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Sling Media Takes Cable TV To Mobile Phones

Posted by iMark - 2006-01-05

Sling Media plans to unveil on Thursday software that would enable a mobile device to access a person's cable TV service from anyplace where there's a high-speed Internet connection.

The software, which runs on Microsoft's Windows Mobile Platform versions 4.0 or 5.0, is scheduled to be launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, company spokesman Brad Jaquet said. The new product is scheduled for release by the end of the first quarter.

Sling Media sells hardware called a Slingbox that connects to a set-top box and a home router. The $250 device takes a person's cable or satellite TV service and streams it over the Internet, making it accessible through a desktop or laptop from anyplace where there is a high-speed connection. Special software is needed on the PC to receive the video stream.

The latest software extends Slingbox's capabilities to mobile devices, which would receive the stream through a Wi-Fi connection. Advanced cellular phones, called smartphones, would have to be on a third-generation, or 3G, wireless network, such as EV-DO or WCDMA/UMTS.

Sling Media's mobile software client will be available for download through the company's Web site. While there is no subscription fee for the company's products, there may be a "nominal," one-time cost for the mobile software, Jaquet said.

Among the smartphones that would support the service are the Samsung i730, the Sprint PPC 6700, and eventually the Treo 700 and Motorola Q. The software would enable users to change channels, and access recorded shows, if the person has a digital video recorder at home.

To protect content, each Slingbox has a unique identifier and password and can only be connected to one device at a time. With the mobile service, Sling Media expects to reach speeds of up to 25 frames per second for smooth video viewing.

Sling Media expects sports enthusiasts to make up a large portion of the early adopters of its mobile service.
"I can pull a smartphone out of my pocket while I'm standing in line and catch up on a game live," Jaquet said. "That kind of instant gratification is definitely relevant and something people will want."

With the growing use of broadband, an increasing number of U.S. consumers are getting use to watching video on computer screens, experts say. More than 94 million people, or 56 percent of the online U.S. population, have watched streaming video online, according to Web metrics firm ComScore Networks. Over the last three months ending in June, the average consumer watched 73 minutes of online video a month.

It remains to be seen, however, whether consumers will take to accessing data services or watching video on the small screen of a cellular phone or mobile device. In October, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers had used their phone's browser to get news and information, send a photo message or purchase a ring tone, according to researcher EMarketer. Fewer than 5 percent had bought wallpaper or a screen saver or downloaded a game.

Sling Media has chosen not to charge a monthly fee for its products, believing that consumers are less likely to add another subscription on top of their already-expensive cable bill.

"We feel the consumer has subscription fatigue," Jaquet said.

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