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(English) Social TV Forum 16/03/10 15:00

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[lang_en]The Social TV Forum takes place on March 16th at Olympia in London. Ben is chairing the panel at 3PM on technical Challenges of bringing social media onto the TV. Panelists are Kevin Baughan, Head of Technical Strategy, Virgin Media, Martin Jarrold, Cheif, International Programme Development GVF, Andrew Kearney, VP TV Products, UPC Broadband and Guillaume de Saint Marc, VP R&D New Initiatives, NDS. Guillaume from NDS will kick the discussion off with a short presentation of what those challenges really are. I'll write something up for[/lang_en]

[lang_fr]Le Social TV Forum a lieu le 16 mars à Olympia, Londres. Ben sera chairman d'une table ronde à 15h sur les défis techniques pour amener les médias sociaux ("social media") à la TV. Kevin Baughan, Head of Technical Strategy, Virgin Media, Martin Jarrold, Cheif, International Programme Development GVF, Andrew Kearney, VP TV Products, UPC Broadband et Guillaume de Saint Marc, VP R&D New Initiatives à NDS seront les intervenants. Guillaume démarrera avec un rapide aperçu de ce défi technique. Vous trouverez un compte rendu par la suite sur[/lang_fr]

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(English) Why Iid invest in TV monitoring if I were a banker

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When Justin Lebbon, the guy behind videonet, read my latest blog post on the significance of Ineoquest’s winning a deal with France Télévisions, he pointed out that to get onto Videonet, posts have to be longer. It probably wasn’t meant that way, but it felt a bit condescending.

Hmmpf! So I started wondering why I'd felt the urge to write just a short post on a seemingly run-of-the-mill press release about yet another sale.

I had written about the customer being a TV station and the vendor being the leader in head-end monitoring from the IPTV space, so that maybe we were going towards a global leader in the IP TV (notice the space) monitoring space. So with just one small point to make I had one short blog entry to post.

But Justin’s point has been irking me to dig a bit deeper.

It turns out I wrote about a tree that was hiding a forest.

The TV world relies more and more heavily on IP for contribution, transport and distribution to and within the home. At the same time, the whole marketplace is also maturing. Different stakeholders are beginning to emerge and a new content economy will eventually stabilize.

We still don’t know if our IPTV world will become a market dominated by vertical or horizontal stakeholders or maybe something in between.

In the vertical world, content would flow from one stakeholder’s environment through another’s to be delivered to customers of yet another network. To catch-up on a missed Channel 4 program you might use a C4 widget on you TV that stream content through a network managed by Cable & Wireless. But for a BBC program you’d use iPlayer. We would seem to be headed in that direction if the Ineoquest - France Télévisions deal is at all significant. Service Level Agreements or SLAs are paramount to remain competitive in such a world. What better than QoE measurement to manage such agreements?

In the second more horizontal world, the same stakeholders would be producing and delivering content-based services to their own customers. Walled garden IPTV or Telco-TV is of this world. TV stations would carry on not caring all that much about IP quality because it wouldn’t be their problem. Although not IPTV, Sky’s products are from this world where the same company produces much of the content and delivers it themselves. Market regulators would hopefully ensure that customers would rarely be more than a click away from the competing service and in this world (looks like Britain pulled a short straw on this), QoE would remain the best metric to work on to control churn.

TV stations are still basically Content producing organisations. When transmitting through traditional broadcast networks they can always ascertain the quality of delivery by the random sampling of a few points. This worked fine for traditional analogue terrestrial and satellite, and also to a certain extent for digital terrestrial, cable and satellite.

IPTV represents extra difficulties because not only do the video streams have to go through many more layers in the network. Operators are still in many cases just learning how to properly configure IP networks for video. Fierce competition is also forcing them to use underlying infrastructure that is at the bleeding-edge of new technology.

However, if IPTV were only about Live TV, it would just be harder to get right, basically playing in the same ball court as before.

What makes quality management so different is that IPTV services have always been about more than live TV. From the source of video signal to TV set we’re moving from a one-to-many to a one-to-one architecture. As soon as VoD, delinearization or Social TV show their scary heads, we shall have to take a whole quantum leap into another level of complexity.

I haven’t seen any reliable and public stats for VoD session quality in managed networks, but you only need to glance at some Web forums to see that things aren’t as rosy as VoD system vendors and operators would have us believe, even in a walled garden environment where QoS is supposedly guaranteed. I’ve been using such a managed service at home for 5 years now and with maybe 60 films rented, I can say that about one time in 10 the VoD viewing experience gets interrupted or even cancelled. If I’m then prepared to spend 10 minutes to half an hour on the phone, I can get a refund.

Now if I ask you where are TV stations focussing their attention at the moment, the BBC’s iPlayer will probably come to mind. With an iPlayer type of service TV stations’ increase the value of their own content by making it available after airtime (I guess a very expensive premium service will one day let you access the content before airtime). Their content is being transmitted over IP on a one-to-one basis using their brand name. So TV stations are getting caught up in the Quality of Experience issues themselves.

But beyond the iPlayer example, as the IPTV ecosystem matures, different stakeholders are emerging. In some markets, one operator will provide head-end services for another competitor. Elsewhere, wholesaling is becoming commonplace. Take for example Cable & Wireless in the UK who can carry IPTV streams from a third party head end to someone else’s DSLAM. Their responsibility - enshrined in an SLA - is to deliver the content with the same quality the received it. Traditional network QoS metrics don’t always capture the whole picture. If the TV service is also monitored end-to-end wholesalers can commit to SLA’s.

Here in France one sees some pretty complex setups with for example a Bouygues Telecom IPTV customer having a service delivered through an SFR network when the video head end service is provided by Canal+. In this case Bouygues Telecom would also have an agreement with Orange to rent the last mile.

Over-the-Top or OTT content has mainly been associated with free YouTube like services; that too is changing. Even in the unlikely event that it does stay totally free, there’s only one YouTube so the quality of service delivered to people’s sitting rooms will be a key differentiator.

The emerging playing field forces the larger content creators like France Télévisions to look further down the distribution line. Even as far down as the person in front of  the screen. Their distribution possibilities are also exploding while presenting differing technical challenges in terms of Quality of Experience. In the IP space, should they concentrate their efforts on Telco-TV distribution or should they be putting more effort into their own OTT distribution? TV widgets present one of the greatest threats and opportunities they have seen for years.

To remain relevant and retain their independence TV stations will seek means of leverage to control or at least to influence different distribution channels or sometimes just to be able to make an informed choice as to which one to use. Their content represents their fundamental value so it’s only not surprising that they’ll want to protect both its quality and its integrity.

That’s why – Justin- I believe the Ineoquest deal is significant. Now will you post this?

Benjamin Schwarz

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(English) French Public Broadcaster goes IQ

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I'd don't usually comment on press releases about vendors making another sale, but this one is significant.

IPTV operators represent a red sea of cut-throat monitoring competition. Most of of the operators I know already use Ineoquest or will do so soon.

TV stations, who are relatively new to IP networks, represent a more enticing blue ocean where everyone should have a chance. But if that market also gets Ineoquested, then we’re getting closer to having a true leader in the IPTV monitoring field.

The downside is that monitoring may become like the IT market of the 1970's where decision makers always chose big blue (IBM) because that way if something went wrong they wouldn't be blamed ...

But leadership need not become dominance and the upside is that we might now get some momentum on relevant standards which will hopefully be open like TR135, so good luck IQ, as long as you remain humble and nimble, show us the way.

Ineoquest have a press release here.

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(English) Alphabetical list of IPTV monitoring solution providers

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To keep this list down to manageable size, I'm only including companies that provide a complete solution for monitoring an live IPTV service.

There are start-ups mixed with decades-old companies. Later-on I'll share some info on classifying these companies.

  • Absilion (Netrounds)
  • Agama
  • Agilent
  • BridgeTech (Sencore)
  • Cisco (VQE)
  • ExFo (Brix)
  • First Media (m-View)
  • Ineoquest
  • Infovista
  • IP Label Newtest
  • Ixia
  • JDSU (Volicon)
  • Mariner Partners (xVu)
  • Miranda
  • Mirifice
  • Mixed Signals
  • Opticom
  • Pixelmetrix
  • Psytechnics
  • Radcom (more of a VoIP specialist)
  • Shenick
  • Spirent
  • Symmetricom
  • Tektronix
  • Telchemy
  • Video Clarity
  • Witbe

Please comment to add to this list.


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(English) Why IPTV will change the world … well at least the world of TV

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In the decade after the Second World War, the art & science of modern Marketing were invented and brought the world economy into a new age. Services delivered over an IP network, like IPTV, are bringing something as momentous forward.

In an article I wrote in 2006 for the Technology Review’s inaugural French edition (it actually got published in the second), I drew a parallel between IPTV and the printing press.

IPTV has to first be TV before it can be anything else. Indeed even in today’s Web 2.0 world, users will never try all the great new IPTV services including niche - long tail & interactive content, personalisation or community services, if you don’t first give them some real TV. If THE content people want isn’t available IPTV – or any other TV – providers will have a problem. To start with IPTV doesn’t necessarily innovate. It is bringing us something we’ve had for half a century. Sure we’ve gone from Black & White to colour TV, image resolution has improved along with sound quality and even 3D is on its way, but the basic live TV service is the same.

Electronic Program Guides (EPG) are becoming the norm, offering instant access to at least the program title, schedule and a short description. But these are linked to digital TV, not necessarily IPTV. Other services not necessarily requiring IP include Personal Video Recorders (PVR) which have advantageously replaced VHS video recorders to make recording programs easier and even let you record straight off the program guide or via a web site or mobile phone interface. But common man’s life will be more radically changed by the IP part of IPTV than the TV part.

So if the TV in IPTV is still TV, it must be the IP that’s the printing press.

TV preceded IPTV by decades just like manuscripts preceded Guttenberg’s printing press by dozens of generations.

By innovating in the way written works were duplicated and disseminated throughout communities and beyond, Gutenberg changed society forever.

But it took generations of writers to realise the potential of books over manuscripts. Political pamphlets and newspapers are examples of world-changing output from the printing press but these only had a measurable impact a few generations after Guttenberg.

It’s taking IPTV a lot less time to realise the potential of IP. The first real deployments are a decade old and the first large scale deployments are half that age.

When TV is delivered though an IP network, be it the Internet or a private network, a unique one-to-one bi-directional relationship is created between the service provider and the end user. This will open up a world of new services targeting much smaller audiences that can be scattered around the globe like Diasporas. A VoD session can even be seen as a service being sold to an individual household.

In 2000 the Internet infrastructure couldn’t cope with video streams. YouTube alone has shown that that it now can. As long as some form of net-neutrality can be maintained, new “narrow cast” services like many of the long gone Web-TVs of the Internet bubble are at last viable. Digital catalogues have reached critical size so that however unusual, there will always be some content to cater for your interests. So if content remains king in the IPTV world, he’s growing a “long tail”.

Let’s just stop for minute; think what that implies going back to the world economy as it emerged from the Second World War. After the Marshall plan put European economies into forward gear, a relatively long period of prosperity ensued.

The basic operational model for most businesses was this: to optimise production, create a stock of goods (or services) then get a sales force to sell as much as possible. In the relationship between a company and its customers, it was always about pushing as much stock as possible from the stockpile to the customer and optimising that flow as seen from the companies side. It took a particularly astute and creative sales person to ask a few simple questions:

  • How do our customers perceive our products?
  • Why would they choose one brand over another?
  • What features would make my product more valuable?
  • How might they “feel” if our product or service was unavailable?
  • Once my product has been bought, how is it used in my customer’s home?

This was a radical change and we are looking at the relationship from the customer’s perspective for the first time and talking about the invention of “Marketing” itself.

My premise is that with IPTV as well as other IP based services we are very much in the position of a salesman of the late fifties. Indeed we can design, build and deliver a leading edge IPTV service, but once it has left our “factory floor” and reaches people homes, just like the goods of the fifties, its gets used and perceived in a ways we don’t really understand.

We have all experienced frustrating times talking to customer support about issues we are having with our ISP, VoIP or IPTV service. The customer representative invariably makes us do stupid things like check the mains power socket, but if they do listen to our specific issues they rarely understand - let alone have a solution. Why is it so hard to manage the Quality of Experience in the IP world?

One reason is that contrary to the tangible goods of the fifties and sixties, IP services don’t actually exist until they are consumed. Indeed it is difficult to improve the experience of a Video on Demand session in advance. This is one of the reasons the whole science of marketing has to be adapted to the world of IP.

One last point shows how fundamental the changes we are talking about are. The heavy investment big names like Google or Yahoo! are making in the TV space is telling. I don’t believe Yahoo!’s current set of TV widgets providing news, weather & stock market information in their current form as an overlay will change the world, but they are showing the way. For such initiatives to succeed, at least three breakthroughs are necessary.

The first is in the TV ecosystem, which has to enable the free flow of new services and content so that whoever has a good idea for a widget or new service can somehow provide it. This is like Apple’s AppStore on the iPhone.

The second major shift required is in the TV service interface. Indeed, with a Standard Definition (i.e. non HD) screen and a regular remote control it is hard to behave differently than a “couch potato”.

Thirdly widgets to make an impact on the living room experience, they will have to become truly interactive with the content itself, a bit like with the demos NDS gave at the 2009 IBC.

So in the end IPTV isn’t just another bit of technology but a new paradigm. We are so close to TV that we probably won’t realise the world is changing until someone tells us it already has.

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(English) The future of TV advertising Conference

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A few months ago I helped Justin Lebbon to sketch out the initial outline for the Future of TV advertising conference in London on December 11th 2009. Have a look at the incredible speaker line-up that Zero Point Media and he have put together here.

This is the intro I wrote for the brochure.
From a techie background I always love it when I can work on things that ordinary people can understand, i.e. when you don’t feel such a nerd at dinner parties. Well TV advertising is something people really do care about.
Here is a conversation I had a few weeks ago when my neighbours came over for dinner.

She’s a print journalist and he puts up solar roofs so neither are at all connected to TV advertising. I told them I was planning to chair this event and this is what how I remember the conversation going:

Her: “Hey Ben that sounds cool. You know I might loose my job within the year because our daily just can’t re-invent itself on the web. I mean we get loads of visitors on the website, but it just doesn’t add up financially [I’m translating from the French so no pun was intended - and yes there are two d’s]. Aren’t you going to be talking about the same kind of thing with advertising: I mean at home we just fast-forward through most ads using the PVR. Like with my whole newspaper, the web is kind of slowly killing ads on the TV?”

Me: “Well err, I think …”

Him “OK yes maybe but if adverts could at least be interesting, then maybe we wouldn’t want to zap them all the time!”

Me: “well …”

Her: “Oh yes and I remember as a kid, always being cross with my dad if we were late for the ads at the cinema, they were an integral part of the experience.”

Me: “Yes indeed personalisation…”

Him: “But wait Ben, back to the first point, I mean doesn’t more and more TV come from the web anyway so couldn’t advertisers actually know who is behind each TV set?”

I then gave up trying to participate.

Her: “But darling, we get our TV from Orange so doesn’t it come from the Web anyway?”

Him: “Well I err think it’s what Ben called IPTV, and …”

That’s a much as I can remember. There’s enough food for thought there for a book’s worth let alone a blog post, and that’s from a layman’s perspective alone. Some of these issues were covered in detail at the conference