Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/04/22/iptv_services/
Why the world has lost interest in IPTV services
Is it feasible to deliver TV-quality video over IP?
Comment While doing the research for the very first issue of Faultline, one IPTV specialist (who shall remain nameless) told us "you can't send video across the web", and proceeded to lecture us on the finer points of Quality of Service protocols.
In a way he was right, but what he was saying lacked vision. The very next day at Faultline we were watching US made video over the internet, streamed from a German website to us in the UK. It seemed to work fine back then in 2002, and it's working better and better as people apply tiny improvements in technology to make it easier and cheaper to do.
What the IPTV specialist meant was that the reliability, resolution, and all round living room experience, was tough to achieve on the internet, and that IPTV was so much more. But it might not be for much longer.
As we look at predictions of widespread take up of IPTV, along with all other forms of Pay TV, what we've realided is that video delivered across the internet is a valid form of experience, but at the moment it's just a different experience from watching TV in your living room, and it can survive either by improving its quality or by remaining a separate experience living up to different rules. The question is just how far are we going to transition viewing habits that were formed in the living rooms of our families, back when we were kids, into new types of video experiences?
Within the industry we are all constantly arguing over issues like whether or not we will watch TV on a mobile phone, or asking what happens when your screen saver cuts in just as a key scene in a film appears, or how irritating the volume controls are on a PC, when what we should be thinking about is how to join up video experiences so they are a seamless whole, rather than a fragmented jitter of separate experiences.
Certainly, video is here to stay on the PC, YouTube has taught us that, although it is a fairly pointless, aimless, constantly searching, kind of one-off experience, which isn't worth repeating too often. And as Nokia begins a series of advertising pitches showing handsets doing incredible things, including showing TV, which are delivered with the caption "it's what the PC has turned into", it's obvious that we will soon be able to do all of the things on a handset that we only just recently found a PC could do.
The Holy Grail here is the cohesive delivery of programming to those three screens, where each screen has appropriate content in the sense that it is the type of content that viewers will be happy to view on that screen, and also in the sense the it is correctly sized and has the right codec treatment for delivery to that screen. But at the same time, cohesiveness needs to be delivered through some element of common programming, common access to services, both local on perhaps a set top, and remote, at a streaming server.
Another prominent IPTVer told us at last year's IBC conference: "We don't want to deliver content to a PC, because when you do that and it goes wrong, your help desk ends up being a generalised PC help desk."
So here we had a long-term, multi-decade, member of the IPTV community, gleeful at NOT creating a service for two screens, instead of applying innovation to support them both.
If you think about his statement, it's plain wrong. When people use a PC they either have technical support, or develop technical support skills of their own. They either expect service to be self initiated, and self troubleshot, or they have someone standing by who understands PC architectures. They are a okay with a "beta" culture.
Joost, for instance, has an FAQ of reasons why you can't get a picture, and long detailed explanations of how to go about overcoming the various delivery hurdles. There is quite simply no help desk phone number. The same goes for Jalipo and BabelGum.
That IPTV executive was making the mistake of thinking that all video, even new forms of video that no one has pre-set expectations for, should all have the same level of support that IPTV has brought to the table. IPTV has had to fight tooth and claw with satellite and cable, and in order to do that, support has been one of the key fighting skills to differentiate service levels.
Also, the investment for a high quality IPTV service is vast, on both sides. A new MPLS enabled network needs to be built, new IP DSLAMS need to be installed, new middleware needs to be put on new set tops and all of this needs to be paid for before a single person watches TV. In the home someone goes out and buys a $5,000 HD ready flat Plasma or LCD TV screen as well as committing to the $100 a month plus that a basic triple play set up will cost.
For web TV, someone goes to a website and clicks on a box and video streams straight at him, or at worst he or she pays for a cheap monthly subscription before getting streaming video access. So children no longer need to ask for a TV in their bedroom, because they have a PC there already on which to do their homework and if it's internet connected, it can be turned into a TV.
It is this lack of cost and breadth of choice that attracts everyone to web video. And it's the reason why internet video advertising, mostly seen while viewing internet video services, is growing at over 100 per cent per annum, while IPTV is lucky in any given territory to eke out a 20 per cent Compound Annual Growth Rate from a very small base.
While the three worlds of pay TV, internet video, and mobile TV could travel along separately, with each person taking what they want from each of them, we don't think this will remain the status quo long term. Because where someone wanted all three classes of services, they would have to spend too much money paying for the same content over and over again, and too much time separately managing them.
There are two ways for these to come together into a blended service. Either a simple software platform will emerge that will bring all the relevant EPG data and manage multiple DRM schemes on multiple devices, or a proper quadruple play service can come into play.
In the quadruple play scheme of things, the same content on the all the formats could be available at different locations and through different networks but put together by an ambitious and smart cellco. A quadruple play company running an IPTV network, also outputting content to the web and also featuring mobile TV or mobile web video services, might just be able to give cohesion to multiple parallel services, while at the same time keeping content costs down, because each customer is only buying one copy of each piece of content.
But while IPTV and Quad play carriers struggle to manage scalability issues, screen jitter, billing problems, IMS installation, HD teething problems, packet loss and latency issues, all things that have hampered AT&T over the past year and a half, which makes its IPTV service unwatchable and unsaleable, the web pioneers are working on the principle of making the entire business of web video more and more like experiencing IPTV.
On an ADSL2+ line at 20 Mbps, with no Quality of Service, using Macromedia Flash video to view web held content, at a viewing speed of 1 Mbps, compressed in H.264, using multiple pass encoders, the output could be good enough to transfer to your TV screen, your handset or your PC and it will look fine on any of them. The only trouble is that the internet itself, or your ISP, would conspire to offer a variable performance for that end to end video stream, which is why Flash video will soon be supported by multiple peer to peer delivery mechanisms that break video into brief 10 second chunks of video and send them in parallel. This way only the last mile represents any contention for data throughput, and on ADSL2+ or even ADSL, that's a non-issue unless you are trying to run HD.
The resulting services will rapidly build up into an online footprint that threatens to disrupt the continued delivery of IPTV quality services in the home by allowing quality video to travel over the top of both the web and video web. The last step that remains is for Flash video streaming to be supported from your PC to your TV and then all of the three screens will work off a single service and none of them will be IPTV.
Meanwhile, Telcos will remain obsessed with high quality, well supported services which focus purely on a single screen, and as a result they will miss the revolution entirely, while spending vast amounts of money they don't have on new networks, in the process building up large debt pools that will weigh them down in the financial markets.
Copyright © 2007, Faultline
Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.