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Back to the future with Web TV

This is the final-preparations-for-IBC time of year. So In speaking with friends and colleagues, David Gillies, who runs isis digital, told me about some of the streaming companies he was planning to see. David feels there is some matchmaking to do between them and the T2 and T3 operators. Only the big T1s can put together OTT strategies by calling all the shots. He’s right of course and that’s one area where independent consultants like us can bring value. But his plans for IBC 2012 sparked a moment of realisation in my mind that we were talking about something very familiar. Oh yes, wasn’t this kind of streaming supposed to happen like 15 years ago? Web TV was one of the drivers of the Internet bubble.


After NAB 2001, the next tradeshow I went to when I was still getting to grips with digital TV and what was becoming IPTV was « Narrowcast 2002 ». The Internet bubble had just finished bursting and the telecoms one was still exploding. Some of the first generation Web-TVs were still alive, although not really kicking anymore.

A bright young employee from TF1 that I spoke to on the show floor confidently predicted that this Internet nonsense would never take over TV - TV would take over the Web. His proof was that one of France’s highest traffic websites was his own one from TF1, France’s number one TV station (the conference was in Paris).


Since then all the Web TVs have died and faded into distant memory, but it doesn’t look like TF1 benefited much. In fact TF1’s TV market share has lost about 50% in the last 10 years and despite remaining an attractive Web property, they haven’t compensated the broadcast losses with Web traffic however which way you measure it.


First generation Web TV had two flaws in their business plans, either of which could sink any initiative, however much money they raised and raised again. Firstly of course, the network just wasn’t ready during the Internet & Telecoms bubbles at the end of the last century. Not only do you need broadband, but you need it in multiple megabits per second not in the hundreds of kilobits per second of early broadband.

But more importantly, the overriding concept « Content is King » still wasn’t really understood throughout the telecoms industry or with many start-ups. Traditional players like my friend at TF1 had a stranglehold on any content that might draw a big and regular audience. Ten years on, User Generated Content or UGC, one of the early Web TV’s promises to replace prime time content, is still only just taking a sliver out of the hours-consumed-per-day pie charts.

In 2012, the next big thing is called the cloud. For anyone remembering Larry Ellison’s vision of a Net computer dating even further back than my Narrowcast conference, this should start sounding a bit déjà vu, non?

A powerful, fast, responsive and service enabled network with simple devices to consume directly from it. Hey, not only is that going back to the mainframe computing model, but it’s also mimicking the broadcast paradigm to a certain extent, just without the broadcast technology. In his 2009 book called The Big Switch (Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google) Nicolas Carr used the commoditization of electricity a century ago as a parallel to what IT infrastructure is currently transforming into with Cloud computing. In the heyday of the Industrial revolution, any industrial project had an electricity generating part to it. It would have been unthinkable otherwise. In the same way broadcasters have today installed a huge amount of kit in peoples homes and find it often unthinkable to do otherwise. But if that kit, otherwise know as Customer Premise Equipment or CPE, were to be commoditized into the Cloud so any humble device could receive the service, wouldn’t that be just what Web TV was all about?


The two Web TV killers of ten years ago are gone: sufficient broadband penetration will now support a monetized business as any Netflix subscriber user can show. Content owners saw what happened to a music industry that tried to ignore then resist the Web and are now more responsive. They will actually talk to network operators, and even the Hollywood majors will experiment new things (OK only small, low-risk things but it’s a marked improvement on their head-in-the-sand policy of 10 years ago).


So now is the time for Web TV to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. But rather than a mythical return, my friend David Gillies & I are convinced this time it will turn into a real and sustainable challenge to the existing broadcast TV market. The market moves so much faster than it used to and I’m sure we’ll know if we’re right by the time we prepare for IBC2013. But ponder on your way to IBC this year if you have figured out how to use the Web TV 2.0 to your advantage.

1 thought on “Back to the future with Web TV

  1. […] didn’t actually see much Web-TV as I had expected to (see previous blog), but several IBC 2012 write-ups I have read so far, including those from people I respect like […]