Pay TV's Newest Innovation: Giving Users Control


With the launch of Stream Saver, AT&T Mobility has given users control over their streaming video quality. Stream Saver is similar to Sprint's video optimization and T-Mobile's Binge-On plans. Now, the only major carrier not offering a video optimization service is Verizon Wireless.

Stream Saver lets users choose. They can use it or not depending on their particular circumstances.

Stream Saver allows faster downloads. Quality of the video streaming is fine, especially for small screens like smartphones, tablets and laptops. Users cannot see the difference on small devices from all the carriers. Further, it consumes less wireless data. That can save users money, while allowing the carriers to manage their limited wireless spectrum better. So everybody wins.

Stream Saver changes the video quality of HD, or high-definition, programming to SD, or standard definition. Standard definition is what used to be the norm for television and video. Large screen TVs created a need for HD, but all that extra data is wasted on a smaller and less sophisticated screen. So Stream Saver choice makes perfect sense for many users.

Giving users control is important, since what they watch and how they watch can be different, depending on a variety of factors. Maybe they are watching on their smartphone waiting in a carpool lane for the kids. They don't need HD for that. At another time, they may be watching television on their big screen TV and downloading a video from their wireless plan. The customer may want HD video for that.

Customers can switch back and forth using myAT&T for consumers or Premier for business customers.

At AT&T's analyst briefing several weeks ago, company officials talked about all the innovation they were bringing to the world of video. They talked about wireless TV or mobile TV, about DirecTV and U-verse. They talked about updating DirecTV and data-free TV, which lets users view video without it counting against their data package. They talked about creating three bundles of services using DirecTV -- for low, medium and heavy users.

The innovation in the video space is happening more rapidly than many realize. Pay TV is changing for the better. That's the good part. The bad part is it puts yesterday's leaders up against the wall to innovate or die.

Comcast Xfinity now is working with Verizon Wireless to come up with a competitive response to the cable TV industry's loss of market share. What will Charter Spectrum do, since it is in the same position as Comcast?

Verizon Wireless Go90 lets users stream content without affecting their data allotments. Verizon is not as innovative in this space, but never count out one of the larger players. We'll just have to wait and see what it does in the next year.

It's important to pay attention to the innovative leaders in every industry -- the companies with new ideas that are transforming old technologies. It's not so long ago that Blockbuster was the leader in the video rental space. Not that much time has passed since Kodak was the leader in the camera space. Many of us have experienced the shift in music listening media from vinyl records to cassette tapes, CDs, and then downloadable digital files. Things often change very quickly. Pay TV is changing rapidly as well.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected]

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