, access to your pay-TV provider’s on-demand platform and integrated DVR functionality require integration with the service provider’s conditional access system. Since there’s currently no technically feasible way to do that without the blessing of the cable operator, a set-top device maker has two choices: either go the Microsoft route and leave out conditional access-dependent functionality like DVR and VOD, or do what Fanhattan is doing and go through the painful and uncertain process of negotiating individual deals — and doing separate integrations — with individual service providers.

If there were a standard video interface, and a standard for downloadable security that could be loaded onto any compliant device, that choice would not be necessary.

Another possible limitation to Fan TV: If I heard Fanhattan CEO Gilles BianRosa correctly, Fan TV’s cloud-based DVR functionality will rely on the service provider’s infrastructure, a la Cablevision’s RS-DVR system, rather than on servers maintained by Fanhattan. Most cable operators haven’t yet deployed that technology, however, and it’s not clear that satellite TV providers could deploy it except as a separate, standalone system.