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NetFlix Streaming Ahead: Extends Video Streaming to Windows Media Center

NetFlix Streaming Ahead: Extends Video Streaming to Windows Media Center PCs
NetFlix will be busy acquiring the rights to content for video streaming over the Internet in the months and years ahead in hopes that it can ride the wave of increasing penetration of in-home digital devices that will let consumers view content directly on their TV sets. This was one of the main messages from Barry McCarthy, NetFlix CFO who spoke at the JP Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom conference earlier this week.

But in the meantime, NetFlix announced that is expanding its streaming application to as many PC platforms as possible, as witnessed by today’s news extending their deal with Microsoft to make the NetFlix library of 12,000+ streaming videos available through Windows Vista Media Center PCs with Windows Vista Home Premium or Ultimate.
Netflix customers who also have either Windows Vista version will be able to go to Windows Media Center, click on a new NetFlix icon tile that will be placed there and begin streaming their selected movies and TV episodes on their PCs. Users can search the entire Netflix library, manage both their instant and DVD Queues, and even filter searches by titles that are available to watch, according to the companies.

The service will use the same NetFlix recommendation engine and be powered by Microsoft’s Silverlight. Unless it’s not already installed, users will be prompted to install Silverlight 2.0

Streaming or downloading are increasingly being viewed as the future of video distribution and it represents a lower cost way for NetFlix to grow their business. But in the absence of any critical mass of devices that allow consumers to stream video directly to their TV or other devices, NetFlix will concentrate on accumulating the streaming rights to more content and keep expanding the titles for physical DVDs and grow their distribution centers for next day DVD delivery.

NetFlix lets viewers stream movies and TV shows using their own proprietary control software that is downloaded onto in-home digital devices. It has agreements for streaming directly to PCs and Apple Macintosh computers;, Internet connected Blu-ray players from LG Electronics and Samsung,; set-top boxes from TiVo and the Roku Player; and gaming consoles from Microsoft’s Xbox 360. To date, more than a million titles have been downloaded via Xbox.

Later this year, NetFlix will also launch direct to TV streaming to HDTV sets from Vizio and LG Electronics.

NetFlix CFO Barry McCarthy said that lots of good engineering is going into their user interface for better search and discovery and trashed cable’s UI as “atrocious” and one of the main reasons why cable operator video on demand services are not doing as well as expected. There’s some truth to that statement in my opinion.

I’ve been a loyal digital and HD cable subscriber for many years, but if there’s one thing I really hate—well hate is a strong word—strongly dislike is their antiquated interactive program guide where you literally have to use three different guides for three different kinds of content. One grid for linear broadcast and cable programming, a different one for your DVR content and yet another one for Video On Demand, and good look navigating that nightmare. I once spent 40 minutes trying to find “The Office” movie that was advertised as being available on BBC America to no avail. If that’s not user “unfriendly” I don’t know what is.

The point here is that intelligent and intuitive search and discovery, elegant and user friendly user interfaces with video mosaics over linear grids will make a lot of people happy—myself included—and will be key to the “everything on demand” and “TV Anywhere/Everywhere” world where content over the Internet is exploding.

In the meantime, look for NetFlix to keep improving their search and recommendation features as streaming content selections grow and to keep investing in the streaming application side of their business—although not too far ahead of critical mass of enabling technologies in the market place for direct-to-TV and alternative video device viewing.

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