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ZillionTV Partners With Studios, ISPs for 'Largest TV System Ever'

By Chris Tribbey | Posted: 04 Mar 2009

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Every movie, TV show, concert video, sports special and documentary ever made, in one place, on your HDTV, ready for you to rent, buy or watch for free in an ad-supported format.

It may sound like an insane idea, but that’s exactly what Mitch Berman and ZillionTV are working on.

“You can imagine the daunting task of acquiring all the content ever created,” Berman, the co-founder and CEO said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. Not everything on day one, of course. But we are building what we believe is the largest TV system ever built.”

How it works

Unveiled March 4, ZillionTV consists of a tiny remote and a thin ‘Z’ bar that goes on top of your HDTV, with Ethernet, USB and HDMI ports, and wireless built-in. The service — expected to launch in mid-fourth quarter — will deliver instant, on-demand streaming video with no hard drive. A one-time, yet-to-be-determined (but sub-$100) service activation fee is involved, but there’s no subscription fee, as users either buy to own, rent, or watch a show with ads for free, depending on the licensing agreement for the content.

“It’s a personalized experience with the freedom of choice, the freedom to be empowered,” Berman said.

ZillionTV is partnering with Internet-service providers, and content is currently streaming from data centers in Palo Alta, Calif., with more planned in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C., with smaller ones planned as the service grows. ZillionTV’s national beta trial began in February and is scheduled to run through the summer.

Who’s involved

Five of the six major studios — Sony, Warner, Universal, Fox and Disney — are equity holders in ZillionTV and are contributing much of the 15,000 pieces of content the service will have when it is made available to the public in the fourth quarter. ZillionTV already has signed more than 40 individual content agreements, and Visa is also a stakeholder and supplying advertising.

“ZillionTV is on the cutting-edge of on-demand technology and is poised to deliver the promise of personalized television, unlocking value for viewers and studios alike,” said Dan Cohen, EVP of pay television and interactive media for Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

ZillionTV also has brought people like Charles Cataldo from HBO and David Dozoretz from Lucasfilm to its executive team.

A user-oriented experience

A 3MB connection is needed, but in a demo, Berman showed a stream of The Dark Knight using half that. With the ZillionTV remote, he entered a pin linked to his credit card (receipts for purchases are sent to the user’s e-mail), used the purchase option for the film, and less than 30 seconds later, a 480p version of the film was up and running.

“Try that, Netflix,” Berman said, smiling.

ZillionTV will have high-def content at 1080i when it launches, but Berman said the goal is to have 1080p available at some point.

Content is organized by genre, but Berman showed a number of search options, including by keyword and actor. A user’s history is stored on the service, and there are standard fast forward, pause and rewind options. All original aspect ratios are maintained, previews and summaries for content are available and users can rate content. There are parental controls as well — a good thing, since ZillionTV is working on adding adult content as well, Berman said.

“It’s a crazy, competitive world,” he said. “Really, what we’re trying to prove is we can offer compelling content, a solid business model, and a great consumer experience.”

ZillionTV users choose what type of brands they’re interested in — travel, sports, shopping, etc. — when they first sign up, and when they watch ad-supported shows, ads geared toward those interests show up. Short-form content may have only a couple ads, while a full-length movie could have four or five. Every time ads are watched, users build up points toward purchases of their favorite brands.

“We reward you for watching television,” Berman said. “It’s like what the airlines did very successfully in the 1980s.”

While Berman acknowledges that there may be some skepticism toward the service, he said he feels confident that it will be a hit once people try it.

“At the end of the day, the consumer will decide our future,” he said.

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