Huffington Post Now on Cable TV

Popular news aggregator the Huffington Post will now have a presence on cable television, courtesy of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s cable channel AXS TV, previously known as HDNet. AXS TV will carry the Huffington Post’s eight-month-old Internet channel, HuffPost Live, for six hours a day, and replicate some of the interactivity of the online experience by showing online comments on the right side of the TV screen and releasing an app that will allow viewers to comment on what they are watching.

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The unorthodox deal may help expose HuffPost Live to more people. But it also underscores how hard it is for Internet video start-ups to find a place on cable systems, which are controlled by a handful of big companies that are reluctant to add channels.

Executives at The Huffington Post have been trying for months to have their channel picked up by cable and satellite operators, with nothing to show for it yet. Other backers of Internet channels have received lukewarm receptions at best. The most successful such channel, Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, has been picked up by Dish Network and four small cable companies and has been encouraging fans to put pressure on other operators.

In an interview, Roy Sekoff, the president and co-creator of HuffPost Live, did not rule out full-blown cable distribution in the future. He said AXS provided “a way to get on now,” emphasizing “now.”

The telecast will start on May 13. It will be shown weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time (the first half of HuffPost Live’s daily output), replacing the random assortment of repeats that AXS currently schedules during the day. Mr. Sekoff said The Huffington Post was not paying for the distribution, and AXS is not paying for the programming; the arrangement is mutually beneficial, he suggested, something that Mr. Cuban affirmed in a separate interview.

“It’s an opportunity for both of us to grow our audiences during the day,” he said.

AXS has existed since last July, when Mr. Cuban teamed up with Ryan Seacrest, the talent agency Creative Artists Agency and the events company Anschutz Entertainment Group to reformat HDNet, which Mr. Cuban helped to found in 2001. In February another company, the CBS Corporation, took an equity stake in AXS and said it would provide programming and promotional opportunities.

The fact that online channels, even popular ones, are still trying to get on cable TV is a good sign for cable television’s continued existence.

Broadband Internet Project in West Virginia Nears Completion

In one of many projects to expand high speed internet throughout rural parts of the United States, Frontier Communications is wrapping up work on projects expanding fiber optic internet access throughout West Virginia. 583 miles of fiber-optic cable has been installed to schools, libraries and other public facilities, with seven miles of cable remaining to be installed.

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The work is part of the state’s $126.3 million federal stimulus project to expand broadband service. Frontier is to receive about $45 million for its work. As of Friday, the state had paid the company $9.6 million.

“The Office of Technology is in the process of working with the grant implementation team to ensure accuracy and documentation of all invoices and payments,” Department of Administration spokeswoman Diane Holley-Brown told the newspaper.

Holley-Brown said Frontier bills the state when it completes fiber construction at each location.

“A large proportion of the Frontier fiber builds has been invoiced, and some of those are being processed for payment,” Holley-Brown said. “However, … they do not submit the invoice until all work on that specific build is completed.”

A Frontier spokesman referred questions to the state officials overseeing the federal stimulus project.

Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato notified the federal government last fall that West Virginia expected to have $9 million left over from the $126.3 million project. State officials last week revised the estimate to $4 million in unspent funds. Any money that isn’t spent will be returned to the federal government.

Projects like these are going on across the country, with high speed internet providers teaming with local and state governments to bring internet access to rural areas, much as in the past phone lines and electricity were brought to outlying areas. More on this essential project throughout the United States from the TV, Internet and Phone Blog to come.

Playoff Teams Top Local NBA Cable TV Ratings

As the NBA playoffs heat up, another race for the year has already been determined—which teams garnered the highest local TV ratings. As should be no surprise, the NBA’s best are also the most watched in their particular regional cable sports channel markets, with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, last year’s NBA finalists, topping the ratings battle.

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Fox Sports Oklahoma averaged an 8.65 rating for Thunder games during the 2012-13 regular season, according to Sports Business Journal — up 32% from last year (6.58), and the highest local average in the NBA. The 8.65 is the highest for any NBA team since the Spurs averaged an all-time NBA record 10.2 two years ago.

Ranking second for the season were the defending champion Heat on Sun Sports. Fueled by a 27-game winning streak in which games averaged a 9.1 rating, Sun Sports averaged a 7.07 for the 2012-13 season — up 7% from last year (6.59), and the highest average since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team.

The Spurs, who led the local ratings race the past two seasons, ranked in third-place with a 6.44 average this year. That marks a 20% decline from last year’s 8.0, which was the second-best in team history.

The Lakers, as is typical, averaged the largest number of households during the regular season. Despite finishing in 7th place in the West, the team’s 4.64 rating on Time Warner Cable SportsNet was even with last year’s average on Fox Sports West. The Lakers crushed the Clippers, who averaged a 1.56 on FS West.

The Knicks were second in total number of homes, but the team’s 3.12 average rating on MSG Network declined 6% from last year’s record-high (3.30). Of course, considering how much hype the team attracted last season — not to mention the shortened 66-game slate — this year’s numbers are still impressive. As in Los Angeles, the more-established Knicks easily outdrew their crosstown rivals, pummeling the Nets on YES Network (0.96) by 225%.

The money brought in by regional sports networks, and the fees cable providers must pay them in order to carry their programming, means that sports television is big business. These ratings show that cable and satellite TV providers won’t be able to get away with trying to squeeze out regional sports networks just yet, no matter what the cost.

AT&T U-Verse Grows in Q1 of 2013

While other cable and internet services suffered from cord cutting customers, the AT&T U-Verse platform grew in the first quarter of 2013, as the company set a record in growth with 731,000 new U-Verse internet subscribers and 232,000 television customers. This brings the total subscribers to 8.4 million internet users and 4.8 million TV subscribers.

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Record quarterly U-verse Internet adds offset regular DSL losses, resulting in 124,000 net wireline broadband subscribers, the best quarterly increase for AT&T in that category in eight quarters.  Total U-verse high-speed customers now make up more than half of all AT&T’s wireline broadband customer base.

AT&T expects capital expenditures for 2013 to be in the neighborhood of $21 billion. It also anticipates capex to hit $20 billion in both 2014 and 2015, down from an originally anticipated $22 billion for each of those years. The lower capex projection comes “with no reduction in the Project Velocity IP (VIP) broadband expansion,” AT&T said.

Outlined last November, the three-year capex investment plan calls for AT&T to expand its U-verse network by more than one-third, or 8.5 million additional customer locations, for a total potential of 33 million homes, by the end of 2015.  The cash will also fund capacity expansions that will put U-verse on pace to support downstream speeds of up to 75 Mbps.  AT&T will also use those funds to help it deploy its Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile broadband network to nearly 90 percent of its planned 300 million POPs by the end of 2013.

Other cable television providers, such as Charter Communications, are not making quite as big gains as AT&T, which is spreading into new territories constantly. However, Charter will be expanding into new territories in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

Cox Cable TV App Available on Android Devices

Cox Communications, a cable TV provider, now offers a new app bringing more than 90 linear cable TV channels to Fire and a handful of other Android devices. The Cox TV Connect app is a follow-up to a similar app available on iPads and iPhones made available two years ago. It is available on Kindle Fire, Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

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“Tablets have really changed the game in terms of the way people view television,” said Cox executive VP of product management and development Len Barlik, in a statement. “Our customers want more than the traditional living room experience. We continue to evolve our products to meet customers’ changing needs, connecting them to the things they care about in ways that are easy to use and reliable.”

Cox debuted the free app for iOS devices in December 2011, initially offering to 35 cable channels to devices connected to the customer’s home network.  Cox said the app has been downloaded more than 500,000 times so far.

Cox’s latest app, supporting a lineup of 91 channels, including History Channel, Discovery Channel, TNT, HGTV and CNN, now lends supports the two largest ecosystems for tablets and smartphones.  Cox has not yet introduced a version that runs on PC browsers.

Cox TV Connect — available to customers who subscribe to its TV Essential or Advanced TV tier, plus its Preferred, Premier or Ultimate broadband packages — lets users access TV listings and manage their DVRs inside or outside the home, but does not yet provide access to live TV streams outside the reach of the customer’s home Wi-Fi network.

But Cox, like other operators, is clearly developing a streaming infrastructure and ecosystem that has out-of-home access in mind.  Last week, Time Warner Cable launched a refresh of its app for iOS devices that supports out-of-home streaming to a small subset of live TV feeds and to more than 1,100 hours of on-demand content from 26 networks.

As more and more cable TV customers demand the ability to watch not only on their televisions but on portable devices, cable TV providers are continuing to develop these apps. Apps like these may be the only thing keeping many customers from cutting the cord in the future.

California Adds High Speed Internet Via White Space Technology

The onset of TV white-space broadband technology could bring high speed internet to the parts of the rural United States without broadband internet access. El Dorado County, California, also known as Gold Country, is partnering with internet providers in the region to bring the first commercial application of white-space technology to bring the area something more than dial-up.

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“Over 59,000 residents in our rural service area have had little or no quality Internet access,” Cal.net CTO Ken Garnett, who began investigating white space technology several years ago, said in a statement. “When I discovered Carlson, their White-Space network equipment was a quantum leap ahead of all other contenders. This new product allows us to serve a large contingent of these people.”

White spaces are essentially unlicensed sections of the spectrum. What companies are now able to do is keep track of in-use TV broadcast frequencies so that wireless broadband devices can take advantage of that unlicensed space. TV frequencies have powerful signals that are able to travel over mountainous and forested terrain.

The FCC unanimously agreed in November 2008 to open up this spectrum for unlicensed use. Experts say there could be between 300MHz to 400MHz of unused spectrum across the U.S. In 2010, the FCC approved new rules for using unlicensed white space, which included using databases to check for clear frequencies and ensure that devices do not interfere with existing broadcast TV license holders.

Several companies are working on building databases to make use of white space. Google began testing a new database in March. Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia have already completed their trials, and there are another 10 companies, including Microsoft, which are working on similar databases. Google also launched a trial program last month to use white space for providing wireless broadband in South African schools.

In Gold Country, the monthly service will cost users $54.95 per month with speeds of around 2 to 4 Mbps, according to Engadget, which first reported this story. Currently the service is only available in the vicinity of Swansboro, but Cal.net plans to extend its reach across the county in coming months.

If this technology is successful in Gold Country, further opening up of the broadband space could definitely benefit other rural areas in the United States. Stay tuned at the TV, Internet and Phone Blog as this story develops.

Google Fiber Expanding Service to Provo, Utah

The home of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, will become the third city in the United States to receive Google Fiber, Google’s high speed internet service. Google Fiber is already up and running in Kansas City, Missouri and will soon be up and running in Austin, Texas, the technology hub of the southern US.

Google has purchased the city-owned iProvo fiber-optic network for $1, and will offer residents free internet service once they pay a $30 connection fee.

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“iProvo and their Fiber network has been around for years, but never fully came to fruition and got moving for the city on a mass scale,” Cory Gunther of Android Community said. He added iProvo is valued at approximately $39 million, but that it was sold to Google for a fraction of that value “for legal reasons.”

Google plans to upgrade the network by replacing existing infrastructure, and Provo Deputy Mayor Corey Norman estimates it will cost the tech giant about $30 million to complete that project, Gunther added. Furthermore, the company plans to expand the Fiber network to other Utah cities by 2015.

However, according to McEntegart, the deal between Google and Provo has not yet been finalized. It still needs to be approved by the Utah city’s council. That vote is currently scheduled for April 23, she said. Despite Google Fiber’s expansion into a third territory, the project itself still is somewhat nebulous, according to Peter Kafka of All Things D.

Investors and many others, Kafka says, “don’t know what to make of Google’s moves.” Specifically, they have two questions, he explained – what is the company attempting to accomplish, and how much of an investment are they willing to make to meet those goals?

“There are multiple theories to answer those questions, which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive,” Kafka said.

One theory, he said, is Fiber is “a sandbox” for Google and the company is “trying to figure out what goes into offering that kind of speed, and what happens when customers take advantage of it.”

A second theory is they are hoping to encourage other Internet providers to make similar investments in speed in other markets, and a third is simply that Google is just looking to provide high speed Internet to much of the US – “Because, why not? It’s Google. It can afford just about anything,” he added.

More on this from the TV, Internet and Phone Blog as the story develops. Get your news about high speed internet here.