Skinkers to provide live TV over the net
Joost or Slingbox killer?
Skinkers, using technology called LiveStation that it acquired from Microsoft, has developed a peer-to-peer-based video service that allows consumers to watch live television on their PC.
Some have taken to calling it a Joost killer, even though Joost is barely alive and Skinkers so far has scant content and is not even in beta test. LiveStation, as currently implemented, is for live broadcasts and Joost is for video-on-demand.
LiveStation uses peer-to-peer networking and Microsoft's new Silverlight technology to stream live video to PCs and, in the future, to mobile devices that can access the net. Microsoft's Silverlight streaming video technology competes head-on with Adobe's Flash Video.
London-based Skinkers, of which Microsoft owns 10 per cent, acquired some of the LiveStation technology it's using from Microsoft Research in June. Using P2P reduces the operating costs for streaming video by eliminating the need for the video service to install and operate the traditional server infrastructure and bandwidth that's been required for streaming. This capacity is replaced by the uplinking on customer broadband accounts.
The company says it's developing a version for Windows Mobile that can be used on mobile phones and other portable devices. The mobile service will work best, it said, when the mobile devices access the net with a Wi-Fi connection rather than connecting through a cellular network.
Skinkers is trying to convince TV companies, both content originators and pay-TV services, that using LiveStation will allow their audience to watch their live TV content on PCs and mobile devices anywhere there's an internet connection. It promises "a quality image with no buffering or stopping". And it offers the lure that viewers can "'click' on a TV advert exactly as they do on the web but while watching your existing TV channels".
And, Skinkers says, that can all be done without the TV service having to change any of its existing business processes. A version of LiveStation for Macs is being developed.
Matteo Berlucchi, co-founder of Skinkers, said the company is starting beta testing now and hopes to have a finished product on the market by this October.
Berlucchi told The Inquirer: "We're making very good progress. We're fine-tuning the peering because it's like fine-tuning a Formula One car - you have to go on the track a lot to get maximum performance. The next thing is doing multi-channel because one of the big challenges is channel changing. We think we can get low latency and we're hoping to do it in the range of Freeview, which is about three seconds to change channels.
"Then the other step is to get content on there. We would offer the platform to broadcasters. It's similar to a cable TV operator like Tiscali or Virgin Media. Where we think we're going to be lucky is that the broadcasters all want to simulcast and they've already taken the first step to broadcast over IP."
'We are definitely not taking on Joost'
"There's been a lot of confusion with people making two plus two equal 10," Berlucchi told the paper. "People call it a Joost killer, which is hilarious because the real title is 'trying to get television working over the Internet'. Microsoft would never do something like launching against Joost. They probably don't know what Joost is."
An unidentified person who said he was on the LiveStation development team posted the following on a blog:
"Unlike what some people are saying, we are definitely NOT TAKING ON Joost! We love Joost and think it's a great idea, but we are trying to do something different and complementary: we are trying to get live television on the computer. We believe that the user experience with streaming so far has never been really good enough. We hope to move the user experience a step forward and maybe to the point where people will look at LiveStation and think 'Wow, I can ACTUALLY watch this and keep it on my computer.' Thanks again for the support and interest but please don't go around shouting 'Microsoft is taking on Joost.' The correct slogan should be 'Skinkers is trying to get TV working on the computer!' and I can assure you, it is fun but very hard!"
In some respects, the Skinker technology and business plan looks more like a Slingbox killer than a Joost killer. Slingbox allows users to remotely view what is playing on their TV set at home via an internet connection.
Skinker does not appear to be intent on acquiring the rights to stream content on demand as Joost, Babelgum, and others are doing. Instead, the company seems to want to get content owners and distributors such as pay-TV services to use LiveStation to stream Silverlight-based video to PCs. That means consumers would not need a Slingbox to watch TV remotely from a PC (well it might if it involved a Pay TV service).
LiveStation is meant for live broadcasts, the company says, but, of course, there's no reason why it wouldn't be used to transmit video-ondemand if it turns out that it can, since the internet, DVRs, and VoD services are rapidly leading consumers away from "fixed time" TV viewing. Skinkers sees its technology being used by pay-TV services as a free or near-free add-on for delivering their shows and movies to PC users.
This article first ran in the current issue of The Online Reporter from Rider Research
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