How a Hulu skinny bundle could succeed (and where it could falter)

Next year, Hulu will join the likes of Sling TV and PlayStation Vue with a streaming bundle of live TV channels.

While Hulu hasn’t said much about how the service will work, the price is rumored to be around $40 per month. Many channels will likely come from Hulu’s corporate backers, including Disney, Fox, and NBCUniversal.

What we’ve heard so far doesn’t sound much different from the “skinny bundles” that exist already. Still, Hulu’s existing service—and its ties to big TV networks—put the company in a unique position to replace the cable bundle. Here’s where a Hulu TV bundle could go right—and where it might go sideways.

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Netflix and 4K HDR: Proof that data caps will stifle video innovation

Last week, Comcast users around the country breathed a sigh of relief when the cable giant relaxed its data-cap plans.

Instead of the 300GB limit that Comcast currently imposes in some trial markets, Comcast will allow 1.0TB of usage before charging overage fees. The company points out that less than one percent of its customer base uses more than 1.0TB today, implying that even people who stream lots of online video shouldn’t have to worry about caps.

But this relief is just temporary. With 4K resolution and HDR video, streaming services such as Netflix are poised to consume much more data as they provide vastly better picture quality to consumers. The traditional TV industry, meanwhile, is dragging its heels to provide those same video features to cable and satellite subscribers.

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TV networks’ response to unlocking the cable box highlights everything that's wrong about cable TV

Here’s something you might not know about cable TV boxes: They’re designed to be not too helpful.

The cable box's raison d'etre is to produce revenue for the cable or satellite TV company that owns it. These companies make money by charging perpetual hardware rental fees, of course, but the software also plays a role, because the TV networks negotiate preferred placement for their channels. A higher spot in the channel guide means more viewers, which means more advertising revenue, which is why there’s not always much logic to the order of channels in the program guide.

So it’s no surprise that the TV industry—including operators like Comcast and media companies like Viacom—aren’t happy with a Federal Communications Commission proposal to open the cable-box market and upend the way channel guides work. In comments to the FCC, the industry has basically admitted that its revenue depends on the status quo, even if it harms the user experience. This is precisely the sort of near-sightedness that is causing the TV industry so much pain in the first place.

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Catching up with PlayOn, the DVR for streaming video

Netflix and other online video services might wish that people didn’t know about PlayOn, but the DVR for streaming video is becoming harder to ignore.

Last year, PlayOn quietly released a major update for its Windows software to emphasize DVR features. With a $60 lifetime license (or monthly payments of $5), users can record videos from dozens of streaming services, automatically skip the commercials on ad-supported shows, and stream videos from the PC to phones, tablets, game consoles, and connected-TV devices.

PlayOn has now come up with a name for its headlining feature: “SVR,” short for Streaming Video Recorder. It’s also added a couple of helpful features, including ad-skipping in PlayOn’s mobile apps and a recording scheduler, so users don’t need to hog bandwidth during evening hours.

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MightyTV is a “what to watch” streaming video app that could actually work

As I’ve written several times before, streaming video has a “what to watch” problem. There are so many streaming apps and services, each with their own video selections and menu systems, that the decision can feel paralyzing.

Of all the attempts I’ve seen to address this issue, a new iPhone app called MightyTV comes closest to getting it right. Instead of just serving a random list of recommended videos—as too many other “what to watch” apps do—MightyTV tries to focus on videos you’ll like, and on streaming services you already use.

Here’s how it works: After logging in through Facebook (more on that later), MightyTV shows you some cover art from a movie or TV show. Swiping right signals that you’ve seen and enjoyed the movie or show, and swiping left signals the opposite. You can also “Super-Like” videos by swiping right and holding your finger in place for a few seconds, and you can withhold judgment by swiping upward. There’s also a watch-list button for bookmarking movies or shows you’re interested in seeing. The more you swipe, the better MightyTV’s algorithm is supposed to become at making suggestions.

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This $25 Bluetooth tracker made my Apple TV remote less frustrating

The fourth-generation Apple TV has the most elegant remote control I’ve ever used. It’s thin. It’s light. It has cool-to-the-touch aluminum on the back, and smooth glass on the front.

But man, is it easy to lose.

No other streaming box remote—and I’ve used them all—has proven so adept at disappearing into the couch. This happens with such regularity that when the remote goes missing, my first thought is to start uprooting couch cushions even if the remote is hiding somewhere in plain sight. (The presence of a toddler only exacerbates the confusion.)

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Cord cutters should hope Vizio’s new smart TVs don't spark a trend

Vizio is making some bold moves with its latest smart TVs, but the changes aren’t all great for cord cutters.

Replacing the traditional remote control with Google Cast and a dedicated Android tablet is a wonderful idea, but Vizio is also boasting that its SmartCast 4K TVs will be “Tuner-Free.” That means they won’t have ATSC tuners onboard and therefore won’t be able to receive over-the-air (OTA) digital broadcasts from major networks such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS. If you want to access the free (well, ad-supported) content available from those sources, you’ll need to buy an outboard tuner—along with the antenna you’d need anyway—and connect the tuner to one of the TV’s HDMI inputs. The changes will apply to all of Vizio’s 4K Ultra HD TVs with SmartCast, including the new P-Series and upcoming E- and M-Series sets.

Vizio isn't cutting its customers off from OTA broadcasts, but it is making it more difficult and expensive to access them. Let's take a look at the Vizio's motivations and the impact this move could have on consumers. 

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