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My pre @IBCShow 2013 hot topics

Here’s my take on what the key hot topics of IBC 2013 might be and the questions they raise for me.

Safe bets

Four topics are really way hotter than any others at the moment.

1.    4K/UHD

Will the cinema standard merge with the broadcasting one? Will there be an intermediary 2K, like we had “HD Ready” before “full HD”? [I tried to answer some of these questions with Thierry Fautier's help here]

2.    HEVC

Are we in for the same long wait as when H264 was first supposed to come, or have things really accelerated? It used to take a decade to halve bandwidth requirements.  Last years UHD/4K demos required 35 to 40MBPS, how long will it take to compress down to the promised 10MBPS?

3.    OTT

Technology, ecosystems, devices

  • Is there a future for OTT STBs?
  • Will DASH finally be the ABR to standardize them all?
  • Has the interest in connected TVs peeked?

OTT Business & content disruption

  • What does Netflix or YouTube commissioning content mean to the industry?
  • Is the second screen becoming the TV? Is now the time for mass adoption of play-along apps?
  • Is cord cutting, a temporary phenomenon or the beginning of the end?
  • Oh and I suppose Social TV fits in here, but I'm not expecting it to trend much in 2013.

4.    Big Data, privacy, customer intelligence or the new clothes of recommendation

Content recommendation platform vendors have been screaming into the wind for half a decade already. All of a sudden the industry is listening to their message, but not from them. The Big Data crowd have stolen the limelight. Its ever so hard to form an opinion when something is so very hyped, but it is common knowledge that most operators still have a long way to go to start benefiting form the gold mine of customer data they’re sitting on. Content recommendation is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Outsiders that might get traction in 2013

New subject: Dongles

Despite set makers fantasies, the connected TV still isn’t a reality in terms of usage. But with those millions of out-of-date screens out there, could HDMI dongles like Google’s latest offering finally make that change?

An ten-year old story; that may at last be true: The time is coming for IP, another 4 points:

1.     The rebirth of IPTV

I used to write about the death of IPTV, so, I got the timing wrong. Well actually I may have gotten the whole story wrong. As OTT services seem to be more than a fleeting fancy, Telcos are realising that all that expensive multicast IP technology could actually make a difference. Maybe they won’t have to sue money out of the global players like Apple or Netflix, but actually be able to cut deals with them in exchange for guaranteed last mile delivery.

2.     Targeted advertising

Companies have come and gone on this subject. My take was that although the targeting tech sort-of worked, there were never big enough segments to personalise to, making an ad just costs too much. That may at last be changing with the scale available to some operators.

3.     Guaranteeing service, offloading, DPI, Net neutrality

Technology is now here to enable an operator to offload video streams from 4G to Wi-Fi either because its free YouTube stuff and the Wi-Fi is free or on the contrary because its part of a pay TV subscription that the Telco is getting a cut from and the Wi-Fi has no guaranteed quality.

4.     4G & Fiber

New high-speed networks really are finally here and accessible to significant segments of the market. This is not an IBC subject per se, but it is the fuel behind this whole IP set of trends.

See you in Amsterdam, and here or elsewhere to see how wrong I was ;o)

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Google “don’t be evil” and Android-TV will be the biggest news of 2011

Jamie Beach of IPTV News got me talking about Google and the TV back in February 2009. It always made sense that Google would somehow crack the TV Market but I said from the outset in May 2010, that Google TV wasn't the right way to start.

I recently blogged that Intel's withdrawal from the connected-TV space was good news for STB makers - I could have updated the post when Adobe subsequently announced that they would withdraw from TV altogether, but instead, this update comes to contradict my prediction that "Long live the STB".

The Connected TV jungle out there could for example lead to the absurdity of some content being available on Samsung TVs but not on LG, or the other way round. I admire the way some of these set-makers have boldly gone where no man has been before and built up complete ecosystems. Had I been in their shoes, I wouldn't have been able to do any better, Samsung's efforts are particularly impressive.

Q: So why the all the fuss now then?

A: That jungle might now get urbanized.

By announcing that Android Market Place was also a TV App Market Place during the OTT TV World Summit in London last week (see twitter feed here), Google has finally acknowledged that even they can't manage the complexity of merging the Web and the TV single-handedly. I would put all my bets on Android as an underlying OS technology being a long term success in the TV space. But Google TV as a UI and consumer application may not have such a bright future. It took several years to start getting Android right on Smartphones. Good user experience is harder to get right on a TV screen than on a mobile device. Also Google will not be following in Apple's footsteps with something to benchmark against. If Google can keep Android open and Larry Page keeps his "don't be evil" mantra going, this end of 2011 will be the pivotal moment when everything coalesces in our industry for the TV revolution to get into to full speed with breakthrough is in new services, new business models and new usage.

STB makers might still fit into this future vision even if the Connected TV finally takes off under Android. A smaller piece of a larger cake ain't that bad after all.

So in the end it's all about standardization. In this case it's one imposed by one player rather than a standards body. If this scenario plays out and Android becomes central to the future of TV, it will be interesting to see how other big guns react.

The set makers will have to join the bandwagon and give up their hopes of getting a slice of the service pie. Perhaps the more advanced like Samsung will salvage something from all those marketing dollars spent, at east for their image. But I still have some questions: what is the XBox going to become in this context? And how will Apple react?

Microsoft, the Evil empire of the 90s, doesn't have anything to lose in the TV space. From Redmond, Media Room, the companies flagship IPTV platform can't be much more significant than Apple TV is in Cupertino, some call these initiatives "hobbies". Apple has a strong influence on much of the OTT market through its HLS protocol widely used for Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) streaming. With a "don't be Evil" mantra Apple would continue the move underway from HLS to the MPEG standardized enhancement called DASH. Somehow I doubt they will go through with the transformation, even if they were one of its instigators, but I'd be happy for the industry's sake, to be proven wrong.

PS: Keep an eye on the IPTV News site for some in depth analysis of Google / Android / TV coming soon, I'll be collaborating with Jamie there.