Last year, I got a sneak preview of Fan TV, a next-generation streaming set-top box from the makers of the Fan (née Fanhattan) iPad video discovery app. Now, 11 months later, the product is going to finally be made available to users through a partnership with Time Warner Cable.
Based on my demo of it a year ago, the Fan TV box actually seems pretty cool. Designed by Yves Behar, the device has a beautiful, intuitive user interface, as well as a gesture-based remote control that is a joy to use. Even better, it was designed to deliver live, on-demand, and over-the-top content to users, mixing content from a user’s local cable provider along with her favorite streaming services.
And therein lies the rub — for users to get the full experience of the Fan TV box, the company would need to partner with a cable, IPTV, or satellite TV provider to get distribution. And, even then, getting a cable operator to agree to include streaming video services that might be considered competitive, like Netflix or Amazon Prime, seemed like a hard sell.
Well, it’s taken nearly a year, but Fan TV finally got a major cable company to bite. Thanks to a partnership that’s been a long time in the making, the Fan TV box is now available for pre-order by Time Warner Cable subscribers for $99 from www.fan.tv.
With the partnership, Fan TV will be offered to customers of the country’s second-largest cable provider, with more than 13 million subscribers. The box will provide TWC subscribers with a new way to view and discover live and on-demand TV, breaking them out of the default cable grid that most users have gotten used to on legacy set-top boxes.
Fan TV got its start with an iPad app built for discovering video content across a wide range of services, including Netflix, Hulu+, iTunes, and a number of other video apps that it would deep-link into to connect viewers directly with the content they wanted to see.
With its set-top box, the company will bring that same user experience to the big screen, providing a universal search functionality across live and on-demand TV from Time Warner Cable, as well as select over-the-top video services. In that way, users will get a blend of different services all from a single user interface.
According to Time Warner Cable SVP & GM of Video Mike Angus, making Fan TV available to its subscribers is just “a part of our ongoing effort to figure out what our customers want and deliver a better customer experience.”
While there will be some over-the-top video services available at launch, they won’t be those most consumers know and love. Fan TV will have Redbox Instant by Verizon, Crackle, and Target Ticket available for video streams, as well as Rhapsody’s streaming music service.
That means viewers who are big Netflix or Hulu+ fans will still need to stream those services from another set-top box, which could put a slight damper on consumer interest in the device.
“We’ve embraced the platform with the understanding that there would be multiple services available,” he said, noting that TWC sees services like Netflix as complementary to users’ cable subscriptions.”
There’s also the question of what happens when and if Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable is approved and goes through. Assuming it does, and that at some point Time Warner Cable’s broadband and TV service becomes Xfinity broadband and TV service, it’s not clear whether or not the new company will continue to support the device.
That’s a risk whenever there’s a possible acquisition on the table. And while he couldn’t comment on Comcast’s support of products like Fan TV specifically, Angus did say, “Within and across the industry I think you’re seeing a greater acceptance of these types of platforms and the kind of experience they’re able to provide.”
Does that mean we could see Fan TV on more cable systems soon? Maybe.