IPTV/VoD: The world that's on its way
Part two: The television revolution
The old world is based on everything being separate. Convergence means every device does everything the others do too, and there is no more separation. All things devices do that were originally different from each other have now merged into one big feature set.
Hollywood uses a very complex rights model based on multiple release calendar "windows", and subdivides access to their intellectual property as much as is possible to ensure maximum profitability. In practical terms, that means you can licence a title, material of likeness for a certain region, country, territory, platform and allocated time period upon payment of an arbitrary up-front minimum guarantee based on how much of a risk you are.
It's very difficult to create new windows for new technologies when current customers have paid handsomely beforehand for their little slice of the action. It's equivalent to pushing ahead in the queue, or having to reimburse people for what they will lose from another customer having access to those rights.
It's also for that reason that we are seeing all the lame "stepping stone" services like download-to-own (D2O) websites, as these can be classed as extensions to existing windows through some legal wrangling rather than anything new.
But there is an even more basic problem with IPTV that plagues the content industry, and that is one of definitions. Most people have no idea what it is, and get thoroughly confused between the variants. IPTV is an umbrella term for TV and video distributed using internet technologies. That doesn't mean it has to use the internet, just the technology, as you would find in a normal home or office network. As an umbrella term, it can mean full multi-channel television like Homechoice, Internet TV, Broadband TV, video downloads, or P2P services, and doesn't necessarily have to be viewed on a set-top box or media player. The typical industry understanding is that it is full PAL/NTSC television transmitted over a privately-managed last mile network such as DSL.
Not having the definition right isn't a great way to start. Naturally, the lawyers are grinning because it means months of pointless meandering over details and potential specification problems they can charge by the hour for.
But it's not just a headache in educating people about the potential of the technology, it makes getting content onto platforms very difficult. Most productions (movies, TV programmes, etc) are not completely original in the sense that they use a chain of material licensed from other rightsholders (for example the likeness of an actor/actress, DVD artwork, news footage in documentaries, or music soundtracks) that has to get "clearance" for inclusion and distribution in the master production.
That clearance in the UK is typically categorised into "all TV" or "all new media". That material hasn't been licensed for IPTV in either category (as there is no standard definition) and they need to go back and get clearance for it again, which means additional cost.
The definition will come in time, but right now it means the platform owner bears the cost of legal consultations and the subsequent additional fees needed to cover re-licensing. It's also the reason why some of the most compelling service content (such as DVD-titling on VoD movies) is too difficult to include. The chain of rights clearance is a massively complex problem that currently doesn't have the market demand to sufficiently motivate the content industry to pursue it in detail.
Digital TX Limited is a London-based provider of technology and consultancy solutions for interactive digital television and broadband media. Alexander Cameron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As well as co-ordinating the birth of the IPTV Consortium (IPTVC), Alex is now offering a great value one day workshop course on IPTV and Video On-Demand (VoD) specifically for web and media professionals. It can help you get up to speed on the latest technologies, content deals, operators and applications across the world, and offer immense value in identifying both new opportunities and threats for your business and personal career. If you would like more information, call Alex on 07986 373177 or email email@example.com. Readers who quote The Register as their source will receive a 10 per cent discount on the course fees.