This just in from a cooperative of cable TV companies. "Thank you for registering with Vutopia. Vutopia is the mobile lover's ultimate destination. It's hundreds of great movies on demand to watch on TV and online anytime you want. It's Hollywood favorites, indie titles and documentaries... This is Vutopia, your movie happy place."
Actually, this is your cable company scared as hell of the inroads Netflix is making on your TV screen. It is a subscription VOD service that can be packaged by the MSOs as they like and moved across at least the Web and TV screens. Cox, which has already been rolling this out in some markets since summer, is joined by Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks in the venture.
While I was able to register for the service I can't access it until my own provider, Comcast, comes up with some packaging. The idea is to give a Netflix-like experience but somehow leverage the MSO's ability to price, package and integrate the service in ways unavailable to a Netflix or Amazon. According to paidContent, the service has been under development for two years because the TV providers saw that a la carte VOD models had limited appeal and the all-you-can-eat subscription model was getting traction.
Whether the cable companies really can get it together to offer a compelling alternative to existing streaming media subscriptions is anyone's guess. Do they have some special leverage with the content owners themselves to keep some branded media off of competing library shelves?
The current interface at Vutopia.com is a bit cooler than you would expect from these guys. Much as we love to hate the cable providers, there really are labs deep in the heart of these companies where people have been trying to figure out how to navigate mountains of digital content more effectively. The dials and levers at the site are more inviting than the very Webby metaphors employed by the competition. I was especially drawn to searching by "Mood," which I think shows a clever understanding of how people make media choices. Unfortunately, the follow-through is poor. In most cases the mood is just a proxy for genres as we know them or the kinds of packages Apple TV or Netflix already offer: "Showbiz dreams," "The Establishment." But I liked the labels like "Freak Out" for movies like Village of the Damned and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Clearly the cable companies are not taking the streaming media phenomenon lying down. And they shouldn't be underestimated either. As much as dweebs like us enjoy attaching new Apple or Roku boxes to our TVs or managing Neflix queues on our Xboxes, many users would just as soon have a seamless viewing and billing experience through their own provider. And this small glimpse at Vutopia, while not the movie service of my dreams, suggests that the cable behemoths have not really be asleep all this time.