Post Tech: Orb brings Internet to TV, says networks can't block like they did to Google

By Cecilia Kang
Friday, November 19, 2010; 2:05 PM

Yet another company is offering a way to bring the Internet to your TV. Orb Networks launched its OrbTV Thursday, promising to bring Hulu, Netflix and anything you watch on your desktop to the living room.

But wait, how will Orb keep the television networks from blocking shows in the same way they did to Google TV? Orb, based in Oakland, Calif., hasn't brokered deals in the way that Roku has with Hulu and other distributors like Netflix have with Hollywood studios.

Orb chief executive Joe Costello said that the networks couldn't do that because all his company's $100 box does is wirelessly connect your PC to the television set. Industry analysts say they think the networks are going straight to the browser ¿ Chrome ¿ on Google TV, recognizing certain properties on the browser for those users and blocking their Web shows that way.

In a telephone interview, Costello talked about how Orb works and how the all the attention in Washington these days on Internet TV shapes up. Here's an edited version of our conversation:

Q:Why are we seeing so many people enter this space now?

A: Consumers have wanted this for a long time but tech and consumer product companies haven't delivered. The whole promise of digital is that there is tons of media content that is simple to move around. It's just bits after all. So it should be simple and transparent.

Q: So what's behind the the hold up?

A: Fundamentally, because some content people didn't like the fluidity of their content and the cable guys posed some opposition. But the technology has been around. Consumer products companies just didn't put in the energy to put in a complete solution for people. Apple did it, but besides them you have to be a systems integrator and IT person to do this.

Q: What exactly are you offering?

A: We are solely focused on moving digital media transparently around existing stereos, speakers and television sets. Our first product was for music, now we have Orb TV. So whether its Netflix, Hulu or Youtube, you can get it on your TV.

Q: What's from stopping those firms, or the networks, from blocking their content from your users?

A: They can't shut us down. This goes into our underlying technology that we've developed for the last six years. You need one computer on a network with a Web browser and our software and a wireless connection. As long as there is a computer there, you can't stop it from receiving the Internet.

The problem with Boxee and Google TV is those specialized boxes are trying to receive directly so they can be shut down. They don't have normal Web browsers so it enables (content providers) to shut down those devices.

Q: How will things shake out?

A: We're in our adolescent years. It will all get worked out eventually. People can watch on television anything they want if they are willing to plug their PC into the TV. There's nothing wrong with that the networks can't and won't stop that. All we are doing is easing the burden of doing something goofy and making easy. We play all the ads, there is no adulteration and so it is completely clean that way. We are not trying to steal content.

Q: But the networks say they aren't making the money they want to when companies like you bring Web shows to the TV.

A: There is going to be a transition period and at end of which they will be able to make more money from targeted advertising. If I can do targeted advertising, then much better for you to be targeted your ad for the Hulu version of Glee than trying to troll for fish on open ocean. So this is just a transition period.

Q: What do you make of all the regulatory discussion in Washington on retransmission fees, the Comcast/NBC merger and regulations that would bring standard technology to the set top box?

A: I am watching these things because fundamentally, the cable guys are trying to keep their oligopoly and to hold on to as much as possible. I was on a panel last week in which the question to cable companies was whether they will be entertainment companies or not. In Canada, they have all become entertainment properties. Maybe that will be the case in the U.S. too. In the end, you have to add value. In end, cable provides great service. Content guys provide great set of programming.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company