Verizon's FiOS TV customers to stream TV on iPad

Technology is keeping Hollywood on its toes: Just when studios have gotten used to Netflix reinventing the homevideo biz and are flirting with becoming a major player in the pay-TV biz, it’s time for networks to face a very near future when Apple’s iPad and rival tablet computers steal more eyes away from TV sets.

Verizon is about to offer up the latest carrot for consumers, with the telco giant announcing plans Wednesday for an upcoming app that will let its FiOS TV customers stream television and on-demand programming to the iPad.

Expected to bow next year, the app will allow customers to view the shows only in their homes. It would also list, in real time, which shows are most popular with viewers.

Verizon told the Wall Street Journal that it’s already in talks with content providers to secure permission to stream the programs to the iPad. Because the stream would be limited to subscribers’ homes, though, it doesn’t expect to face any significant hurdles. Any deals would also be negotiated separately from the pricier VCast programming pacts that enable shows to be viewed on the go from mobile phones.

One reason is the limited range within which the TV shows can be streamed. Because the stream will come via a Wi-Fi connection from the FiOS router in homes, the app would likely become useless when the iPad is out of range.

In any event, the deal would significantly boost the telco’s growing relationship with Apple, which is also expected to lead to a sale of iPhones on Verizon’s service early next year, for the first time.

Verizon is hardly the first company to reveal that it’s planning to put streamable TV shows in the hands of tablet owners. Earlier this month, Cablevision announced plans for a virtually identical application that would also be limited to the home. Dish Network, meanwhile, will begin streaming live TV to its mobile apps (including one to the iPad) next month.

And while it doesn’t have an iPad-specific app, Comcast is still a threat in this battle. The company’s TV Everywhere website (which is accessible via the iPad’s Web browser) lets viewers watch more than 2,000 hours of content online — but not live TV.

Most apps on the iPhone or iPad stream only a library of shows that have already aired, and directly from websites that networks operate themselves or via Hulu.

Given its capabilities, however, the iPad is increasingly becoming a go-to entertainment device for programmers and consumers. Its unmatched battery life and screen size make it a more natural fit for watching content than smart phones (including the iPhone), which have been criticized for their small screens.

Streaming applications have been a favorite with iPad owners. An app from Netflix that allows users to watch films in real time has been a constant presence among the top 10 downloads since the system’s launch. ABC’s app has never fallen out of the top 20.

Climbing the charts is an application allowing Hulu Plus members to stream that site’s vast catalog of titles. Offering is still in beta mode.

Even HBO is getting into the game with plans to extend its HBO Go site to the iPad, allowing subscribers to view original content and films when they’re mobile.

The ultra-portability and ease with which apps can be developed for the iPad have helped boost the device’s popularity. In the first three months that the tablet was available, Apple sold 3.3 million iPads.

Competitors have been slow to emerge, but Apple won’t have the field to itself much longer.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged earlier this month that the company is working on a rival to the iPad, noting “it is job one urgency.” And rumors have been floating for some time about a tablet in the works from Google that will utilize that company’s Chrome operating system. If those whispers prove true, it could be the most viable threat to the iPad.

Phones using Google’s Android operating system have quickly emerged as the chief competitor to the iPhone. In 2009, Android had just 5% of the smart phone market. By the end of June this year, that number had jumped to nearly 14%.

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