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IPTV is dead long live OTTIPTV

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I’m almost three weeks late for my write-up of this year’s IP&TV world Forum, so I started this piece for my blog in a rush with a big sense of guilt. It turns out that my intro on the IPTV Vs. OTT debate has taken turned in to an opinion piece on it’s own (follow-on report on IP&TV World Forum 2012 coming soon with interviews from Envivio, Verimatrix and Media Melon CEO’s as well as news and demos from Ineoquest, Siemens, Harmonic, Orca and some others).


For the sake of clarity, in this piece, I’ll use the term IPTV to describe TV delivered over managed networks with guaranteed quality of service as opposed to OTT delivery that has to go over networks not managed by the service provider. IPTV services are generally those delivered by Telco’s (e.g. Orange TV, ATT Uverse), whereas OTT services are usually offered by content owners (BBC, Hulu) or dedicated start-ups (Netflix, Roku).


I gave my first IPTV presentation in 2004. Some visionaries were already talking about OTT. But that’s another story. The first thing I did then was to define the term IPTV because no one agreed on what it actually meant. As far as buzzwords go, IPTV had a pretty good run for its money, staying trendy for almost a decade.

Prior to this year’s IPTV show, I predicted on my blog that OTT would be the only common theme for the second year running.

This year’s IPTV world forum was the biggest yet, yet it was the last. Next year the show is being rebranded. (Incidentally as the IP&TV rebranding never took, I wonder if the new TV Connect rebranding will fare any better; IPTV is a strong brand name). That must be saying something. Has the great IPTV ship sunk under her own weight?

Is IPTV really gone for good, or has it just gone out of fashion? I remember wearing a scarf of my grandfather’s a few years after he died. He’d had it for decades. Yet when I wore it on one evening, I was amazed to receive compliments on being so trendy (I actually have no dress sense when it comes to fashion as you may have noticed). As it happens the design was just making a comeback.

Likewise, might the IPTV World Forum comeback in 20 or 30 years? You’re probably laughing at such a stupid question: technology isn’t like clothing. Well maybe so, but people respond to fashion in the same way whatever the subject.


Some say IPTV has failed because big Telcos that ploughed hundreds of millions of Euros into the technology have not recouped their investment. We’ve tried for years to convince ourselves (and investors) that IPTV was a sound defensive strategy. All the clever multi-play bundling was keeping customers from churning. Actually it was, it’s just that it only put a plaster on the wound without healing it first. IPTV is just a tool and teaching someone how to use a tool from another trade, doesn’t teach her how to actually make a living out of that trade. Belgacom is a very rare counter-example amongst Telcos - having put a real TV exec at the steering wheel;  they are now the only ones who can actually claim genuine IPTV success. Ironically much of their technology has recently gone obsolete as NSN their main provider has decided to drop IPTV products.

It’s probably significant that at the same time Siemens (not Nokia Siemens Networks, i.e. NSN) is making a big push back into the TV space, but with an exclusively OTT model.

So what has actually failed with IPTV is the Telco’s attempt to use TV to climb up the value chain. The technology itself needed a few years to have the wrinkles ironed out, but works very well now.

The market cap of any major Telco with a big IPTV offering, when compared with that of Apple or even Google, tells the same story.


Last year I wrote a successful blog entry on why France, having been the birthplace of IPTV, would probably also be its first grave. The article generated a thread of over a 100 comments on LinkedIn and I was quite chuffed when Gavin Whitechurch the head of IPTV World Forum series gave me an analyst spot at last year’s London forum.


My “the death of TV” analyst briefing was a learning experience. There were five other analyst tables and as doors opened, delegates came in and chose their table. The other tables were about fine things in the future (namely OTT) and most had about six people - one even had a dozen. Mine had none! So I’ve learnt from that marketing mistake: this article isn’t about IPTV’s woes but about OTTTV’s great potential.


Back to the real reason I believe it is simply a question of fashion. The current fuss over OTT is still about delivering TV through the Internet Protocol. If we didn’t suffer from a need for novelty all the time we’d be calling it IPTV because it still is.

Delivering video service OTT won’t kill IPTV. On the contrary it’s going to complement IPTV delivery and even help it by extending its reach. It’s an ideal technology for IPTV operators to delivery multiscreen or TV-anywhere experiences.

We’re just finishing a White Paper with Harmonic, Orca, Broadpeak and Viaccess on this very topic. Before OTT can make managed IPTV delivery obsolete, we’ll need a very different Internet from the one we have today. There will be a market for delivering TV over managed networks as far as technology roadmaps can go.

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IP&TV World Forum 2012 preview

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If last years theme was OTT (after a Multi-Screen show in 2010), how are we going to put 2012 into a nice neat box?
I'll gamble on the 2012 theme being something like "IPTV is dead long live OTT!"
I doubt the never-ending rumor mill on AppleTV will have an impact yet in 2012, so Apple Google & Microsoft will wait for 2013 to be main themes...
Back to the present: see you here in a few weeks to find out if I was right for 2012 at least.


2012 is set to be a very full and well attended event judging by the number of people I know that will  be there. The conference tracks have become so dense that you need a day to study the program before deciding where to go. I'll just play it by ear on the day. The number of companies to see on the exhibition floor is so big anyway, that I might not be able to attend much.


IPTV has grown into a big show so there are getting to be more parties and extra add-on events.

I’ll be going to the 
Verimatrix "English Breakfast" on the first day which has a mini-conference on advanced video deployment (but at least I admit it it’s the English sausages that attract me).

Mariner Partner are a Canadian IPTV quality-monitoring specialist. They have a drinks party just after the first day, this year I won’t need to gate-crash as I was actually invited.

The Red Bull event later in the evening will probably be packed as usual and I’ve only got one of the tickets that are valid “until capacity is reached”, so maybe not…

On day two Irdeto is hosting a morning OTT strategy event. But I probably won’t make that one, not least because they didn’t invite me )-:

Of course day two wraps up with the glitzy prizes, this year at the London Film Museum. I went to the first 3 events as a judge, but there’s no way I will fork out £300 needed when you don’t have an invite.

I’m sure there are many more events but that’s what I’ve spotted so far.


From the list of speakers and potential prize-winners, it is clear that there will be plenty of Operators in London.

I’ll be looking to catch up with some news from Malaysia Telecom that are one of the first Huawei IPTV customers outside of China.

There’s a wrath of interesting people from Orange so I’ll be looking to get the latest form some ex-colleagues there. Also from France, I’ll try to catch up with Bouygues Telecom, which has had an amazing success story as a mobile challenger getting towards a million subs in three years. 
Swisscom is one of the European Telcos that is still happy with the Microsoft’s IPTV solution
 so I’ll tray and get some of the story there.

Paul Berriman, the veteran CTO of PCCW who launched one of the worlds first IPTV deployments in Hong Kong

 will be there too and it's a while since I've caught up with him.

From the trade floor my selection of vendors whose product demos I want to see include:

  • Whoever has cool Android boxes to show (Echostar who impressed in last year don't seem to be present).
  • Then Harmonic & Envivio to try and really understand how they differ.
  • Rovi, to actually see the demos of what I’ve been talking about for a while.
  • Then there is
 Siemens, where I want to see how their video flicking solution has fared in the market.
  • Zappware is a middleware alternative to NDS & Nagra. As I missed the later two at IBC I’ll try to see those demos that everyone was raving about in 2011.
  • Red Bee have acquired TV Genius since last year so I’ll try and find out how that’s going. There is also a new kid on the block from what I gather with Shazam moving into TV recommendation also.
  • I haven’t been to see Cisco in a while and they seem to have their house in order with Videoscape now so I’ll try and get an update on that too.
  • Ineoquest were talking a lot about ABR for OTT last year, before any of the other monitoring companies and I’d like to learn if they’ve had any success with that (as usual I, then you, will have to read between the lines because they won’t actually say directly).
  • I need an update on the chip maker's roadmap and ambitions in the STB space so I’ll be visiting one or more of Intel, Sigma Designs & / or STM.
  • I suppose you can’t blog on an event like this without talking to some of the connected TV app developers like WizzTivi.
  • The OTT market is already showing some results in the diaspora market so I’ll also catch up with Live Asia TV if possible.
  • Finally I’m due for an update on what SoftAtHome are doing.

I have some catching up, discovering to do with people that will be there without a booth. I hope to meet MediaMelon a US based CDN supplier specialized in OTT and my friends from 3 Vision, thebrainbehind, MediaTVCom, OnCubed,, etc.

Now I need to go to sleep for a couple of days, to charge up the batteries so I will actually be able to get through at least some of that  ... report coming soon.

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IP&TV World Forum MENA report Part 2/2

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This second report form this year’s IP&TV World Forum in Dubai covers in detail the Selevision solution for OTT and operator branded IPTV services. There is also a description of Mariner Partners xVu product demonstration and Anevia’s adaptive bit rate solution.

I visited Selevison’s booth, the largest on the floor except of course for Etisalat that had its own section. Selevision is a Saudi-based company with a complete TV solution for operators and also a B2C offering aimed at 15 Arab speaking countries. The core TV product has all the latest bells and whistles for an STB based solution but I didn’t see any multiscreen on the booth.

Bilal Abo Alul, the Bahrain project manager for Selevision, was my guide.
The main product on display that he showed me was a hybrid DVB-S / IP HD box with 2 tuners. The device is manufactured by Strong and has the Oregon media browser on board. Push and pull VoD are available and the PVR supports time-shifting with its 250GB HD.

An unusual feature is that the circular time buffer stored on the disk is 3 hours long instead of the usual 1 hour and more importantly, it isn’t reset each time the channel is changed. I’ve often cursed my live-TV rewind because it couldn’t do just that. I suppose the ultimate solution would then be - to somehow link this with a record and a catch-up feature. You could then zap all over the place looking for the best movie, once found, hit the start-over feature or store it in your library. I know some platforms do bits of this but it’ll be quite a while until the seamless user-experience I just described can be delivered, if ever content-owners allow it. Selevision pointed part of the way at least.

The box gives access to a content catalogue aggregated by a third party, Grey Juice Lab. The VoD store already has over 200 titles with 500 being the short-term target. The Technology is assembled in house with components developed in France by Vianeos and Hyperpanel.

Selevision has already sold 20k boxes in Saudi Arabia. The box comes by default with VoD and Free To Air channels, and users can also subscribe to Al Jazeera sports and Abu Dhabi media packages. Bilal told me that OSN the leading TV platform in the region should be coming soon to the box.

On the IP side, Catch-up services over 7 days are available for 10 channels. Currently this is on an all-or-nothing basis per channel which could prove problematic in the future as some stations agree for only parts of their programming to be made available in this way.

Other interesting features I was shown included RSS feeds and the unavoidable YouTube App. Note that for the latter, no censorship is required because the IP feed is local and therefore supposed to be censored itself. Surprisingly content can be put on an external hard disk. Basic media-centre features are also available to consume content from a USB stick.

Bilal also showed me the STB and service that they put together for the Bahrain telco Batelco based on an IP-only version of the same middleware. 160 live TV channels are available (3 FTA and the rest within different Pay-TV packages). Also on the Selevision booth was a customized version of the box for KAUST (University) on a Motorola platform. 10k users are deployed currently on this slightly older version.

Dubai Studio City

Dubai Studio City had a booth that was promoting the free Zone providing office space and other logistics and legal aid for companies wanting to come and do business in Dubai. In the same booth, Rufoof (which means ‘shelves’ in Arabic) was also showing its wares. They are a 10-person start-up claiming to be the first local platform to assist publishers on electronic distribution on the latest devices. They do the software development and Content Management system and if I understood correctly, they even act as an Electronic publishing house themselves.


This French company that was here to talk about … [drum roll … wait for it] OK so you guessed: OTT & Multiscreen. I say talk about because they didn’t bring a demo, it was just PowerPoint. However their solution seemed interesting and you can tell that they have been thinking hard about the whole adaptive bit-rate issues for a long time. I’m actually a bit miffed that their CTO brought out a white paper on the subject just before the one I authored for Verimatrix and Harmonic came out last year.

[Warning technobabble coming ⇒] The architecture they presented was more resilient and scalable that most of what I’ve seen so far. The ABR multiscreen solution uses a circular buffer just before the chunking takes places and the Origin server gets its feed. That way Anevia can easily implement a scalable catch-up TV and NPVR or Time-shift feature in the network. The Edge servers in their complete solution are offered by default with 10 GB of storage so that up to 10k subs (assuming 1Mb streams) can be supported at each edge server. They also recommend putting their Balancer at the edge for load-balancing and edge-based failover.

The Anevia in-house monitoring solution uses data collected from the Origin server, the edge servers and the load-balancers, and also from optional probes that can emulate user behaviour to capture real Quality of Experience.
[⇐ All clear - end of technobabble warning]

Although so far Anevia has sold all the separate components of the complete OTT, multiscreen solution in various combinations, only one instance of the complete solution is being deployed. This showcase operator deployment will be announced soon.

Mariner Partners

This Canadian company was showing off the latest version of its xVu product. Mariner is a company born out of an operator with founders that understood that the traditional Telco QoS (Quality of Service) approach to TV would not cut it. QoE (Quality of Experience) is the mantra of many of the suppliers in this space, but Mariner brings an interesting touch. They approach the issue from the Customer Experience angle.

All the QoE vendors have something to offer to all Telco stakeholders, but Mariner’s approach is different in that their xVu product is also designed from the outset for the customer support teams as well as for the Network Operations Centre (NOC). The impetus here is first on preventing and fixing a bad customer experience more than running a smooth network. A typical feature that illustrates this approach is the ability to make sure the technician doesn't leave the customer premise before he receives the green light, so if there must be a truck-roll at least it has the best chance of fixing the problem.

The main constraint on the Mariner solution is that all the devices in the network must either use Microsoft Media room, Cisco’s VQE (Video Quality Experience), Minerva Middleware or be compliant with the latest TR-135 protocol. If none of these criteria are matched, a software agent must be embedded in the STB. I theory this is relatively trivial, but real world project have a tendency to veer away from theory. The demo shown in Dubai was impressive and seemed to make this constraint worth the effort. I was shown how operators can drill down from a global network view through all the layers of the topology to a specific customer STB that has an issue. One unique feature of this monitoring approach was the ability to identify on the silent errors: in IPTV architectures that include packet repair, customer quality may seem satisfactory, while the packet repair is actually burning the CPU faster and faster. The operator is able to fix such silent issues before customers complain.

Dune HD
Sometimes I just don’t get it. What did Dune HD hope to get out of the show? On their booth, this German manufacturer was showing Hybrid STBs and media players. They come from the retail sector and I think I understood that their products’ USP is that they can also be used stand-alone. Hmm, maybe they should then present at a CE show. Anyway their key customer for managed services is Kartinal TV in Germany.

Dune HD claims to develop only hardware and software. Their devices “don’t need” middleware. The low-level (i.e. non-HTML) aspect of the UI means it’s pretty nifty even on low-end chipset. As usual with this kind of setup, only one chipset manufacturer is supported; in this case it’s Sigma designs. The boxes run under Linux and are made in Taiwan.

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UAE incumbent goes OTT – IP&TV World Forum MENA report – Part 1/2 – Etisalat

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This year’s IP&TV World Forum in Dubai was another show that could easily have been called the OTT forum – which begs the question of whether it’s worth going to the show with that title: as all the TV related gigs have gone over the top. In Dubai this year, most of the presentations during the conference and almost all the booths were full of it.

To learn what was talked about at the conference, check the #IPTVWFMEA hash tag on twitter or follow me @nebul2. My highlight was Thierry Fautier’s enthusiastic presentation of MPEG-DASH and my “”OMG what’s that?” moment arrived just before the close when we had an evangelical presentation from JOY LUXE IPTV in a gospel style on the 10 stupidest things not to do with apps. I was so amazed I stayed till the end, but don’t remember a single thing that was said.

However, overall the conference was of a good quality with variety and much local issues addressed. As last year, the MEA version of the show brings in a small, but a very focussed and powerful crowd with quite a lot of decision makers up to CEO level. Together with the genuine 5-star location, that lends a feeling of importance to the event. Decisions seem to take a long time in the Middle East and I heard it quipped that that was why the big guns had to come several times.

The exhibition floor

This year, I only stopped by in booths I haven’t visited before, leaving out for another time the likes of Motorola, Bridge or NDS that I have written about before. This first installment only covers Etisalat. Selevision, Mariner Partners Anevia and some others will be covered in part two.

The Etisalat booth took-up about a quarter the complete show floor space and it also housed small demo pods for a dozen key suppliers making up both its IPTV and its OTT ecosystem. These include suppliers large and small like Harmonic (encoding), SoftAtHome (middleware), Phxx (OTT solution developer), Airties (device manufacturer), Consona (OSS/BSS), Alfalak (Integrator), Pace (STB), etc.

I asked Jamal Bnari, one of the key project stakeholders to give me the guided tour of the Etisalat OTT demos.

Jamal first joked with me about how little IPTV there was at the show despite its name. The vast Etisalat booth echoed his feeling just like the rest of the show floor, with OTT occupying most of the space and pure-play IPTV relegated to only a few small booths.

Jamal explained to me that Etisalat’s new OTT services were initially planned as new commercial services to run alongside the existing IPTV service. The OnDemand service available on the web is actually the IPTV VOD library made available outside of the traditional IPTV suite (Live TV, Catch-up TV, etc.). The intent is to allow non-IPTV Etisalat subscribers to consume high-quality VOD content. Since this is still a managed network service (the service comes from the ISP), these customers are provisioned for IPTV but not allowed access to the other services in the IPTV except for VOD of course. This approach overcomes the usual QOS issue with OTT.

For Jamal, the business benefit is this – “OTT either adds real value (ARPU) to existing TV subs or perceived value (stickiness)”. It also enables Etisalat to upsell heavy broadband users towards the complete TV story including the core IPTV solution. There’s a parallel here with big DTH platforms that use VoD primarily as a recruitment tool with extra ARPU providing a nice secondary benefit.

The OTT eLife service called OnWeb is already commercially deployed in the UAE and available to subscribers of all ISPs. Of course, there’s no guaranteed QOS here.

We then whizzed through all the eLife OTT demos (eLife is the brand used for all new services delivered over fibre). Jamal was adamant that Etisalat is going to be selling services NOT devices with this new approach.

The goal is to have the same user Interface on all devices (simplified but not changed on smaller screens). We discussed whether a same navigation paradigm can actually work for devices as different as a smartphone and a 47” HD screen with a remote control. My feeling was that it’s more about capturing a similar user experience than providing an identical interface.

For all OTT services, customers must setup an account with a few required parameters. The same credentials and payment options are used for all devices. The account is then hosted in the cloud. For now one user equates to one account and multiple devices, which works fine for individual devices. But for family TVs some enhancements will be needed.

The demo of eLife OnWeb was being shown on several STBs, importantly, none with the Etisalat brand. Third parties, who choose to include eLife OnWeb with their STB services, provide the devices. On display at the show there was a Humax branded box, an Abu Dhabi media device (Broadcom, Linux), a Kaon branded Android box, a pure IP box from Humax, an AirTies box and an LG SmartBox/Upgrader to make dumb TVs smart (exclusive to Etisalat and not available in the retail markets in the UAE). If nothing else, that impressive line-up shows that integrating Etisalt’s OTT services can’t be all that difficult.

When you fire-up the service, you are presented with a Video Dashboard promoting: Featured, Most-popular, Most-recent and My-favourites.
The TVOD menu is sub-categorized with: Featured, Latest, Popular, Browse (alphabetical), Arabic, Genres (leading to a sub-menu of a whopping 13 genres) and a menu item labelled “Content-Provider”, which I’m guessing will confuse many a user. The Movies menu has the same basic layout as the TVoD one.

The final elements available through the user interface are an unclear concept of “Channels”, an “other videos” category and a confusing second “Movie” section separate from the main movies menu, begging the question of where I should look for movies. The final menu structure contains “Premium” packages and Pay-Per-View, which made me completely lose track of what to look for where.

So after getting off to a good start the demo’s menu structure left me a bit confused. On the upside, the Phxx people on the booth (Phxx are the software developers) said that the menu structure is easy to simplify. Also they told me that menus are created dynamically so if, say a film category contains no assets, the associated menu item will not be displayed. Maybe in the future the EPG/UI could become even more intelligent and merge genres - like Action & Adventure when the total in both genres was of user-friendly size.

The breadth of content and service ambition of Etisalat is huge. Restraining the scope will provide one easy key to simplification of user experience. As services start to rollout with real content for real users, I trust things will get simpler on their own, focussing on where real demand meets Etisalat’s ability to satisfy it with content.

After looking at all the OTT STBs, Jamal took me over to their range of tablet devices. Samsung Galaxy tabs were on display in 10” & 8” sizes with an almost pocketable 6” device from Huawei. All these tabs were of course running Android. The live demos used 3G for video streaming because the exhibition area was over-saturated with Wi-Fi traffic from most of the booths. The streaming worked impressively over 3G using both progressive download (PDL) and adaptive bitrate (ABR). But the 6” Huawei screen illustrated the limits of the one-size fits all approach to user interfaces. I didn’t have a magnifying glass with me so I couldn’t read any of the smaller text.

The iPad suffered the feared “demo-effect” crashing a few times before we could get under way. Because of iTunes licencing issues, the interface under iOS is different with a system of “buckets”. This content-provider-centric approach to the UI is extremely simple with a list of 12 content provides per page and three pages at launch. Categorization is also available with genres within each “bucket”.

The Connected TV demo showed a UI similar to the iOS one and used a 2-level menu structure. Jamal assured me that an upgrade is in the works to make this identical to the tablet and STB versions. Etisalat provide an LG Smartbox to upgrade non-connected TVs so they too can be smart.

The Web portal provides the same user experience as the Connected TV. This approach only makes sense for geeks that hook their PC up to their TV. Normal human beings lean forward while using a PC or Mac, and lean back in front of the TV, which requires a different paradigm. Jamal reassured me that the web portal will be replaced with a 'busier' version similar to today’s typical video aggregation site.

The smartphone demo was given on an LG Android device. The UI I saw was simplified to the extent that it contradicted the single UI mantra that Etisalat is trying to implement. But the Phxx guys told this part was still very much “work in progress”, so perhaps I’ll have to come back in a few months and look again.

Jamal told me that some devices are in the shops already and that the whole line-up of everything I saw should be commercially available by the end of the first quarter 2012. By then more devices like Xbox, Roku or Boxee will be announced.

Etisalat’s OTT initiative can only inspire awe and admiration for its breadth and depth of ambition. If they succeed, they will reinforce their service provider nature as the network gets commoditized. The confusion I saw in the UI demonstrates the need to make the strategy completely clear to implement something something a la Apple. The ecosystem they put together is made up of some of the most reputable and innovative suppliers in the market. As there are about nine of them, I can not help thinking of the saying that nine midwifes cannot deliver your baby in one month, However, I look forward to meeting this child as soon as mother and baby are ready.

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(English) Early release windows; are we ready, or is it already too late?

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This blog first appeared on Videonet.

Last week I spoke to Petr Peterka, CTO of Verimatrix, about the Hollywood studio’s latest attempt to avoid following in the music industry’s footsteps and the new Verimatrix’ watermarking product.

The general context we addressed appears bleak. The musical CD is no longer relevant for mass consumption and the DVD looks as if it is following in that direction. The MP3 format has become ubiquitous for music files. Will formats like MP4 or h.264 files doing the same for video? Just as P2P seems at last to be slowing, is streaming now taking up the slack?

Book publishers are also alarmed at what their future might hold for them. Tim Bradshaw, the FT’s digital media correspondent noted on May 17th that according to a recent survey, one in eight female tablet or e-reader owners over the age of 35 admits to downloading “unauthorised” copies of e-books. It’s not so much the 1 in 8 figure as the image of women over 35, which catches the imagination. Illicit content consumption is not just from acne-ridden boys. So if we’re all potential pirates, could digital watermarking be the deterrent that might finally work where previous threats have failed to stem the tide of piracy?

With session-based, forensic digital watermarking small changes are made to the video file. These cannot be viewed or heard by the viewer, but can be extracted out again from the file with the tools provided by the watermarking solution vendor. If someone redistributes his or her copy of a film, a unique “fingerprint” remains embedded in the video file. So after investigation, a finger can be pointed at the person who first redistributed their copy.

So that’s the stick, but the movie industry is trying to put together a carrot by creating new early release windows for movies. As users are prepared to pay for convenience, it seems only natural to expect them to pay a premium to get access to a movie more conveniently. Organising a movie party at home to show friends a film that might still be in movie theatres would be worth spending a bit more than on a normal $5 VoD (current US VoD rights start 90 days after theatre debut, the new “Home Premiere” would be available 30-60 days after debut instead).

The difficult question is exactly how much more is that worth? Studios have been talking of up to US$ 25 more for a rental period. TDG recently analysed the potential demand and was not convinced that this kind of proposition can fly. According to the TDG analysis, users would only be prepared to spend an extra $5, and only if the movie were available within a week of theatre release. Further, the TDG study notes that there is still some leeway in playing with both the price and time frame so there may be room for a new offering even if studios might have to lower their expectations a bit.

However, more people are betting on ad-funded models with free or cheaper content made available. Many small transactions are more in fashion than fewer big ones. As digital watermarking requires session-based processing, it will be too expensive for micro-transactions. Time will tell if offering something better for a higher price will be going against the current in the entertainment industry or not. Sometimes bone-headed stubbornness has paid, albeit rarely.

Verimatrix is involved in enabling this early release VoD window but Petr rightly used the term “experiment” when describing this initiative from the studios.

He told me that they had been waiting for three specific requirements to be fulfilled before embarking on this project:

  • Firstly secure encryption was required. This has been achieved and consolidated in the last decade
  • Disabling analogue output was the second requirement so as to make it harder to record. This was only achieved recently in the US when, last year, the Selectable Output Control issue was finally resolved last year.
  • Finally, studios required session based forensic watermarking which is what the new Verimatrix product is all about.

Verimatrix released a product called VideoMark 5 years ago, which was able to insert a digital watermark payload into the video outputs of a set-top box in real time. This addressed a range of re-broadcast and re-distribution threats, but required device-by-device software integration. The novelty of the newly released StreamMark product is that the watermarking can now happen in Head End or in the Content Distribution Network (CDN). Indeed the watermark can be inserted into a compressed and encrypted stream. By removing the requirement of decoding and decrypting, this new solution requires only a very small processing overhead. But as this solution is technically a stateful one, scalability will still imply some cost, even if it's a small one. StreamMark is designed to insert a unique watermark for each user and is therefore primarily useful for unicast not multicast, i.e. on-demand applications.

No information is required on the end device so this kind of architecture is well adapted to multiscreen deployments that at the moment are on everyone’s mind.

The basic challenges of any watermarking technology are that the watermark must be:

  • invisible
  • easy to extract
  • difficult for pirates to see and remove.

As these challenges can be somewhat contradictory, a finely tuned combination of different algorithms is necessary, and achieving this is probably one way we will see competing solutions differentiate.

Verimatrix' solution requires three separate steps:

  • Firstly, the video assets must be pre-processed, usually when the operator ingests new content. This stage identifies and stores the location of potential marks. For each of these locations, the information that would be inserted is also prepared and stored for future use.
  • The second stage is to embed the watermarks at distribution a point where a unique session is set up. This can be in a central server or regional VOD server or in an edge CDN server. The original file has extra info added to it that embeds a unique transaction ID.
  • The final stage will only happen when pirated content is discovered. For now extracting the watermark is only done in Verimatrix’ labs.

Copyright Verimatrix

The technology was reviewed by the major studios during the soft-launch period and a third party audit was carried out by Jian Zhao, a distinguished researcher in watermarking theory and practice.

The Verimatrix pricing structure is based on unique payloads i.e the number of transactions and is volume dependent. On June 7th, StreamMark, which has been in soft launch for a year, was be released commercially.

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(English) Standards in the age of Connected TV

Désolé, cet article est seulement disponible en Anglais Américain. Pour le confort de l’utilisateur, le contenu est affiché ci-dessous dans une autre langue. Vous pouvez cliquer le lien pour changer de langue active.

Tomorrow I’m speaking at the Future TV conference in Copenhagen (if you speak Danish take a look here).

My presentation is about standards in the age of the connected TV, and here’s what I’ll be saying.

I’ll start by stressing the fact that issues are fundamentally different for:

  • Channels,
  • TV platforms,
  • CE vendors,
  • Telcos,
  • OTT players

In setting the scene I be wondering what the jury on the lean-back lean-forward debate will decide. It seems that globally, no unique view on what the connected TV is prevailing yet.

Mixing TV & Web has been a hot topic for over 15 years, so why all the fuss now?

Firstly devices in people’s homes have comparable power and screen size to a PC. Secondly, the mobile Internet actually works, at last. Finally broadband has become a commodity.

But there are still some clouds the horizon. There is a possibility that you can’t watch what you want because you have the wrong TV set! This would be the case if Sony were to do a deal with one OTT catch up TV supplier and Samsung use a different one. Another ominous sign on the horizon are the broadband caps being (re)introduced in the US. Such capping could still thwart OTT in its infancy if the movie industry gets its act together faster and better than the music industry did.

Leaving future gazing aside for a moment, the market has already telling us quite a lot. For example, compulsory standards rarely work, at least they haven’t in this space as the EBU’s attempt at enforcing MHP showed.

Standards efforts in the connected TV space have come from different stakeholders. Broadcasters have only really wanted a TeleText 2.0 for now, 40 years after V1.0. Then there’s the CE industry that has totally failed so far, by delivering a connected TV jungle and device-centric standards which are sound, even good (e.g. DLNA), but that still need a lot of work before they can be used to implement usable services. Standards bodies close the scene.

Indeed the usual suspects such as ITU-T or EBU are taking standards based approach and have, as previously stated, staunchly supported MHP (only deployed in Italy and on some Bluray players). Ad-hoc groups like the OIPF (whose work is based on W3C, DBV etc.) also include HbbTV (which is now an ETSI standard deployed in only France, Germany & UK for Freesat), YouView is (for now) the standard for the rest of the UK.

But a product-based approach could standardize the marriage of TV and the Web. The big names from the Web include Apple, Google TV and Yahoo! Widgets. Some operators are bringing out their own products like Cubovision from Italy’s Telecom Italia. Then from the TV solution providers there are a endless hopefuls from the big NDS or Nagra, through the Set makers like Samsung or Sony to device and solution makers like TiVO or even Netgem.

Some standard issues I will cover include the overwhelming of standardization processes. Standardization efforts take time as consensus is needed; yet the market is moving faster & faster… Within good old-fashioned IPTV standards there already is a clear geographic split with ATIS standardizing IPTV in the US while OIPF is doing the same elsewhere and NTT is doing it’s own thing in Japan.

There are even some double standards with a disconnect between actions and intentions. A “Land-grab” is underway with UI & content used to differentiate connected TV services. Standards make differentiation harder and most are pushing them under the carpet for now. The OIPF for example has many CPE vendors as members, but they are not mandating the specifications within their own technology yet. Even Telco’s don’t seem to push that hard to live out their commitments. So far, only broadcasters are playing the standards game by the book.

The Open IPTV Forum or OIPF defines services that use managed as well as unmanaged network delivery. As broadcasters are only interested in unmanaged delivery for now (i.e. OTT), HbbTV only uses part of OIPF. As there is a lot of overlap at the technical level, in ideal world, YouView could use HbbTV as an underlying standard. In the end this will happen anyhow, not because the ideal world will be reached, but because one of the two standards will die and the other will take it over.

In my talk I’ll also focus on what the EBU has been saying recently on Hybrid standards. In London during the Connected TV Summit this month, they noted that content consumption is changing with off-line usage, the diversity of devices and delinearization. Of course business models still rely on content, which must explain the still rising viewing figures for linear TV in many Europe countries. EBU say that broadcasters don’t innovate, lack global approach and still “control” the TV set in the home. EBU further note that CE vendors are already in the market because of falling margins and Improved connectivity that have together created the ideal opportunity. However they have global solutions that don’t always fit the varying markets and are not at all interoperable.

Zooming in on YouView, I’ll remind the audience of its design goals which were to:

  • align with industry trends,
  • run on silicon products that are available in the market now,
  • use open source software where appropriate,
  • provide suitable APIs to abstract from underlying software implementation,
  • and allow manufacturers to differentiate their products.

Then what about HbbTV?

Well it defines itself as a minimum requirement for a business neutral technology platform and an boasts being an available ETSI standard for hybrid entertainment services, based on other standards from OIPF, CEA, DVB and W3C.

Its 3-fold objective is to simplify the implementation in devices, leave room for differentiation and limit the investment for CE manufacturers. Hmm sounds a bit familiar.

HbbTV is still very young and there are already clamors for some key features to be included in future versions. Adaptive streaming, widgets, second screen support, DRM frameworks and push-VOD via broadcast are just some such examples.

I’m not sure how the future will come about, but I will suggest that we are waiting for our “iPod moment” in the connected TV standards space.

Will it be design driven like the iPod itself by design and tight control to bring true usability? Will it come form a business model innovation like the iPhone that added Apps to an already great user experience? Or will users decide on what the next big thing is on their own, like they did with the barbaric user experience of the SMS that answered a true need.

Wrapping up I’ll note that current standards focus on CE vendors or broadcaster issues, not on users.

The broadcast industry is still trying to control subscribers with standards; at best this can be moderately successful. The CE industry has not got its act together at all with a jungle of competing connected TV environments. The promise is too big for any of them to turn back just yet.

So if the time is indeed ripe for an “iPod moment” determined by the end user, will it be Apple’s whose interest is the TV remains a bit opaque? Or maybe another it could be another Internet big-gun like Google or Microsoft?

My bet would rather be on Netflix. If they steer clear of the torpedoes currently being launched at them from several directions, they could follow in Google’s tracks. Netflix could move from a best-in-class service to deploying an underlying technology (like Google did with Android). Connecting the TV and the Web is not an objective in its own right, but inventing lean-back V2.0 (or veg 2.0 as Anthony Rose put’s it) is. Content recommendation & navigation has to be part of the solution, so if Netflix isn’t the one, it’ll be someone else with outstanding content navigation that will deliver they connected TV’s “iPod moment”.