SBC homes in on digital entertainment

Lack of monthly fee a blow to TiVo, other services

Telco SBC revealed plans for the first generation of its new home entertainment service that will include video programming, broadband content, TiVo-like recording and downloadable movies.

Set for rollout in the middle of this year, service will be unveiled by CEO Ed Whitacre in an address at the Consumer Electronics Show, which opens Thursday in Las Vegas.

New set-top box designed by partner 2Wire will allow SBC customers to receive Dish Network programming, download movies from the Internet, record TV with a digital video recorder, look at photos and other content stored on their computer, and stream music through Yahoo!’s Internet radio service.

Although no deal is yet in place, SBC is planning to partner with Internet VOD providers like Movielink and CinemaNow to let users download movies. That would be a major coup for either company, which have so far been limited primarily to PCs.

It’s also a big step for SBC, which like competitor Verizon is attempting to challenge cable companies for dominance in the developing digital home sector.

“We’ve got a variety of content from different service providers and now can deliver them all in one advanced set-top box that competitors and cable TV provides can’t match,” boasted SBC executive director of broadband applications Lee Culver.

Service will start rolling out in May. Users will pay a one-time fee to upgrade to the new box, but otherwise pay the standard subscription fees for Dish programming and SBC Yahoo DSL.

Waiving fee

Lack of a monthly subscription fee is a blow to TiVo and other DVR services from cable companies and DirecTV, all of which charge users a monthly fee.

SBC will let users program the DVR remotely online and plans to integrate it with Cingular cell phones in the near future.

Home entertainment service is being developed and marketed by SBC Media Solutions, a joint venture between the telco and 2Wire that is headed up by Ed Cholerton, veep of SBC DSL.

It’s the first iteration of the telco’s media plans, which include a rollout of fiber cables to homes; SBC is spending between $4 billion and $6 billion on the venture.

Company will start delivering video programming and other interactive services over fiber by the end of this year, and plans to reach 18 million homes by 2007. Content partnerships for that service haven’t been revealed yet, though the company plans to use Microsoft software for it.

TiVo also made news with CES about to open, finally starting rollout of its TiVo2Go offering that lets users transfer piracy-protected shows to computers. Service was first revealed at CES last year.