Over the top

The race is on to launch an internet TV service in the US

January 21, 2014
January 21, 2014

America’s first pay TV service delivered entirely over the internet is coming. The only question is who will offer it.

A slew of companies—Sony, Verizon, Apple, and Amazon—are working on television services that would take advantage of the internet with easier-to-use menus, recordings in the cloud, and availability on any device. And after fits and starts, it seems like one of them might actually launch this year. Just today came news about Verizon and Amazon’s movements toward the finish line. Let’s review where everyone stands.

Sony

The Japanese firm said last month that it was poised to start testing a “cloud-based TV service.” (You’ll notice that there’s no consensus over what to call internet TV.) It is known to have struck a deal to carry programming by Viacom, which owns MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon. More agreements like that will be necessary if Sony is to offer something that can viably compete with pay TV services from cable companies and telecoms, but it won’t be easy.

Verizon

The telecom company, which already offers TV over fiber-optic cables, confirmed today that it has purchased Intel’s never-launched internet TV service, OnCue. But it’s not clear what Verizon’s intentions are. It could launch OnCue on its own—perhaps under a better name—or bundle it with Verizon’s broadband service, FiOS. After all, do consumers really care if their pay TV service is internet-only, as long as they get the benefits of internet TV?

Apple

Read our report from August: “Apple, closer to its vision for a TV set, wants ESPN, HBO, Viacom, and others to come along.” As it typically does, Apple would like to offer an elegant, self-contained solution that doesn’t disrupt the television industry so much as improve it. But after failing to strike deals with pay TV companies like Time Warner Cable, Apple turned its attention toward content companies like Disney and Viacom.

Amazon

The tech polymath, already rumored to be working on a set-top box that would deliver streaming video to television sets, is also trying to launch its own pay TV service, the Wall Street Journal reported today (paywall). It has the advantage of already running Amazon Prime Instant Video, which competes with Netflix. Amazon is also famously willing to operate new businesses at a loss, which could be useful when striking expensive programming deals.

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