If you have been thinking about cutting the cable cord, you had to look down a long dark alley of missing content and a lonely flatscreen TV. But a number of new services are now showing up to fill that gap and provide a true TV experience that could herald the arrival of the OTT - Over The Top - universe.
The four leaders are all different, but each worthy of a look. They are Frequency, Pluto TV, Yidio, and Waywire. Full disclosure, I'm the CEO of Waywire - but frankly each of the services we're going to explore are different and unique in their own way.
Frequency Networks was founded by Blair Harrison, who is the company's CEO, in LA in 2010. Harrison has been an early leader in the web video space, having sold IFILM to Viacom VIAB -2.28% in 2005, and was then the CEO of FastTV.
Frequency gathers online videos from social networks, media sites, and blogs, and creates custom channel streams based on individual user's interests. The channels are updated in real time, delivering videos from a wide range of sources in a single application.
Frequency's channels are organized by content type, such as news, entertainment, sports, tech, and children's programming. Visitors can aggregate video from over 4,000 sources, including ESPN , CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC,TechCrunch, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Users can also create their own personalized channels, and they can connect their account to Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus - allowing the service to filter through videos shared by social networking friends and provide recommendations.
Videos are streamed - creating a so-called 'lean back' experience similar to watching cable TV. It synchronizes channels and viewed content across multiple devices so you can watch on your mobile, desktop, or flatscreen. Frequency indexes approximately five million new videos and over 500 million social networking posts per day. As of April 2014, it has approximately four million monthly active users. Users can also create their own personalized channels, and they can connect their account to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, allowing the service to filter through videos shared by social networking friends and provide recommendations.
CEO Blair Harrison told me that the company has launched Frequency Sync, a hosting service that allows video owners to publish and monetize their videos across the Frequency applications. Also they launched Frequency Source, an SDK and set of services that allow television operators, consumer electronics manufacturers and other platform developers to integrate Frequency and its curated videos into their own platforms.
Frequency is the slickest of the OTT apps - but it's hardly alone.
Pluto.TV is a video aggregation and channel creation platform that looks to provide a cable like experience to users.
In a visit to Forbes back in march, Pluto.tv CEO Nick Grouf demo'd Pluto to Forbes contributor J.J. Colao. Colao described it as "a web service that takes the traditional television format--live, linear feeds divvied up into shows and channels--and slaps it onto thousands of hours of Internet video. It's a concept that sounds dubious on the surface, but works surprisingly well in practice."
"The Pluto.TV interface has a numbered channel guides below the main video feed, neatly divided into shows-basically themed collections of shorter online videos", wrote Colao. "The vast majority are sourced from YouTube. So instead of MTV , there's "Top 40″ an
d "EDM," channels that continuously stream popular music videos. Instead of TLC, there's "Cats 24/7," which is exactly what it sounds like."
The content comes mostly from YouTube and you can set the service to act like a DVR and 'record' shows as they come on the service. But unlike Tivo, you can't fast forward or rewind, and the YouTube ads at the bottom of the screen and the lack of a true 'full screen' experience make it feel a bit like a web page - and somewhat distracting.
The interface is evolving, and I'm sure we'll see it change as more devices come online.
The final app is Yidio, short for Your Internet Video. Unlike Frequency and Pluto.TV that gather free video feeds - the platform collects content from multiple subscription-based video streaming providers and allows users to view that content from a single interface if you log in. Yidio connects users with video from subscription VOD services including Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Crackle, Crunchyroll, and more.
Yidio was founded by two brothers, Brandon and Adam Eatros in early 2008. Yidio's home screen features the latest releases and recently aired television programs. The interface organizes movies and television programs by genre or source, shows program descriptions and provides ratings from Rotten Tomatoes. Yidio says that its platform aggregates over one million TV shows and movies.
Waywire has a different take on the video space - looking at a single HTML5 experience that blends sources and channels into a diverse mix of branded services and curated channels. Waywire stakes its claim on being Curated TV.
Waywire.com hosts 590 channels, with a growing number of them presented by subject area experts, and passionate fans who curate video from across the web into high quality experiences that blend sources and social networks. A single channel might therefore show AOL, Yahoo, NBC, Conde Nast, Wochit, and YouTube videos along with a curated stream of relevant conversation from Twitter, a Facebook comment stream, and images from Instagram and other social networks.
With channel categories like Travel, Health, Fashion, Music, Sports, and Tech - and 30 curated channels including Game Of Thrones, Dr. Who, Jimmy Fallon, Miley Cyrus , Hillary Clinton TV, Alzheimer's TV, Travel Buzz, and Marijuana TV... the 600 channel network is focused on granular topics, and high quality curation.
There's no doubt that the early progress in building a connection between the world wide content web and the living room was built on hardware. With folks like Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Tivo all offering variations on services provided by hardware - early adopters had access to a mix of TV and web content. Now, as bandwidth becomes more ubiquitous - there's an interesting hybrid of software and hardware on the horizon. So, stay tuned for the emerging TV 2.0 future - it's arriving now.