I want my IPTV!
Well, not really. In fact, I’m perfectly happy with the TV I have. And maybe that’s why up to this point I haven’t seen the point of pushing for IPTV. Why do we need another TV service distributed to the home?
However, I had a casual meeting with the guys from Edgeware – a company that’s building video servers for CDNs — last night and that got me thinking: what would my perfect IPTV service look like?
First, a definition: For this discussion, IPTV is TV delivered via an IP-based delivery system by the telcos. Previously, my own definition has been much broader: any TV-like service delivered via the Web, so under that definition, watching YouTube late at night on my laptop counts as IPTV. But right now, I’m talking about a TV service that the telcos can deliver to rival cable and satellite.
So far, there have been lots of tries – and a bit of success – to bring telco-based IPTV to the masses. AT&T offers its U-Verse service in 11 cities, with packages that offer 200, 300 and 450 channels as well as 100-plus HD networks. Verizon also offers FiOS TV, with 2.04 million subscribers, although while FiOS is a telco-offered TV service, it’s not really IPTV because the service doesn’t run over IP-based networks. IPTV seems more popular internationally, particularly in smaller, very developed countries (S. Korea, Japan) that have very high capacity broadband networks.
Still, there’s been lots and lots and lots of talk about telcos developing and delivering IPTV services and not a lot of action. To stay competitive with cable and its triple-play (voice, TV, Internet service) bundles, telcos need to be able to offer video but so far it’s been tough sledding.
Now I could go into a technical discussion of why this hasn’t happened, but I’m going to leave that to someone smarter and more technically oriented than I. Instead, I’m going to talk about what the ideal IPTV service of the future – one that could really be competitive with cable and satellite – looks like in my head.
First, it offers all the programming that cable and satellite companies offer, including sports, premium channels and HD channels. I think this is a complicated endeavor: it requires winning agreements with all of the content providers, sports being the trickiest and most expensive. On the other hand, content providers want their content distributed, so they may be more willing to make those agreements than I anticipate. I would also expect sports agreements to come later to these services, except ESPN, which no TV distribution service can survive without.
Second, it seamlessly allows me to surf the Internet for video content and then watch it on my TV. The quality is good, the audio works (and remains aligned with the video, a problem I often have with ABC.com’s videos, but that’s because the video card on my laptop is lacking), and the programs instantly stream. Everything I want to watch is available on demand, whether that’s the high school basketball championships, the local news, the latest episode of Frontline, or the season finale of Top Chef. I don’t have to record anything because it all lives on the Internet, and I can pause, fast-forward and rewind my programming, just like I can with a set-top-box-based TiVo or DVR. To be fair, this is this model that Zillion TV is proposing. All of that functionality will live mainly in the network instead of on top of my television.
Third, searching my TV system will be much like running a Google search. I type in “Mad Men Don Draper California” and up comes a few episodes from season two for my viewing pleasure. And that search capacity would apply to things like short-form Internet videos as well.
Fourth, I can create social networks around my TV viewing, and then chat with friends about what I’m watching. I can do this in two ways – in small, interest-specific groups that I create or in a much larger group-setting. My Facebooks and Twitters and responses will run along the bottom or the side of my screen.
And fifth and finally, much has been made about electronic commerce and interactive TV. In my view, this already exists. It’s very easy to buy whatever you want on the Internet via PayPal. I don’t really see why that wouldn’t extend to any IPTV system, but it’s likely there are technical details or security risks I don’t understand and that must be built into the system.
All of this leaves me with questions: would any TV show ever seen be available on an IPTV system? What would that mean for TV distribution? Would things like iTunes still exist, in which we pay to watch one episode of TV? What about Netflix? What new IPTV-specific services would be developed? And how do TV stations figure into all of this? Do they just get bypassed completely?
Still, it’s not surprising that my consideration of IPTV involves at least as many questions as answers. That’s how I feel about the TV business as a whole these days.