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Verizon FiOS Mobile Remote signals beginning of the end

TV remotes as we know them could become obsolete as mobile phones take over as the most capable IPTV remote

For those consumers who often misplace the remote, fight over who controls it, or just can’t figure out how to work it, Verizon (NYSE:VZ) has a solution. It announced Mobile Remote today on its blog, an application that turns Android Mobile phones – only the Motorola (NYSE:MOT) Droid or HTC Imagio at launch – into fully integrated FiOS TV remotes.

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According to Yankee Group analyst Vince Vittore, Verizon’s Mobile Remote is a harbinger of things to come.

“Verizon was smart to leverage the mobile phone for its TV service,” Vittore said. “I think it signals the beginning of the end of the remote control as we know it.”

Vittore stressed that it is just the very beginning, but remote controls could be – and should be – migrating to the mobile phone. Remote digital-video recording capabilities have been around for awhile now, but Verizon is the first to take the device from the command-and-control level to a fully integrated remote control. The app gives Droid and Imagio owners the same functions of the standard FiOS remote, including the ability to change channels, pause, rewind and fast forward, but it also leverages the mobile platform to transfer photos one at a time from the handset to the TV where users can view a slide show of the photos. The integration also lets users import their favorites list from the TV to the cell phone and automatically mutes the TV when a call comes in.

Droid and Imagio phone owners can set up the service through the handset’s app store and pair the device with their in-home WiFi network through a new Mobile Remote Widget on the TV. After the phone is registered, the remote is active. Verizon promised more Mobile Remote handsets to come in the future.

“[Handsets] are differentiators anyway for the wireless side of the world, so why not use them for differentiators for your traditional wireline business units?” Vittore asked. “That way you can provide some differentiation that the consumer can see in their hands, they can feel it and they get the idea of it.”

The mobile remote concept should be particularly appealing to a carrier like AT&T that has exclusive rights to the iPhone. While AT&T offers remote DVR access via the iPhone, there is no reason for it not to actually leverage the iPhone itself as a remote, Vittore said.

“That is clearly an iconic differentiating product that you have in your stable, why not use it across platforms you can?” he asked. It wouldn’t cannibalize any TV revenues, but it could drive more revenue via data plans. This is one area where telcos that own a wireless arm have an advantage over the cable incumbents.

Despite the advantages, however, IPTV hardware is typically the last to change, and the standard “up, down, left right” remote will likely be no different. They won’t go away entirely, Vittore said, but they are destined to become a niche product. Companies have explored new form factors for the remote control, ranging from touchscreens to voice-controlled to Wii-inspired point-and-click motion. But, the main ingredient for a successful launch could be that it has to come from the service provider, and it has to be free. Consumers have demonstrated they are interested in using anything that increases flexibility, but they are not necessarily willing to pay for it.

“This gets pushed into the market, not from a consumer-demand perspective, but from a service-provider push perspective of them saying this gives us a really differentiated device that allows for a high degree of flexibility and a huge amount of personalization,” Vittore said. “It allows the service provider to think about services beyond the screen.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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