Fan TV, makers of streaming set-top box, acquired by Rovi

Can Rovi help Fan TV get into more homes?

Fan TV
Credit: Fan TV

A long, long time ago (in tech terms anyway... May 2013) we talked about Fan TV, a small set-top device that was (at the time) supposed to combine cable TV, a cloud-based DVR service and streaming content all into one ecosystem.

Fan TV wasn't intended to be a device for cord cutters; they wanted to work with cable TV providers. Back in May 2013 I was skeptical; I didn't think they'd have any luck finding partners in the notoriously conservative cable business.

I was wrong. Time Warner Cable started offering Fan TV a few months back. The partnership was announced in May 2014 with an intended ship date of Q2. As a customer I distinctly remember getting an announcement from Time Warner Cable offering the device. I opted to give it a pass at the time and I guess it wasn't a big hit. I just now went the TWC's site to try to find out how to get a Fan TV and found no evidence of the device.

You can buy one through the Fan TV website for $149. As part of the purchasing process you have to choose your TV provider, and Time Warner Cable is the only choice available. I think it's clear that Fan TV has been struggling to find an audience.

Yesterday the company announced that it had been purchased by Rovi. Fan TV says we can expect an "acceleration of our plans to bring the Fan TV device to the world." Rovi, a company that is focused on digital entertainment guides in various formats, also issued a press release.

This seems like good news for Fan TV and those of us interested in the device. I like the idea of Fan TV but not the current execution. The system has no coax inputs so the "live TV" is limited to what TWC broadcasts via the Internet. Assuming the TWC iOS app and Roku Channel represent everything delivered that way, the Fan TV isn't going to replace your cable box.

To me this is a fatal flaw. According to a FAQ on their site, TWC customers in New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Kansas City and Austin will get 'just about' all channels. Other TWC users will get premium channels but not local stations. In my experience that means none of the big 4 networks.

It's also unclear if the "cloud DVR" feature still exists, but signs point to no. You can access "On Demand" content but you can't, for example, save a whole season of a show to binge-watch.

The end result is that many of us will want to keep our cable box and our DVRs and have Fan TV on a second input (or a second TV) and that kind of defeats the purpose. I can accomplish the same feature set using my existing cable box and a Roku or an Apple TV, and save $50 to boot.

With Rovi's backing I hope that Fan TV can get grow past where it is now and get to where it can offer a true cable box replacement system. TV should be getting simpler, not more complicated.

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