Streaming Bits: Sony Considering Launching Internet TV Service, Netflix Releases Redesigned Tablet App, UltraViolet Off To A Rocky Start

Hey, remember the days when Netflix's DVDs-by-mail service seemed like the height of convenience? Or when people who bragged about not owning a TV actually meant they didn't watch TV, not that they just got all their content through Hulu? Those days are obviously over — nowadays, I get (mildly) annoyed whenever a film or show isn't available for streaming instantaneously on the Web. I'm not saying I'm not spoiled, but... get with the times, people!

After the jump:

  • Sony thinks about launching an Internet TV service
  • Netflix offers a shinier way to stream movies on your iPad
  • Cloud-based digital locker UltraViolet gets off to a disappointing start.
  • However, Sony's success is far from certain. For one thing, the company intends to license smaller bundles of channels than cable operators currently do, so media companies may be wary of undercutting their existing partnerships. For another, plenty of media companies have connections to the cable industry, and thus have a vested interest in keeping cable and satellite TV alive. (One example Gizmodo cites is Time Warner, which owns Warner Bros., Turner Broadcasting, HBO, and TimeWarner cable.) There's also the fact that TV channels don't always own the Internet rights to their programs, especially when it comes to sporting events. Sony's plans sound enticing to me, as a consumer who hates paying for TimeWarner cable, but they've got their work cut out for them. [Wall Street Journal via Gizmodo]

    Netflix has launched a newer, prettier redesign of their app for Android tablets, with a corresponding version for the Apple iPad scheduled to drop within the next few weeks. "The new design is much more immersive and provides greater focus on the growing number of titles in the Netflix catalog," wrote Netflix mobile products manager Zal Bilimoria in a blog post. "In fact, the new interface displays twice as many movies and TV shows as before, enabling you to discover even more titles you'll love. Also, we've taken greater advantage of the tablet's unique features, inviting you to swipe through rows of titles featuring larger artwork."

    The announcement coincides with the release of two new tablets, Amazon Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, that are expected to take off this holiday season. Those products are likely the reason Netflix chose to launch their app on Android tablets first, rather than starting with iPad as most mobile apps do — Netflix probably hopes to get off on the right foot with customers eyeing the new devices.

    Impressions of the revamped Android app seem to be mostly positive so far, with VentureBeat noting that "it works far better on a touch screen" and PC World praising its "more modern" look, which better fits with the streaming service's website interface. [Cult of Mac]

    When the cloud-based "digital locker" UltraViolet first launched last month, we noted that though the "buy once, play anywhere" system sounded great, it seemed that the service still had a few issues to work out. And now that consumers and industry professionals have actually had a chance to test out the system, reactions to UltraViolet have been less than stellar.

    "It remains far, far easier for DVD-buying consumers to pirate a digital copy of their movie," BTIG Capital analyst Richard Greenfield remarked to the New York Times. Part of the problem is that actually using UltraViolet's "digital locker" — which theoretically enables consumers to buy a movie on one physical platform and access it digitally by either downloading or streaming it — isn't as simple as it probably should be. Once you purchase an UltraViolet-enabled Blu-ray, for example, you still have to set up a Flixter account and enter a code printed on the disc packaging in order to watch the digital copy — and that's assuming everything goes smoothly.

    Greenfield and other analysts have also criticized UltraViolet for moving too fast, pushing ahead before it was ready for public use. Plenty of consumers still aren't familiar or comfortable with cloud-based storage, and only about 10 UltraViolet-compatible titles will have been released by Christmas. Moreover, several users have already complained about technical difficulties and at least one has noticed a fine-print time limitation of three years for digital access on her copy of Green Lantern. Studios aren't necessarily benefiting as much as they'd like, either. Just weeks after UltraViolet launched, consumers began trading DVD and Blu-ray codes on eBay.

    For obvious reasons, studios have a vested interesting in encouraging consumers to buy (rather than rent) titles, and UltraViolet was initially introduced as a way of making purchasing more appealing. However, based on the early reactions to UltraViolet, it doesn't sound like there's a whole lot of motivation for people to ditch Netflix just yet. [Cinema Blend]