Video discovery startup Fanhattan is getting ready to change the way that viewers watch TV, with a new streaming set-top box that combines all of the best parts of TV, DVR, and VOD, while also giving users access to all their favorite streaming services. It’s rebranding as Fan and showing off an innovative new take on live TV and streaming services.
The key to the company’s new Fan TV box, being shown off at D11 today, isn’t the content that users have access to, but a beautiful, trackpad-like control that was designed by Yves Behar, as well as a search and discovery screen for navigating all that live, recorded, and streaming content.
A few years ago, Fan unveiled its search and discovery application for iPad, enabling users to find all their favorite movies and TV shows available across a wide range of streaming apps and services. By providing a universal search and discovery mechanism, the app was able to highlight content wherever it could be viewed.
A New Way To Discover Live TV
With the Fan TV set-top box, the company is bringing that same discovery experience to the TV. But it’s also combining access to various streaming services with the ability to watch live, pre-recorded, and video-on-demand titles from your local cable or satellite TV providers.
Yes, that’s right. Unlike Apple TV, Roku, WDTV, etc., this is a streaming box that will connect with your cable service. Actually, that’s a key part of Fan’s value proposition, as well as its plans to go to market. More than just a device for streaming Netflix or Hulu Plus, the search and discovery piece of Fan TV will be used to give users the ability to find their favorite programs on live TV, as well as discover new shows.
The company plans to partner with big pay TV operators to make Fan TV available to their customers. While they won’t disclose pricing of the set-top box, the company expects to have a business model similar to the one that is employed by mobile phone manufacturers and wireless operators today, in which the cost of the device is subsidized for the end user by the service providers.
Like existing set-top boxes, the Fan TV doesn’t rely on a coax connection to work. Even when it’s delivering live TV, it’s streaming that content, either over the local Wi-Fi network, or through an Ethernet port in the back of the device. In that way, it’s a lot like your typical Roku box or Apple TV.
For cable and satellite companies, the Fan TV device could replace expensive, poorly designed set-top boxes from legacy providers like Cisco. Not only does it ultimately provide a better user experience, but it will likely do so at a fraction of the price of current set-tops. While the company has yet to announce any partners — those will come later this summer — CEO Gilles BianRosa told me that the company expects to be available to as many as 60 million pay TV households by the end of the year.
A beautiful new remote control
The most impressive thing about the Fan TV isn’t just the way it seamlessly combines content from multiple services and makes it simple to browse and discover shows and movies. The most impressive thing about Fan TV is a new trackpad-like remote control that does away with all the ugly buttons and complexities of today’s current options.
For the creation of the Fan TV device, the startup partnered with industrial designer Yves Behar — yes, this is his second product to launch at this conference — and the result is a game-changing new way of navigating options on your TV. The touch remote can be held in one hand, and allows you to change channels, navigate menus, and even control volume settings through a series of swipes, taps and gestures.
I got a chance to try out the Fan TV for myself and I can honestly say that the control is like nothing I’ve ever used. It’s kind of like using your mobile phone’s touchscreen for navigation (and yes, there are apps to do that today), but simpler, and without the need for another device.
A box for TV lovers and cord cutters alike
The Fan TV has the opportunity to provide a better user experience for users who already subscribe to TV, making it easier to search for, watch and record their favorite TV shows. If it becomes widely available, the device could very seriously revolutionize the way that pay TV subscribers interact with their TV programming.
But more importantly, it could bring cord cutters and so-called “cord nevers” back into the fold. By providing a set-top box that works like other streaming devices today, but with the benefit of also providing live TV, cable operators could introduce new, low-cost video services that match the convenience that young, tech-savvy consumers have gotten used to. That could be great news for cable operators, as well as Fan TV going forward.