Verizon Steps Up Courtship Of TV Viewers

Samsung's flat-panel television display is shown at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Friday, Jan. 5, 2007. The largest technology trade show in the world takes place in Las Vegas from Jan. 8 to Jan. 11. About 150,000 attendees are expected at this year's CES. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Nearly 3,000 companies large and small are at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, hoping to get some attention from the estimated 140,000 people expected to descend on Las Vegas this week.

Though not everyone waits for CES to make its big announcements, it's typically the place where companies announce the products and services they hope to sell during the upcoming year.

Verizon, which operates landline phone service in 10 states and nationwide cellular service, used CES to announce new TV services for both home and mobile customers.

On the home side, it announced the next generation of its FiOS entertainment system that delivers TV to the home through its broadband fiber optic network. A new control center for its personal video recorder service will allow customers to manage both their TV viewing and other media including photos, home video, Internet video, games and music.

A key principle of the enhanced service, says Verizon Telecom VP Bob Ingalls, is "to help customers reach all content with just two clicks of their remote control."

to hear Larry Magid's podcast report interview of Verizon president and CEO Denny Strigl.
Because the company delivers telephone service, high-speed Internet and TV on the same fiber optic cable to the home, it's in a good position to integrate the Internet with the TV. Eventually, when we click on our remotes, we'll most likely see the offerings from the local stations, networks and premium channels, plus an expanded list of choices from Internet providers, such as YouTube, and other sites with user-generated content.

Whether this makes for better TV is, of course, depends on what's available. But it certainly means a lot more choice. Fortunately, Verizon is also providing parental controls, which makes a great deal of sense when you start bringing in the vast unregulated Internet to our TV screens.

The company declined to speculate on what types of services it will offer through partners in markets where they don't offer phone service but we can expect AT&T and Qwest to offer similar services.

Verizon Wireless made a major announcement about its V Cast video service which, for two years, has enabled customers to watch video on cell phones. Prior to today's announcement, video was carried through Verizon's cellular network, using the bandwidth set aside for data services.

With the new V Cast Mobile TV, Verizon is employing technology developed by Qualcomm that uses a traditional broadcast model. Video programming is not carried on the cellular network but picked up as a UHF digital signal on specially equipped handsets with an expandable antenna that looks very much like a portable TV antenna.

The new technology, according to Verizon president Denny Strigl, will allow the company to transmit longform live TV - that is, full-length programs, not just individual videos. Verizon has deals with CBS, Fox, Comedy Central, NBC, MTV and other providers to offer news, entertainment and sports programming, including live sports and breaking news.

This is not the first service to offer live TV to cell phones but it is the first to use the broadcast technology that's separate from the cell phone network. To use the service you'll need specially equipped phones initially from Samsung and LG but later from other companies as well.

The big question is whether people will want to watch TV on a cell phone. Strigl thinks that people will use it to catch sporting events when they're away form home or as an extra TV at home.

Personally, I'd rather watch TV on a 50-inch plasma, sitting on my living room couch, but I can certainly imagine people using it to catch a program or part of a sporting event when they're away from home - assuming they can get a signal. Because it uses a separate broadcast network, TV signals won't necessarily be available even when users have access to Verizon cellular service.

A syndicated technology columnist for over two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid