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IPTV/VoD: The tortoise and the hare

How complacency is stunting the industry

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Industry Comment The power of television is undeniable. When gorillas were first introduced to Longleat Zoo's Gorilla Island and had to be quarantined and initially segregated from each other, the wardens came up with the rather smart idea of building TVs in their enclosures to keep them occupied. The gorillas loved it so much that when they came to take it away, they protested and sulked so violently that they were forced to put them back in. Now their living quarters come with Sky Digital satellite dishes fixed to the roof. According to the zoo officials, they are particularly fond of Spongebob Squarepants and other children's programmes.

What happens in nature is often a fantastic yardstick for our own technological evolution. We are all subject to natural law and develop in the way everything else does, albeit on a slightly more advanced style and pace with all the tools that help us build bigger and better tools. Digital media is an art as much as it is a science, and it subscribes to the same principles that every other business does, especially the traditional precedents it takes its lead from.

About 300BC, Aesop, a Greek slave and storyteller, wrote a famous fable entitled The Tortoise and the Hare that teaches the impervious wisdom of the danger of becoming complacent and how slow and steady always wins the race. In the fable, the hare is so convinced he is faster than the tortoise that he rests and falls asleep under a tree. By the time he woke up, the tortoise had already crossed the finishing line by simply plodding along at his own speed. The hare lost the race because of his arrogance and assumptive thinking.

Spend a few days flirting with either the content owning community or technology vendors and one theme strongly shines through – their consistent belief that the market for IPTV and video on-demand is so nascent that it is virtually non-existent. Consumers aren't ready for next-generation entertainment and don't understand it, they say. They are happy with what they have and are overwhelmed with choice, the story goes. These are the same sages who make up the digital distribution teams in major studios that sell pay-per-view video on demand but have never had a broadband connection in their home, preferring 56k dial-up.

How very, very wrong they are.

The average consumer is way ahead of any industry professional out there today. They are crying out for content and the technology that powers it. So much, in fact, that they have already gone ahead and done it themselves without being marketed to. Unfortunately, we are all being held up by the weakest link in the chain.

The secret is that the market is there, as is the content and the technology, but the delivery network to get it to them isn't.

The chances are that if you did an anecdotal survey among the people you know, it's almost certain they will have built some kind of video on-demand network in their home, however basic. Naturally, the percentage will be much higher in the early adopting 24-35 year old male demographic, but it also extends to the middle-aged and older audiences, and across genders.

It's very easy to understand why they've gone ahead and moved up a gear from daisy-chaining VHS players to watch digital video content – they are illegally downloading TV and movies over the internet using programs like BitTorrent and want to watch them on their normal living room TV rather than the computer.

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