Media companies rush to iPhone, iPad TV apps

In the space of a few days, several prominent media companies introduced iPhone and/or iPad apps to extend their TV content to mobile devices. AT&T U-Verse, an entirely IPTV-based TV service, released an app that enables its U-verse TV subscribers to download and view content on the iPhone. All U-Verse customers can use the app to manage the DVR, but only subscribers to the U300 package and above can access content downloading and viewing. The free app replaces AT&T’s existing Mobile Remote Access for iPhone app.

Satellite TV provider Dish Network now makes it possible for subscribers to view live TV on iPhone, BlackBerry and Android smart phones via free apps. The company is upgrading its iPhone/iPad app in September to allow subscribers to add this service to the existing app’s ability to program the DVR, browse the schedule and access remote control. The new BlackBerry app, slated for September, and Android app, set to appear in October, will also incorporate the ability to stream live TV in addition to the other features. Mobile users will need the Dish DVR or similar device to take advantage of the streaming service. Both options have limits: If someone at home is watching a channel, the person with the mobile device has to watch the same channel unless the DVR has a second tuner.

Netflix made a splash with its launch of a free iPhone/iPod touch app that enables subscribers to stream movie and TV rentals to their mobile devices. The company has expanded the number of devices that can tap into the Netflix library, including Apple iPad, Blu-ray players, PCs and TVs. This new app delivers content over WiFi or a 3G connection. The company most recently agreed to pay the Epix cable channel more than $900 million for the digital distribution rights for movies from Paramount Pictures, MGM and Lions Gate Entertainment.

Not everyone is jumping on the Netflix bandwagon, however. HBO plans to add iPad and other mobile device functionality to its existing Web-based streaming video service HBO Go rather than sign a deal with Netflix. HBO Go, which launched in February this year, enables Comcast and Verizon FiOS subscribers to view HD on-demand content on computers, including series such as “The Sopranos,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Wire.”

Last but not least, Verizon has signaled its intent to launch an iPad app for FiOS TV subscribers; the service will take advantage of Verizon’s existing “cloud” infrastructure. As with the Dish Network app, there will be limits: Subscribers will initially only be able to watch programming in their home, so Verizon can ensure that they are permitted access to that content. Verizon is also preparing an end-of-year VOD launch that will allow subscribers to rent videos across multiple platforms, including the iPhone, Droid X, Droid 2, Windows Mobile 6.5 and the BlackBerry Storm. The missing piece of the puzzle is nailing down the rights for all the content it intends to stream; for this, Verizon is in discussion with its content partners.