Bell Canada, AT&T wireless set-tops will prove TV Everywhere's popularity

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVBell Canada (NYSE: BCE) has become the latest--and as far as I know only the second--major IPTV service provider to go forward with the idea of a wireless set-top box. The Canadian carrier this week said its Fibe TV service will include the option to buy a wireless set-top for $199 or lease it for $7 a month. Once in hand, subscribers can use it to attach up to five different TVs in five locations without wires.

I predict success, but according to some of the comments I've read, I'm not sure the folks at BCE understand just how popular this feature might be. Certainly, the popularity took AT&T (NYSE: T) by surprise when it was the first carrier to make TV wireless. The U-verse folks thought they were helping their installers cut time and not walls; they found out they were helping their subscribers take TV literally everywhere.

I'm sure I'm not that much different than most other Americans in that I spent at least a portion of my holiday weekend alternating my TV viewing between that marathon NASCAR race and a movie about Liberace. I also spent a fair amount of time on my tablet watching various and sundry things and playing games and on my smartphone, just messing around because that's what phones are for. In short, I am a connected American and I make use of my multiple devices.

When it came to serious TV viewing, though, I settled back on my recliner and checked out my flatscreen HDTV.

Had I subscribed to AT&T--a remote possibility considering I'm not in the AT&T footprint--or now, BCE--an even more remote possibility considering I'm in the United States--I could have carted that flatscreen out onto my patio and taken advantage of the clear and warm weather to get some sun while still vegging out in front of the boob tube.

Sure, I know, I could have gone out onto that patio with my tablet or my phone; I understand TV Everywhere and the home entertainment environment. But really, it's hard enough to watch a car race on TV; using a small screen is like watching matchbox cars go round and round and bump into each other. And, I'm sure everyone would agree, Liberace truly deserved a big screen.

As I looked around my neighborhood on this warm holiday evening, I noticed multiple homes emanating a tell-tale blue haze inside that indicated the residents were watching a car race and Liberace … or at least some TV fare. Because I live in a community served by Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH), I didn't notice a single patio with a television.

There is a perception today that television is something meant to be consumed indoors, fostered, no doubt, by the tacit acknowledgement that you must connect the TV to a box to receive signals from your cable company, satellite provider or phone company and that set-top box must to be tethered to a jack in the wall.

In the days of large tube TVs that weighed just slightly less than a loaded tractor trailer, this anchored entertainment model was acceptable; with today's portable featherweight flatscreens, it's not. Those sets can go anywhere, and it would be nice if the signal for which I'm paying could go with them. It's not mobility, for sure, but it's portability and it is, in the end, TV Everywhere.

I'm predicting that BCE will quickly learn what AT&T learned when it introduced a wireless set-top. People want TV portability. Maybe they just want the freedom to move the set to whatever room is convenient without running wires. Or maybe, as was my inclination, they'd like to enjoy the great American pastime--watching cars make left turns on a holiday weekend--in the great American outdoors.--Jim