The bring-your-own-device phenomenon is coming to a living room near you: Time Warner Cable customers can now buy the $99 Fan TV set-top-box to access the cable company’s programming, as well as a variety of streaming services, through an innovative new interface. Fan TV devices will start shipping to Time Warner Cable customers during this second quarter, and will not require any additional fees beyond the existing cable subscription charges.
“This is a landmark for the industry,” said Fan TV CEO Gilles BianRosa during an interview Tuesday morning, adding: “This has never been done before.”
Fan TV’s streaming device was designed by Yves Behar and features a unique remote control that comes without any visible buttons, which means it works more like a touch pad than a traditional TV remote. The device doesn’t offer any DVR capabilities, but is capable of accessing Time Warner Cable’s on-demand library and features 4 GB of memory for caching, which BianRosa said is enough to pause live programming for more than 20 minutes.
The Fan TV also works with Fan’s existing online content recommendation service, allowing users to access watchlists that they have built on the web or with Fan’s mobile apps and then watch the content on the TV. Fan also taps into a user’s social graph, giving viewing recommendations based on movies and TV shows friends have liked on Facebook.
Check out a promotional video of Fan TV featuring Time Warner Cable content:
The partnership with Time Warner Cable is a big win for Fan TV, which started out as a TV recommendation app and service. The device was first introduced a year ago, and was briefly tested by Cox as part of the cable company’s short-lived FlareWatch trial. Bianrosa said that Fan initially is going to sell the device through its own website, but that it also intends to be in retail stores and possibly Time Warner Cable stores in the near future.
The challenge for Fan will now be to explain to consumers why its streaming box will offer a better value proposition that Time Warner’s existing cable boxes, and why its initial offering may not live to its full potential. At launch, only a few streaming services will be available through the device, including Redbox Instant by Verizon, Target Ticket, Crackle and Rhapsody. Bianrosa said Tuesday that additional services would be added over time, but declined to give any specifics.
Netflix would be a natural fit. The streaming service announced Monday that it will become available on set-top-boxes from U.S. cable operators this quarter, but so far has only committed to being available through TiVo’s set-top box.
Fan TV buyers could also find themselves in a situation where the new device doesn’t actually offer all the channels they’re paying for. That’s because Fan’s live TV integration is based on Time Warner Cable’s TV Everywhere service, which doesn’t offer access to all channels in all markets. Consumers will be able to access up to 300 channels in major metropolitan markets, but the line-up may be slimmer in other areas.
The other big caveat is that Time Warner Cable is in the process of merging with Comcast. If approved, Fan TV may find itself confronted with Comcast’s much more controlling approach towards TV experiences and devices. Comcast has invested a lot of money into the development of its X1 and X2 platforms, and the company wants to own the relationship with the customer through those platforms. This could mean that Fan’s BYOD approach may be short-lived, at least for Time Warner Cable customers.