Parks Associates Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Revenues for Professional Tech Support to exceed $2 Billion by 2013

Parks Associates finds consumer use of tech support tripled since 2006, creating opportunities for service providers, retailers, and third-party providers --

The number of U.S. broadband households seeking professional services for computer and networking problems has tripled since 2006, as more users lack the time and expertise to deal with the complications of today’s technology, according to Customer Support in the Digital Home.

This 2009 consumer survey from international research firm Parks Associates reports more than 30% of consumers have used in-store or in-home technical support to solve a computer problem, up from 10% in 2006. Fifteen percent of consumers have used professional tech support for home networking problems, up from 6% in 2006. Parks Associates forecasts U.S. revenues for PC and home networking troubleshooting services will exceed $2 billion due in large part to growing consumer demand and increased prevalence of connected devices.

Customer Support in the Digital Home reports that service providers can enhance their service portfolios through such offerings as managed security, enhanced technical support, and online backup. Value retailers can enhance their standing by creating service programs that go beyond extended warranties to include ongoing support for purchased and installed products.

Customer Support in the Digital Home is a 2009 survey of over 2,000 U.S. broadband households. It covers the following topics:

• Analysis of tech support experiences and services from service providers• Tech support features at the time of a consumer electronics purchase
• Consumer experience and interest in tech support services that include enhanced Internet security, online backup, home computer, and home networking
• Consumer interest in new, emerging home networking features

The CONNECTIONS™ conference, June 2-4, features a Support and Management track, including the panel Remote Technical Support.

For registration, or to request a press pass, visit

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Last Few Feet

So, I have fiber optic telco services to my home. So, why do I not have it all the way to my PC or set top box? I know, I know. The installation is expensive, a hassle, and requires adding new wires to my home - not a fun prospect. Wireless could be an option, but what if I am one of those homes where RF is, shall we say, problematic.

This past week I had a chance to look over a new technology that looks to address many of these challenges. Firecomms provided us with a demo of Plastic Optical Fiber (POF) technology for in-home networks. POF has been around for years in everything from Christmas tree lighting to in-car multimedia networks for the Mercedes 7 series. Our demo presented POF as a solution for wiring from to the RG and set top box.

The cable for POF is tiny compared to both coax or Ethernet cabling, potentially small enough to tuck between my carpet and baseboard. One of the most impressive aspects was the installation, which was as simple as cutting the POF cable with a razor blade and popping it into a Firecomms POF interface. No other tools required.

While POF is growing in acceptance in Europe, awareness in the US is just beginning to take hold. We will be tracking uptake of POF by service providers, STB makers, and RG makers as they promote quality of service for high bandwidth applications in the digital home.

I'm not bullish on Apple TV

For the past couple of years, there has been much emphasis placed on the "connected CE" market, where TVs, Blu-ray players, video game consoles, media adapters, media servers, and alternative set-top boxes like VUDU and Apple TV receive content from online sources. Having followed this space for some time, I've been particularly interested in how the technology requirements for connected devices have changed rapidly. In the white paper From Boob Tube to YouTube, I talked about the evolution of connectivity software to include not only device-to-device media sharing capabilities (such as what DLNA or Silicon Image's LiquidHD™ bring to the table), but also how they must take into account ways to "grab" online content and build user interfaces that allow consumers easy access to content, whether it's photos, video, music, games, etc.

I provided more coverage to the connected consumer electronics space in the recent report Home Networks for Consumer Electronics, which is now available. In this report, I again visited the technology, and included a great deal of primary consumer data (from four of our recent studies, including the Global Digital Living: Entertainment 2.0 in Europe survey of about 5,000 broadband households in Western Europe). For the report, I talked to more than 80 companies and included forecasts for seven product categories:
  • Connected TVs
  • "Cloud Media" set-top boxes (like Apple TV)
  • Connected game consoles
  • Connected Blu-ray players
  • Network-attached storage
  • Multi-room DVR
  • Digital media adapters

I really struggled with forecasting the cloud media set-top box market, as there is still widespread consumer unfamiliarity with this type of product (in our recent study Consumer Decision Process 2009 Annual Survey), we're still finding that fewer than 15% of respondents in U.S. broadband households are highly familiar with the Apple TV or even the Digital Media Player by Roku. Also, when it comes down to it, consumers who desire video-on-demand are still going to look to their pay TV operator to provide it. In the report, I included data from the November 2008 study Digital Media Evolution that shows an overwhelming percentage of likely VoD users prefer to receive it from a service provider rather than a "device purchased at retail."

I'm just not convinced that we'll see consumers flock to stores to get these altnerative VoD devices, at least not in the U.S. One key part of the analysis was looking at how both broadband and digital cable and telco/IPTV households are expected to grow here and internationally. I think that in areas where a significant gap exists between broadband penetration and the penetration of households capable of receiving VoD content, you will see more of a demand for the cloud media set-top boxes. In briefings with companies like Syabas, which offers the Popcorn Hour product, this is exactly what's happening. The product, we're told, is quite popular in the European and Asia-Pacific markets. But it's probably not a mass-market product here in the States.

Pay TV operators are not standing still in delivering vastly-increased amounts of VoD programming, and I'd fully expect this to include online offerings. The folks at Comcast Interactive Media indicate that their plans to include a "bookmarking" feature to allow Fancast online video to be viewed at the TV are on track. Virgin Media in the U.K. already allows users to access content from the popular BBC iPlayer service. A little upstart called Verismo Networks won the award for "best new product idea" at a recent CableLabs show.

We've firmly established that consumers want their primetime TV anytime, and are increasingly turning to the Web and to their video-on-demand services to get it. I've been increasingly impressed with the primetime VoD offerings we get from Verizon's FiOS TV service. It's such an easy way to catch up on a lot of our favorite shows without having to set the DVR. In the end, I think that this is the mindset that will keep us paying our cable provider for the foreseeable future (that, and the sports and high-definition offerings that the online world just can't match). It's the convenience of not having to go and buy another box, hook it up, and pay some additional fees that will keep consumers faithful to their television service providers.

Of course, the whole technology question is still out there, as in what will be the optimal ways in which television service providers deliver Internet-like experiences to their customers in the most cost-effective manner and with the highest quality? I profiled 30 companies in the "Web on TV" space, and was left with more questions than answers at this point about the finer points of the technology. So, it's a continuing mission to better understand how the pieces come together and how content and service providers monetize these on-demand experiences. Of course, this will be a significant theme at the upcoming CONNECTIONS™ conference in Santa Clara in early June. We've lined up a number of "connected TV" and interactive TV panels that will focus on this subject, so it should be a really insightful few days.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

RealDVD has its day in court

The RealDVD case gets its day in a San Francisco federal court today. This willl certainly be one to watch for at least two reasons. First, will a court apply the "fair use" doctrine - as ordained in the 1984 Betamax decision - to digital technologies? If so, the court would agree with the RealNetworks folks, who argue that RealDVD is nothing more than a way to allow consumers to make a back-up copy of their disc. Second, will the court look to a precedent set in the 2007 Kaleidescape decision, where the company was found not to be in breach of its DVD CCA license with its product that allows consumers to make copies of DVDs to be stored on the media servers?

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The funnest iPod ever? Yeah, after two hours of tech support

My wife's company had received some 8 GB iPod touch devices several weeks ago. While the young'uns got their iPods up and running in about two seconds, we struggled with ours. The home computer kept locking up during several stages of the registration process, and the device apparently didn't like the Christmas music that we had ripped. It kept locking up at either "Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer" or "Once in Royal David's City."

Dayna got on the phone with an Apple Genius at 7 p.m. last night. The session took 2+ hours, but she finally got it working! Of course, I learned this this morning, as I had fallen asleep by the time she got the iPod up and running, downloaded the right music, moved a few photos over, and downloaded a few apps. I guess she wasn't responsible for the billionth downloaded app.

Maybe Susan Boyle has never been kissed, but now it's safe to say that the Scherfs have finally downloaded music from iTunes. Welcome to the 21st Century!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bluetooth Core Specification Version 3.0 + High Speed - We've Waited Six+ Years for This!

The folks at Atheros caught me up on the new Bluetooth Core Specification Version 3.0 + High Speed announcement (see their press release here). This is pretty cool stuff, and it's applications that I had seen coming six years ago during all of the buzz about ultra-wideband (UWB). Basically, it's the question of how mobile and portable devices can do data transfers (digital camera to a PC or iPhone to a stereo system) at higher speeds while consuming less power? Given the rough time that UWB is having, it just doesn't sound like it'll be the solution that mobile device, PC, and consumer electronics companies are going to implement anytime soon.

So, now comes this new spec from Bluetooth. It greatly expands the data rate for Bluetooth products from the pokey 1 Mbps or 3 Mbps currently available in basic or Extended Data Rate (EDR) to 20 Mbps+. This occurs by using the Wi-Fi chipset already in all laptops and a growing number of handhelds to perform the actual heavy lifting. Otherwise, Bluetooth devices retain their simple pairing, and - as Atheros noted - this solution becomes backward compatible to all Bluetooth devices already in the field (which also have a .11g or .11n chipset in them). So, it sounds like a pretty easy way to greatly enhance the performance of a bunch of CE devices for things like audio, video, and photo transfers. The benefit to CE manufacturers is no need to mess with new radios or additional costs.

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Western Digital expands the capacity of the My DVR Expander product

Western Digital announced today that its My DVR Expander™ is now available with 1 TB capacity. TiVo Verified™ compatible with TiVo Series3™ and TiVo HD DVRs, the new My DVR Expander is capable of storing up to 140 hours of high-definition (HD) television programming based on 1 TB of hard drive storage.

The ability to expand DVR storage with an attached external drive was something that we explored in both domestic and international consumer studies last year - TV 2.0: The Consumer Perspective and Entertainment 2.0 in Europe. We found fairly high demand for this kind of solution, particularly among consumers in the U.S., the U.K., France, and Italy.

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U.S. cable operators jumping on the multi-room DVR bandwagon

After seeing virtually no activity in the cable space regarding multi-room DVR deployments, there were a number of announcements at the Cable Show a few weeks ago that indicate that things will heat up soon. Bright House, Cox, and Time Warner Cable are all expecting to deploy this year. This is good news for Entropic , which will supply the chipsets to enable the networked set-top boxes.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cable and IPTV VoD resistant to economic trends, revenues to exceed $11 billion in 2013

Parks Associates workshop offers strategies to monetize video services, digital devices, energy management, advertising --

With U.S. households reluctant to cancel home services despite the down economy, growth in cable and IPTV VoD services will remain strong, with revenues exceeding $11 billion by 2013, according to Parks Associates. The international research firm is hosting the pre-show workshop Monetizing Connectivity in the Home on June 2, 2009, at CONNECTIONS™, to analyze the opportunities and successful business strategies for advanced products and services.

CONNECTIONS™: The Digital Living Conference and Showcase, taking place in Santa Clara, Calif., June 2-4, tracks developments, trends, and opportunities in the four key areas Communications & Entertainment Services, New Media and Digital Content, Home Systems, and Consumer Electronics. The Parks Associates pre-show workshop is an excellent primer to the event and includes research and forecasts for interactive video services, mobile solutions, energy management, advertising, and connected devices.

At the workshop, the Parks Associates analyst team will provide comprehensive insight, analysis, and forecasts of the digital living markets, including consumer research and the best strategies on how to gain and retain customers in a difficult economy.

Workshop Sessions
Unlocking Interactive Television Services
Connected Consumer Electronics – Cloud Media and Servers
Mobile Innovations: Service, Hardware, and Applications
Advertising in a Three-screen World
Digital Home Technical Support
Energy Management

CONNECTIONS™ includes interactive panels with over 80 speakers, moderated by Parks Associates’ expert analysts and featuring the latest research on converging content, services, and hardware. Register now at or contact, 972-490-1113, for more information.

For information on Digital Lifestyles: 2009 Outlook, visit

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Parks Associates forecasts over 1.4 billion subscribers worldwide for TV services by 2013

Primetime anytime services will help providers gain and retain subscribers --

Broadband households in Europe and the U.S. consistently rank primetime anytime VoD services as the most valuable service out of all TV 2.0 offerings, according to Parks Associates’ new report Television Services: The Global Outlook.

The international research firm says that primetime anytime services, which allow viewers to watch a show on-demand on their TV regardless of its original air date, will help service providers gain and retain customers in the competitive global market for TV services. The number of households worldwide subscribing to TV services will exceed 1.4 billion by 2013.

Competition among service providers has increased substantially in past few years. For example, while cable operators retain the largest share of the U.S. television service market, subscriptions to telco/IPTV services grew over 110% from 2007 to 2008. Providers can overcome the challenges of this shifting market by leveraging primetime anytime services, which will increase customer satisfaction and create avenues for new revenue-generating service strategies, such as ad-supported VoD offerings.

Parks Associates’ upcoming CONNECTIONS™ conference features new research regarding advanced television services. For information about this event, visit

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Parks Associates supports Broadband Properties Summit 2009

Parks Associates is supporting the Broadband Properties Summit 2009 on April 27-29 at the Hyatt Regency - DFW, Dallas, Texas.

Harry Wang, Director, Health & Mobile Product Research, Parks Associates, is speaking on the panel session Competitive Differentiation and Revenue Generation with Healthcare Services over Fiber, Monday, April 27 from 3:10 PM - 4:00 PM.

Bill Ablondi, Director, Home Systems Research, Parks Associates, is speaking on the opening session Adding Value to Properties to Maximize Revenue on Monday, April 27 from 11:30 AM – 12:20 PM.

Bill Ablondi is also speaking on the panel session Energy Management with Fiber Networks on Tuesday, April 28 from 3:20 PM – 4:20 PM.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Comcast the latest to introduce a "Hub" phone

First, there was the Embarq eGo™. Then, the AT&T HomeManager™. Then, Verizon's One. Now, Comcast looks to be rolling out an Internet-enhanced phone system. As I posted back in September, this makes for some interesting times with the service providers and the new customer premise equipment they're launching.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

What's Hot? Residential Energy Management

During difficult times, the true optimists find the silver lining and recall that great opportunities are borne out of change. There are great opportunities in technologies for residential energy management now rising from the ashes of the global economic meltdown.

Parks Associates has been tracking home automation including energy management solutions since the late 80’s. Many solutions have come and gone, lacking sufficient support for mass adoption. If your average monthly energy bills are north of $300, then a little quick math suggests you could justify spending several hundred or a thousand dollars on home technologies which provide measurable savings by managing when certain systems in your home operate and hibernate.

Parks Associates tracks the companies playing leading roles in residential energy management. Many of these companies facilitate utility companies’ development of a nationwide smart grid, but many products work today with existing meters and can be purchased at retail. Some solutions involve a wireless monitoring device or thermostat and some, such as Google’s PowerMeter, are Internet applications which allow a homeowner to monitor energy usage from any Internet connected location.

It is uncertain if residential energy management technology will be driven into the home by utility companies or pulled in by economizing consumers, but it is likely to be both. What is certain is that several network protocols are well entrenched in near term solutions. These include IP (Internet protocol and specifically IP for Smart Objects), ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi. While there is certainly time for other protocols to enter the race, the majority of early products incorporate these standards. Consumers have grown comfortable with Wi-Fi on their laptops, home routers and iPod Touch devices, but are not familiar with other technologies, e.g. ZigBee. ZigBee is a network protocol optimized for low power devices, strongly endorsed by many utilities. The combination of these technologies provides an array of relatively low cost products that enable us to track our current energy usage, and, in some solutions, control how and when we run certain systems.

Parks Associates is bullish on the prospects of consumers deploying products now which will begin the transformation of our attitudes and usage of energy. As Google states, the first step in changing consumption is measuring what and when we consume. We hope that energy utilities will jump start the process by providing incentives or even selling and installing products which will heighten our awareness of how much energy we use.

The global crisis of rising energy costs will first transform our attitudes and eventually modify our energy consumption habits – strengthening our economy with the help of technology.

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GE Stepped up, Partnering Intel in the Home Health Market

GE Healthcare struck another R&D alliance in the home patient monitoring sector in less than a year after the Quietcare deal. This time, its partner is Intel. Like the Quietcare deal, the partnership also allows GE to co-market Intel’s Health Guide, a home health monitoring gateway product. The two companies will also contribute a combined $250 million over five years on R&D in this field.

Intel is fortunate to land GE as a partner and distributor as the latter’s health industry connections and sales networks are an asset that Intel can’t match. Although I can’t say with 100% confidence that GE Healthcare is fully committed to the technology-assisted home health market, recent events are a strong signal that the company is pursuing this market with earnest interest. What is still in the cloud is whether GE will put its brand on Health Guide as it did with Quietcare’s solution. From the beginning I was a bit confused about Intel’s branding and hardware strategy in this sector. I would consider it a positive if GE takes over the Health Guide’s brand and lets Intel focus more on the hardware performance side.

One thing I don’t agree with in the press release is that the two companies pegged the home health monitoring market at $3 billion today. Either this number includes traditional telemedicine revenues, or it includes revenues from home care services assisted with the home health monitoring technology.

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Free MedicalService from Walgreens, But…

Last week, Walgreens kicked off a campaign to begin offer free basic medical care through its walk-in clinics in retail stores. Recipients of the free care must be people that recently lost their jobs and their immediate family members. There are other strings and restrictions. For instance, annual exams and vaccinations are excluded. Walgreens’ Take Care Clinics are not as widely available as its drug stores. The retail clinic chain now has about 340 stores in 30 metro locations, or approximately 1 in every 10 drug stores in those areas. Finally, the biggest catch may be: you have to be a walk-in clinic customer in the past.

We have seen a slow-down in retail clinic expansion after a gold rush of store openings back in 2006-2007. We were dubious whether the retail clinic expansion was too fast too risky at that time, and apparently the industry is now on the same page with us. A profitable retail clinic operation requires a steady customer stream, and I suspect that many clinics opening for more than a year are still struggling to breakeven. Walgreens’ free service is clearly a PR win for the company, but it may also reflect a difficult operating environment for retail clinics in this down economy. After all, people with no insurance—the primary target market for walk-in clinics—are more likely to skip medical care due to economic hardship. The Walgreens offer can be a good incentive to attract new customers to stores and the announcement is also likely to raise its clinic brand’s visibility. The only thing we don’t know is how strong the demand will be. Neither does Walgreens. Therefore the company has put up a number of restrictions to limit the potential risk on profitability. In other words, it does not want too many free services to overwhelm its clinic staff and turn away paying customers.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

"Chuck" on VoD ... and I need Hulu because...

My wife and I were both traveling over the past week - me internationally, her domestically. We both missed Chuck on Monday night, March 30. We've both become pretty addicted to this show.

Upon our return, we started playing the episode from the DVR. However, due to some unknown glitch, the program only recorded for 15 minutes. So, I booted up my laptop and we watched the episode from Hulu.

Only after the program finished online did I discover that Chuck has been added to the Verizon FiOS service as a Broadcast Primetime VoD offering. I wish I would have known that beforehand. The Hulu experience is great, but even with a strong Wi-Fi connection at home, the video had its quirks. Watching it on VoD on the TV would have been a much better experience.

With the Cable Show being held in DC this week, there were so many headlines about the cable industry and what to do about online video. Will people cancel their pay TV subscriptions because of it? Answer: no, at least not right now. What does Jeff Bewkes really intend with a "TV Everywhere" concept?

Meanwhile, VoD keeps getting better and better. I can now cancel another program from my DVR recordings, since I've got access to a month's worth of Chuck on-demand. Granted, it looks as though Verizon was given some pretty strict guidelines about how certain NBC content can be viewed in VoD - they have apparently disabled the trick-play modes for this content, meaning no rewinding, fast-forwarding, or pausing. That seems a bit harsh. Hopefully, they'll refine this to allow for trick-play for most of the content - if not the advertising.

It seems like the more primetime VoD that the pay TV operators can put out there, the better off their long-term ability to retain customers and grow revenues through non-linear advertising will be. Sure, they'll have to go to the Web with their programming, but it's not going to happen overnight. Contracts with the content providers will have to be renegotiated to take into account the different business models applied to Web video. In the short-term, though, I can reserve the laptop for the usual Web stuff and rely to a growing degree on my TV for ... TV!

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

BBC to Parliament - Get the iPlayer freeloaders!

For background, the BBC in the U.K. gets the vast majority of its revenues from a mandatory £142 television license that citizens must pay annually. If you own a TV, you pay the license fee.

Apparently, however, the BBC Trust is very concerned that a large number of people who only watch BBC programming online (via the iPlayer) may be exempt from paying this fee. They want to close the loophole that allows this.

As I departed London yesterday, I picked up a copy of The Times and read an article about this situation.

Current rules mean that people who only watch online repeats via the BBC iPlayer are not liable for the levy — amid signs that some people are already taking advantage to watch BBC programs for free.

Around 40% of students living in halls of residence now use a laptop as their main way to watch television, according to a review of licence fee collection published today by the BBC Trust, the broadcaster’s regulator.

That review concluded that “legislative change is likely to be required in order to reflect technology changes” as the BBC formally recognized for the first time that there is a threat to the license fee system, which raises £3.5 billion a year for the public broadcaster.

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Time Warner Cable Using Motorola's Follow Me TV for Multi-room DVR

Time Warner Cable will be using Motorola's tru2way™ software to deploy a multi-room DVR solution. The Follow Me TV solution will enable subscribers to access, share and place shift video recordings throughout the home. Time Warner Cable aims to bring the solution to market later this year, to become the first cable company to deploy a multi-room DVR solution in a tru2way environment.

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