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IPTV/VoD: The open fourth platform

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The question that arises for content developers from this is how to avoid having to build over 200 different copies of their IPTV "service" application, as it would effectively consist of over 200 versions of the same TV "website".

Openness and interoperability solves this beautifully – using the likes of HTML and RTSP means services are transferable and can work on al platforms. So if you are a Yell, Lastminute.com, Ladbrokes or Thomson Holidays, you build it once and run it across every IPTV platform simultaneously, all from the cosy warm surroundings of the data centre that houses your primary websites.

The experience for a consumer is also preserved across platforms in perfect harmony, meaning their individual accounts and electronic "passports" can move with them if they choose to change TV service provider. This approach is becoming increasingly known as "software as a service", or "SaaS", although in desktop PC environments it has somewhat of a different meaning because of the more advanced capabilities of general purpose processing found in a normal computer, compared to a set-top box microprocessor. When you empower people to innovate around your platform, the response is nothing less than extraordinary.

Grid thinking and crowd leverage that underpins this open philosophy also helps scientists utilise spare processing power to listen for aliens and crunch genetic data. Google Maps is a prominent example – its policy of allowing third parties to integrate their services into its own applications has made it the de facto standard. Anyone can integrate or innovate for free, without discrimination or tiered access. There are thousands upon thousands of developers indulging their excitement at the power at their fingertips, creating applications that the originators could never have ever considered when they first put the API together.

Usergenerated content and technology is exponential in its popularity and applicability to normal everyday life. And IPTV is poised beautiful to exploit it – something no other TV platform could offer if they turned themselves upside down.

This is IPTV's killer app and its differentiator. It is our mission. It is the platform’s USP. This is the vision we must realise and help bring to fruition. It needs to become our philosophy. We are setting out to kill normal TV as we know it.

Anyone should be able to offer their own live multicast or on-demand TV or radio channel. Anyone should be able to offer their own application portal that is accessed from the public internet. Australians living in London should be able to access all their favourite channels from their British sofa and families should be able to create slideshows of photos that relatives in any country can view whenever they want to. Subscribers should be able to explore and customise their very own TV service crafted from their own favourite content – African channels and movies for African customers, live streaming video generated from multiplayer video games for Playstation-lovers, and an infinite number of new adapted applications that are currently revolutionising the way we use the web – sites like Flickr, Digg, eBay, and MySpace.

Anyone should be able to create something that can go on a TV to be shared amongst multiple viewers and if they want to, make money from it in the same way as eBay and PayPal have created an entirely new genre of home business. Subscribing to an IPTV service should offer you a massive and unlimited amount of content that brings as little or as much of the whole world to your living room as you want.

The IPTV brands of the future need to concentrate their efforts on making access as widely available as possible and making all this content easy to find and consume. It's a strange irony that TV as a supposedly mass market medium doesn’t allow that market to contribute and evolve it.

Our new worldwide TV platforms have the capability to reverse the conventional broadcasting paradigm. It's not theirs anymore, it belongs to all of us.

The excitement generated by anyone being able to innovate for TV is fuelling the interest in IPTV, and rightly so. As extraordinarily inspiring and amusing it will be to unleash 200 Sky Digital’s, the market couldn't support it forever, as the battles over broadband testify.

The unpalatable immediate future for content providers lies in splintered disparate audiences composed of varying numbers of subscribers – 5,000 here, 40,000 there and so on. These individual subscriber bases will form an aggregated IPTV audience that is not counted by the single brand, but by their demographic profile and the way they consume television, rather than how it is transmitted.

It will be possible to go even further and collate sub-audience data for specific genres and programmes that are offered on-demand. ISPs can release personalised services that are entirely designed from a generic template for a single demographic – Asian communities, gay and/or lesbian groups, expats in countries more than 1,000km away and more. But what follows this gentle explosion will be the inevitable and necessary market force of consolidation – as we are seeing with telecoms, small brands will be hoovered up into bundled into larger entities.

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