There's life in IPTV
IBC boasts new technologies and new entries
Analysis The key reason for Faultline to go to the IBC conference and exhibition in Amsterdam each year is to test the temperature of the entertainment industry, with its 47,000 visitors from over 120 countries and its 1,300 exhibitors. By any standards, but especially European standards, it is a big show.
It is of course many shows within a show. It caters for big broadcasting businesses and their remaining analog and expensive cameras, post productions systems and broadcast styles, while at the same time addressing IPTV, mobile TV and Digital Cinema.
Among the IPTV adherents for the past two years the entire show has given off an air of doom and gloom, with the domination of Microsoft in the tier 1 IPTV middleware space causing havoc and despair, to the extent that Microsoft never attended last year's event, feeling it would only encounter hostility.
But in 2007 there is a definite air of optimism in IPTV and mobile TV at the show, like there was three years ago, plus the arrival of various elements of web TV which some call internet video, and every company that has not yet fallen foul to the fairly rampant consolidation that occurred as companies like Cisco, Ericsson and Motorola entered the business, had something new on show.
There is always a cynic's view to take into account: and many people at the show were still concerned that few of the companies present, if any, make a profit yet out of IPTV. The age-old view, not quite dead, was that many companies were "still putting lipstick on the pig," which refers to the process of putting a small company's technology in the right light, hoping that it will attract a suitor and a takeover.
But in the main, the survivors of the 2004 IBC and the raft of new, optimistic entrants, were all showing something new, and showing it with enthusiasm. And given that Dreampark, the Swedish IPTV middleware firm that gatecrashed the sector as a one man start up in 2004, says that it is currently chasing 15 separate RPQs out in the market, means that everyone has some new business to fight for.
Fast Channel Change, which was the mantra that brought Microsoft Mediaroom (as we must now call it) to the fore, was not mentioned in our earshot for the entire week. The new buzz words seem to be "workflow" on the pre-production side, and various forms of EPG evolution on the IPTV side and watermarking on set tops. Addressable advertising is also increasingly brought up.
The sheer volume of announcements at IBC will mean that even if we write about them for a month we will miss out on some detail or other, but one of those that gave us the most pleasure was listening to Orca CEO Haggai Barel regain his enthusiasm for the show and the subject matter.
Orca is no longer thought of as a middleware leader and the larger players act as if it is already out of business, last September it announced that half year revenues for IPTV were down to just $900,000, compared to $3m the previous year. Most think that Orca is likely to be sold or is simply irrelevant, but the Israeli company was one of the early entrants to offer a full suite of IPTV middleware for IPTV, on the heels of Myrio, the company that was merged into Siemens, which now lives inside Nokia-Siemens.
This time last year Barel was bemoaning the fact that Microsoft had frozen the market and that his existing customers were finding it hard to attract end users, and he had to live on new client sign ups for any revenue at all, which were few and far between. But at this show he was announcing a wake for the EPG (the Irish idea of having a party for the departed), and showing instead what he called a Compass, which bundled the concept of a favorites list with a recommendation engine, to replace the standard grid that is the basis of TV channel selection virtually everywhere.
It is hard, without a full bouquet of several hundred channels to know how well the compass works. It is an L shaped set of screen icons that offer VoD recommendations up the screen and broadcast ones across the screen. A later version will allow a different compass for each person in the household, and if you don't like the set of recommendations on show you can refresh it with its second attempt or program it with a web interface.
The compass is called Orca's Content Discovery infrastructure and will be added to its RiGHTv IPTV middleware platform in the near future and comes out of academic research in Israel, which has been tuned by testing it on students there. It is the first output of the NeGeV consortium that was announced a year back which sees Israeli academics with $20m of funding from the Israeli government, working with Comverse, Scopus Video Networks, encoder specialist Optibase, SintecMedia, Orca Interactive, Mobixell Networks and VoD server specialist BitBand.
During the last year to 18 months Orca has only signed deals with Jazztel in Spain, Telrad Networks in the country of Georgia, and Completel, a French ISP as far as we can see, but recently opened up its system to offer web TV from its IPTV middleware, and signed a deal with Blockbuster in Israel.
Orca was also showing a system which takes a personal photograph and turns it into a short video, complete with music and graphical effects.
Consequently Barel, and the company looked ten years younger, and perhaps the previously jaded IPTV industry is beginning to take on an altogether younger feel once again.