Flow offers Advanced Video

BitDepth#977 for February 24, 2015

Brian Collins introduces the new Flow technologies at the company’s launch. Photo by Mark Lyndersay
Brian Collins introduces the new Flow technologies at the company’s launch. Photo by Mark Lyndersay

On Friday night, at the end of last week, Columbus International’s consumer facing digital cable and broadband business, Flow, introduced an upgrade to its cable services.

Existing customers must upgrade new cable box, but the new services and a healthy sprinkling of high-definition channels throughout all of the packages are likely to make switching to the new platform a pleasant proposition.

Indeed, I’ve been pretty much beating off a Flow customer service rep with a snarky stick ever since they called threatening to arrive on Ash Wednesday to install the new service.

That won’t happen until later this week, but the service is already being made available to customers, so it hardly qualifies as special treatment anymore. By March 15, all of Flow’s customers will be eligible for the service.

I did give the rep a moment’s pause when I confided, rather proudly, that they would have to install their new HD service on a very old school big-box TV, but in a rallying, if rather diminished voice, the rep noted that they have ways of connecting to such devices.

My television viewing actually happens on two screens, a very low-resolution old-school tube and a very HD computer screen, which surpasses all except for the most recent UDHD screens in resolving power.

There’s nothing quite like seeing an SD television signal on that screen to really understand all the details we’ve been missing in our video signal.

Flow has great incentives to upgrade their dominant offerings in the market.

According to Brian Collins, the company’s Managing Director for the Southern Caribbean, in a market with 10 pay TV service providers connecting to 210,000 households, “Flow is the market leader in cable TV with more than 140,000 households who get to choose from 250 channels on our basic package, more than any other pay TV provider in the country.”

In support of a much larger range of HD channels, Flow is upgrading its broadband infrastructure throughout Trinidad and has completed work in West Trinidad. It’s currently working on lines in Tacarigua to support its customers in the east.

The company also has plans to improve its presence in the deep south, expanding from its foothold in Point Fortin with new plant and infrastructure.

New to the company’s offerings is a cloud-based digital video recording service, which allows customers to set shows for recording, either by time or by series, for later playback at their convenience, without adding a dedicated hardware set-top box to their television.

The system also buffers shows in progress, allowing someone coming late to a show to view the episode from the beginning.

It would, probably, be churlish to note that while Flow was announcing this service, my own system was running at my office, buffering the night’s news.

Of course, the device I use (the EyeTV, roughly the size of a big flash drive) requires a computer and is currently set to buffer nine hours of video to disk, but it also allows me to record anything in the buffer file, an advantage the Flow service doesn’t offer.

For most Flow users, particularly those with no taste for homebrewed tech, the upgrade will not only be a no-brainer, it will ultimately be necessary.

But a switch to an all IP based signal and the addition of 12 HD channels in even the basic package, there’s quite a lure to customers to switch out older boxes in favour of the newer, more capable offering.

But Flow also faces some growing challenges in the local market. Tastes have been steadily shifting from accepting someone else’s programming to creating personal playlists of video using devices from Roku, Apple and others.

Flow’s new Advanced Video Services are a step in the direction of those initiatives, but still fall some distance from the kind of initiative I’ve seen in people who are willing to pay for TV and go through digital hoops to get it, but only for the entertainment they want to see.

The company has begun to respond to the challenges of modern video consumption, but will need to tap the deep pockets of its new owner to fully engage the interest of a surprising number of customers who no longer see cable television as a menu of options and want their television series and movies a la carte and surprisingly often, take-away too.