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IPTV/VoD – Let's inject a little rock 'n' roll

If dreams could come true...

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Industry comment Even 10 seconds of the ridiculously over-valued X-Factor and American Idol make me want to vomit. They are so frighteningly mediocre, vacuous, and repetitive that I invariably find myself staring into a worrying abyss of creative bankruptcy that's pumped into millions of people's homes every night through their TV screen. On the side of the road gossip magazines are flourishing, all with the same look, formula, and material.

Recently when I was mid-rant, complaining about how Simon Cowell, the man who gave us the TeleTubbies single, was able to accurately judge talent at a karaoke popularity contest on its artistic merit, I screamed out that what I wanted was another Jimi Hendrix. That guy blew everyone away and was a revolution. People's hair stood on end when they saw him play on their black and white TVs. Nobody had seen anything like it, even having seen Elvis. The Sex Pistols followed.

I have a confession to make. BT Vision doesn't excite me. Neither do any of the fancy new IPTV services that are rolling out all over the world. I'm thoroughly underwhelmed, and I'm sure I'm not supposed to be feeling that way, working in the IPTV industry. But honesty is usually more important than diplomacy from an advocate. I hope more than anything that they take off as it will be a springboard to more interesting ideas.

The story is the same with every digital TV service. You get a set-top box, a socket in the wall, some menus, and a bunch of TV channels. It costs slightly more every month and there's nothing on, and even more nothing being added to the noise that surrounds maybe three or four watchable channels. You can order expensive movies and play games. You can pause TV and record things to watch later. The novelty wears off after a few days.

I don't care how the content gets to me, neither does anyone else. I want there to be something good on I can get adsorbed into and addicted to. Sports and movie packages. Kids packages. Public service channels. That's great, but it's all the same. Re-package and re-brand all you like. It seems companies build services that are deliberately similar to someone else's, and then they'll hold a meeting with an innovative small business where they interrogate them on what their unique selling point is.

There might be some wisdom in that the great British public like and take to things that are familiar. But in avoiding risks you always take a much bigger one. Risk avoidance has become culturally endemic. The best and most amazing things that have ever happened have been massively different and incredibly risky. They excite and inspire on a greater level. A little rock and roll would do the IPTV business a world of good.

Is this it? Is this the best that billions of dollars and some very clever people can come up with? It's not pressing my buttons, and I know I'm not alone.

I want more. I want a Hendrix. I want to get excited again.

The ironic thing is that IPTV is exciting. Really damned exciting. The possibilities and potential of it are incredible: it's democratising media-land for the first time ever, and economies in the third world are being revitalised through e-learning and technological transformation. The effects will be felt for decades and it's the next stage of the internet walking through our door. But we get yet another cable TV. And the reception is currently a slow hand-clap.

I was at the HQ of a well-known ISP recently and they asked what they could offer in a TV service that was different to what is already out there. A lot of telcos are struggling with how to enter the race because there's not much room for anything new. Everything is targeted to young males under 35 and revolves around Freeview or an expensive LLU network. They have a point. It's not easy. There's only so many triple play and Freeview PVRs you can offer so many ways to package the same old thing.

There's always room for something new.

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