01 July 2013

flareWatch: Cox Goes OTT on Itself

Updated (2 July 2013) with numerous details.

Cox, a major US cable operator, has launched something that I believe is without precedent: an IPTV service that competes with its existing traditional cable TV service (Todd Spangler's article in Variety). Here are the relevant details:

  • Customer must purchase Cox's cable modem service
  • Cost is $34.99 per month (incremental to the cable modem service cost)
  • 97 channels are included with 60 HD channels
  • includes all local broadcast channels (update: ABCCBS, NBC, Fox, Uni, PBS, Ion, CW, etc. and, it appears, all of the digital multiplexes carried on the system -- more than 25 channels)
  • includes a cloud or network DVR with 30 hours of storage; update: playback only within the home
  • works with Fanhattan's Fan TV set-top box
  • does not incorporate Netflix or Hulu Plus (at least not currently)
  • is not available outside of the home
  • does count against the cable modem service bandwidth cap
  • cable channels include: ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, Disney, ABC Family, Fox Sports West, TWC SportsNet, CNN, CNBC, Nickelodeon, A&E, Discovery, Bravo, USA, TLC, MTV, Fox News and Syfy (update: also FX, TBS, WGN, MundoFox, QVC, HSN, MSNBC, Headline News, Galavision, BET, VH1, Weather, Spike, Travel, Food, HGTV, Lifetime, E!, Comedy Central, History, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AMC, TCM, TV Land, Cartoon, Animal Planet, Speed, CMT, Golf, TWC Deportes, C-SPAN, C-SPAN2, National Geographic, Palladia, Velocity, The OC Channel, Cox 3/California Channel). This lineup appears similar to a typical expanded basic with the addition of a few purely HD services that are usually bundled with expanded basic for customers with HD boxes, namely Palladia and Velocity.
  • update: free on-demand is "coming"
demo image of the flareWatch interface
Some thoughts:
  • Cox is certainly taking the position that the cable TV rights that it has are suitable for this IPTV service. While it is new for an operator to offer IPTV service as well as traditional cable on the same system; it is not unusual for operators to offer IPTV service (AT&T and Google Fiber offer IPTV service exclusively; many other distributors offer it on some systems).
  • Why are any of the channels carried in SD?
  • Typically cable operators break out the broadcast channels in a separate tier from the cable channels to minimize their copyright royalty payments (e.g., a $20 basic broadcast tier is available, then a $40 cable program service tier --that 90%+ of subscribers purchase -- is available above that -- copyright fees are based on the $20 price, not the $60 price). Is this package subject to a different (or no) copyright royalty payment scheme?
  • This package appears to contain most, if not all, of the most expensive cable channels -- usually cable operators are trying to create new packages which exclude those services (like Cox's own TV Economy package).
  • What is the complete channel lineup? (I have searched cox.com, but haven't been able to find reference to flare or flareWatch yet). Update: flareWatch has its own website that does not mention Cox, except in the fine print at the bottom. Is Cox's brand name an impediment to selling the service? The branding of the service is inconsistent. The URL for the site is watchflare.com. The service name is styled "flareWatch" on the site and simply "flare" on the demo.
  • If the target for this service is customers who have Cox Internet service, but do not have Cox TV service, why is the lineup so traditional in its selection of services?
  • Update: the consumer has to buy the box (and remote) for $99; live TV pausing is not a current feature of the service (from Rich Greenfield's blog post includes video demonstrating the -- notably easy -- sign-up process and captured video of the flareWatch promotional video)
screenshot of flareWatch sign-up screen with pricing

Cox's site for "flareWatch" -- watchflare.com (includes a :34 unembeddable video)
Michael Greeson's take (The Diffusion Group) with some interesting notes about the price point and services included

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