Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/03/08/microsoft_iptv/

Microsoft turns its guns to IPTV surveys and statistics

Ominous leaks

By Faultline

Posted in Broadband, 8th March 2007 22:29 GMT

Analysis Microsoft may have continuing problems on the home front where AT&T slowly grinds out its IPTV rollout, but in France it is winning plaudits.

T-Online France has been installing IPTV at its Club Internet subsidiary using Microsoft software and says it has been ranked number one in features by both benchmarking organizations ip-label and Witbe, and voted as the system with the best features by Journal du Net, there.

In the latest report from ip-label, Club Internet was ranked above the five leading IPTV providers including Orange, Tele2, Neuf, Alice, and Free. The ip-label benchmark ranks service providers according to service availability, quality of image, percentage of video flux, channel “zapping” time, broadcast video delay and overall quality. Witbe ranked it best in class for TV service availability, channel zapping time, quality of TV image, and image stability.

T-Online France also said it had conducted a research study last year which showed that 80 per cent customers would recommend the service to their friends and that 70 per cent have chosen the triple play bundle and 32 per cent choose to pay for special interest TV channels.

To a certain extent we have to take these finding with a pinch of salt, in that every organization, once they have overcome the challenges of getting an IPTV service out of the door, then need to focus on acquiring customers and marketing the benefits of the service.

Report card

Far more worrying are the constant leaks to the press in the US from AT&T executives, bemoaning poor software from Microsoft that cannot carry out the specification of the services that it wants to offer its customers, and the worryingly low numbers of US take up, last released at around 7,000.

We have even heard rumors of an AT&T “secret lab” that is working on an alternative series of technologies so that the Microsoft system can be replaced at the drop of a hat, but no-one will go on the record about it.

We spoke this week to Andreas Mueller-Schubert, general manager of MSTV global solutions, the organization that manages IPTV clients for Microsoft. “You have to remember that the AT&T installation is very different, far more challenging than any other IPTV market. It offers 450 TV channels with a high number of them being High Definition.”

“It is the same code base, the same software, but in the US there is a high requirement for more TVs to be supported per household, and the competition for Pay TV there is more intense,” he told us. The Microsoft message these days is definitively more about winning friends that contracts, and Ed Gracyzk, director of marketing at Microsoft IPTV was keynoting the Connected Home conference in London this week, and released details from a recent survey the company had just carried out.

“We asked 7,000 people in 9 countries to rate 22 features of IPTV, and what they told us is that they want more detail in the management and control of the service. They want whole home DVR, multiview and VoD services and an easier program guide,” he said.

Microsoft arranged features into clusters such as a feature set it calls Communication, which offers program recommendation, caller ID on the TV screen and on screen instant messaging; or one it calls Commerce, which allows them to order songs, buy DVDs and limits them to targeted advertising, and then asked them to choose which feature they would like in an IPTV service.

“Some 54 per cent of consumers chose connected features,” said Gracyzk, by which he meant features that allowed the building of a feeling of community while watching TV.

Gracyzk stopped there, not wanting to give the game away to help other IPTV suppliers to build their roadmap, especially those that can’t afford to survey 7,000 consumers, and went on to show off the Xbox 360 used as a set top, boasting that integration between gaming and IPTV was a feature that cable TV and satellite TV just could not offer. He also said that operators would be selling Xboxes bundled into their IPTV services before this Christmas, but stopped short of saying who or where.

Well we’re not quite sure why cable and satellite can’t do the same. Either one of them can use an IP return path using an existing broadband line, and cable of course sells the dominant portion of these in the US.

So does that mean that if Comcast comes along and asks to sell the Xbox 360 to its customers and wants to build an IP integration path, that Microsoft would say no. “We could work with cable where it has upgraded to offering IP,” Gracyzk conceded.

He also said that the Xbox 360 could offer channel change in under half a second and that existing Xbox devices could download software to turn them into set tops, or operators could source new devices, and that this was a choice for the operators.

We remain cynical about any operator offering an Xbox as a set top. For a start which Instant Messaging service would people use on their TV set. The one provided by their IPTV operator, or the direct Xbox Live service? Xbox Live is a route to market for content such as games and films, and as such is a Trojan horse for an over the top video play. Microsoft admits that it has been described in this way, although says that the entire service would be under the control of the operator.

So does that mean the operator can disable the connection to Xbox Live on an Xbox sourced and subsidized by operator cash? Can it offer a preferential route for using IPTV IM?

When we spoke after to Mueller-Schubert he admitted that these kinds of details were in the hands of operators and had not all been worked out yet, and perhaps the IM services would be interoperable. But I’d be pretty upset as a customer that opted to get a new Xbox 360 cheap or free from my IPTV operator only to find I couldn’t order videos over the Xbox Live link. Equally I’d be pretty upset if I was a 15 year-old gamer and my IM strings were suddenly stored on the system my parents used.

It’s the same for VoIP over the IM link of Xbox 360. Wouldn’t this allow the Xbox service to undermine the fixed voice services that the IPTV operator wants to maintain? In the end the Xbox is a better purchase from the retail store where it can be used to undermine existing operators services as much as it likes without trying to wear two hats. And if operators are going to start using them for set tops, what’s to stop the far more powerful PlayStation 3 from have a set top client written for it, and being introduced in the same way. There are a lot more games, and better ones, available for that device.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

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