smart spending

Save money by watching Internet television

Cable providers and telephone companies are marketing a limited version of that connectivity today as "triple-play" (TV, Internet, land-line phone) and "quad-play" (TV, Internet, land-line phone and mobile phone) bundles, which can save you money over purchasing each service separately.

"Normally, with any form of bundle, you get anywhere from a 10-15 percent savings," says Jopling. "Consumers go for it because it normally means a cheaper price, one bill, one number to call and limits (on) the fees. The providers know that when you're in a bundle, it is difficult for you to decide to change."

Understandably, the marketing of TV products and services has lately centered on high-definition television, or HDTV. After all, what could be a better sales tool than a clearly superior picture that requires both a hardware and service upgrade? The federally mandated switch to digital TV didn't hurt sales either.

But Jopling says the more significant advance in 2008 was "time shifting," that is, the enhanced ability to control when you watch TV and other video content. In addition to four-channel DVRs and the previously named online portals that let you watch content on your schedule, Time Warner's new "start over" feature enables cable customers to restart a program from the beginning.

"It's a neat little trick, and you can't skip through the ads. Advertisers like that," says Jopling.

We've been time shifting since the dawn of videocassette recorders, of course, with TiVo devices and other DVRs being the latest iteration. Why is time shifting significant? In part because it's one of the few things for which viewers are still willing to pay.

"We did questionnaires with viewers ages 12 to 22 in 10 countries around the world and got the same result. When it comes to content, they unquestionably do not pay. It's almost like one of the 10 Commandments: Thou shalt not pay," says Jopling. "I think time shifting is going to produce so many interesting changes in video because that is something people will put their money down for."

The coming of narrowcasting

AT&T thinks so, too. Last September, it launched its Total Home DVR service, which enables customers to digitally record HD content on a single DVR and view it on any TV in the house.

Spokeswoman Jill Rountree says the Total Home DVR and service are included in most of AT&T's U-verse IPTV plans, starting at $77. Verizon offers its FIOS IPTV triple-play bundle beginning at $94.99; its Home Media DVR runs an additional $19.99 a month. Availability of both providers’ plans is limited to areas served by their fiber-optic networks.

"With IP, it means that your TV, your PC, your home phone and your wireless devices can be integrated so that they all work together," she says. "That gives you better features, more control and more personalization."

One important distinction between cable/satellite broadcasting and IPTV: cable sends broadcast signals to your home with all of its content at once, whereas IPTV "narrowcasts" -- sends only the channel you request.

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That limits the amount of HDTV programming that cable can squeeze through its pipe to about 20 channels. AT&T's U-verse IPTV, by contrast, offers more than 85 HD channels and Verizon's FiOS more than 100 channels.

Once IPTV becomes widely available, the whole concept of program lineups will become highly fluid if not obsolete, since you can either start one show over if it has already started or watch it anytime you choose, depending on the service.

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