Posted on

10 questions on UHD and how not to seem like a 4K Luddite

Despite being a bit of a geek, I feel I need to brush up my 4K basics to avoid seeming lame on such a hot topic. 2013 has already seen UHD/4K bloom at CES; now I need to be ready for IBC. So I had a long chat with Thierry Fautier who happens to be pretty knowledgeable on this. Here’s the transcript of our talk, in case you too want to seem less lame on the subject. 1. What exactly are 4K & UHD? 4K stands for “4 thousand” from the screen resolution of 2160 * 4096 pixels and is the new standard defined by the movie industry. The frame rate is still 24 fps, and the bit-depth remains 8 bit. UHD stands for Ultra High Definition and is supported by the broadcast and TV industries. It differs from 4K, with its greater color depth of 10 or 12 bits (which is a huge dynamic color range increase). The aspect ratio is brought back to the TV’s 16/9 ratio so it sports a 2160 * 3860 resolution. Frame rate is still a big debate. Some broadcasters are arguing that 120 fps are needed for football and that color depth should be 12 bits. The ITU specification gives a range of values, but the industry needs to rapidly agree and settle on some figures so that interoperability can be assured. Thierry’s company Harmonic believes that 4K with 10bit color depth @ 60 fps is a "good time-to-market and cost compromise" for the ecosystem. The following diagram gives a scale of the different quantity of data each screen size involves:

From Wikimedia (4K article)
From Wikimedia (4K article)

2.  Will/should 4K and UHD merge? No, cinema workflow will stay separate even if you'll always get movies on your TV. Broadcasters will not accept such low frame rates on their own production. 3. What time frame do you see for adoption? The 2016 Olympic games will see the beginning of mass adoption. So we need field trials throughout 2015. That in turn means products must be on the market some time in 2014, which implies that we have to sort out the specs in 2013. The Brazil football world cup in 2014 will show a spike of interest but it’s too soon for any real impact. By EOY 2014 however there will be a range of TV sets and mass production can probably start in 2015. A recent Consumer Electronics Association study expects just 1M 4K screens in US in 2015. 4. "HD ready" or 720p preceded "Full HD" or 1080p. Will we see a similar 2K or something here? It seems that the UHD logo will be properly protected, so consumers should avoid confusion. Services like Netflix will target intermediate formats, and we will probably see an intermediate phase before UHD is launched with 1080p50/60. Indeed there is more and more content produced at 50/60 fps and workflows can support this. Once UHD STBs that can easily decode 1080p50760 are deployed, operators will be able deliver an optimized HD quality that will look much better on a 4K screen than today's 1080i would. 5. Are there any short-term stumbling blocks for CPE? The current HDMI 1.4 standard limits 4K to an unacceptable 30 fps. HDMI 2.0 is needed for 60 fps, and this will be the true kick-starter for 4K adoption. CES 2014 should see the consecration of HDMI 2.0. 6. Is the compression ratio linear (i.e. will UHD require exactly 8 times the bandwidth of HD)? No. Today’s HD streams are compressed to 6MPS at constant bit-rate. By the time it’s ready for mass adoption UHD @60fps with 10 bit color depth should require just under 20MPS. 7.  Will UHD require HEVC or can it make sense to use H264? Without doubt HEVC is required for UHD to make it economically viable on existing infrastructure. 8.  Apple created the marketing term Retina display. What would be the UHD screen size to call it that? Early testing shows that there is no benefit below a 65-inch screen. But we are framing the problem incorrectly. Try to watch HD on a 65-inch screen. You will see artifacts, so if you want a screen above 65 you need UHD! 9.  In general, what's the new screen-size vs. optimal viewing distance? I argue with my colleagues in the UHD community who dream of people sitting 1,5m away from the screen. In reality I believe people will stay 3m away, so again the key factor is large screen size. Very large screens will be THE key success factor for UHD adoption. The figure bellow shows the screen size as a function of the viewing distance for various resolutions. 5337324d_resolution_chart_zps161be652 [Author's note: At its simplest it means that with a 50" screen you need to be 5 feet or 1,5 meters from the screen. For the more standard 10 foot or 3 meter viewing distance to really feel the 4K effect in your gut, you need an 85" screen.] 10.  How will the upgrade from HD to UHD compare to the one we've been through from SD to HD, in terms of: a) content production / post production This will be a hard transition for broadcasters this time because there are no connector specs yet. But the cinema industry has been digitally mastering in 4K for a while so there are plenty of 4K movies ready for release. b) content acquisition / preparation This should be fine as much acquisition is already in 4K. c) encoding Except for some early prototypes, 4K encoding is not yet available in real-time, mainly due to lack of CPU power. IBC 2014 should have some products but they might not yet be cost-effective. d) transport / Broadcast I see no network issue for the satellite and cable guys, indeed several successful demos have already been done (like the Eutelsat demo still available on 10A). For Telcos UHD will be dedicated to fiber delivery and terrestrial will probably need to wait until around 2016-18 for DVB-T to be ready for 4K. e) decoding Broadcom chipsets will be widely available to decode 4K/10bit/60fpw by 2014 so the first mass produced STBs will be ready by 2015. f) content protection This discussion has only just started. For now Sony’s 4K content uses Marlin DRM, which is the only commercial service currently available. g) pricing The very first devices will probably carry a premium for encoders and STBs of a factor around 3-4 on the price tag vs HD, just like we saw in the early HD days vs. SD. h) customer proposition People aren't “dying for new screens” right now, but 4K could be a driver. The industry must convince consumers that much larger screens, where HD sucks, are a good thing. Otherwise 4K on a small screen isn't appealing enough. It's all about the large screen and being closer to it for a much more immersive sensation - without disturbing the brain the way 3D did (at least with glasses). Content and economic constraints will see 4K start life as a VOD experience as audiences will be too narrow to justify broadcast. This is where Telcos and Cable MSO come into play and I’m looking forward to talking to some of them about this at IBC 2013. Disclaimer I have no ongoing commercial relation with Harmonic; I just had easier access to Thierry than to Envivio, Ateme, Ericson, Elemental or any of the other reputable vendors in the space. And BTW I’m looking to do a similar debunking piece on HEVC, so ping me if you’d like to be my interviewee this time. BTW this 4K/UHD topic is one of the hot topics I identified for this year IBC here.

Update (november 11)

Kudos to Elemental who proudly announced the first real-time 4k transmission last week together with telco K-Opticom at 20MBPS - I'm told 12MBPS could have worked. It was for the Osaka marathon, perhaps not the most exacting of sports for TV, so the 30 frames per second limitations was probably not too much of an issue. Details on their press release here. Harmonic is showing 4K decoded at 60 fps on true CE device for the first time this week at inter BEE, but although the target frame-rate is here it'll still be 8-bit color, Harmonic sa the rest of the workflow isn't ready for 10 bit yet away... Seems like the FPS debate is closed as even Elemental people told be 60 is right for sports, but it looks like there's room for a future blog exploring the 8 vs. 10 bit color issue. Stay posted.

Posted on

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)

Posted on

IBC 2012 Takeaways

I 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 Giles Cottle or John Moulding have said say that there was no new “big thing” this year. I disagree or otherwise, there never is anything radically new – it depends on your point of view. Below is what I picked up as genuine game changers:

  • The Telia Soneria STB shrunk into a Samsung TV app is a true paradigm shifter.
  • VO’s second screen “Deep” app is also a breakthrough innovation; with the “doh-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” magazine approach to content browsing.
  • Sony's 4K consumer TV hit me in the stomach just as hard as when I first saw an HD display about ten years ago.
  • Huge progress in the way data can be extracted from devices with extensions to the TR-069 protocol shown at the ADB, the SoftAtHome or the Mariner Partner’s stands to name just a few (bit expect more detailed reports after BBWF next month).
  • All this data will need to be crunched, paving the way to a major 2013 theme, which will be Big Data.
  • NDS showed their Solar project that is all about bringing this Big Data approach to TV. Project Fresco (ex project Surfaces) was also being demoed behind closed doors, and even if it's hard to see this impacting the market for many years, it is a mind blowing demo using a massive 6k display.

In my forthcoming write-up also expect an update on Verimatrix’ never ending successes, a sexy start-up called Klia with a CRM product delivering part of the Big Data promise before anyone else, HEVC news or lack thereof, Kit digitals strong attempt to reassure and updates on Zappware, Harmonic, Capablue, Visual Unity, Broadpeak, never.no, Corpus Media labs.

If one of these subjects is of more relevance to you than others, let me know, I’ll be sure to cover it more thoroughly … detailed write-up coming soon.

Posted on

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.

Posted on

IBC 2011 write up on Videonet

This blog entry was first published on Videonet.

Back in 2001, I went to the “Convergence NAB” in Las Vegas, the Internet and TV were supposed to be merging. The 2011 IBC wasn’t dubbed “convergence” because that word is out of fashion ten years on. However that’s what all the IBC 2011 demos were really about.

Converging the Web and the TV, converging open and closed models, converging live and on-demand content, converging lean-back media with social media… Multiscreen, OTT and Adaptive Bit Rate were all the rage at this year’s IBC.

3D momentum was so strong last year that some things were still happening 12 months on, out of sheer inertia. If the decline in 3D interest year-on-year is anything to go by, next year will be in negative territory for 3D. The only prominent 3D news was the award James Cameron picked up, but awards are always about past achievement, not current trends. As Panasonic pointed out to me, the hype cycle is now in the trough so something real might come out of the next 3D decade.

In many booths, Connected TV was used for demos to illustrate points, but the devices were not promoted in their own right, except of course on the set-maker stands. Hey! maybe this is reminding us that a device is a device is a device. I saw lots of industrial strength demos, none with a real Wow effect. I’m however told by reliable sources (John Moulding in particular) that the NDS ‘Surfaces’ demo was the one to see to be “blown away”. See his write-up here.

I spoke on the trade floor to Harmonic, which will be covered in this first report along with the 3D discussion with Panasonic. In the remaining two parts of this series I will cover the discussions I had with Verimatrix, the in-depth demo of Irdeto’s multiscreen offering and briefer conversations I had with Jinni, SecureMedia, Cognik and Awox as well as the demos I saw form from the aisle of PeerTV, EchoStar and Telia Sonera.

Harmonic

Harmonic’s Thierry Fautier met me on their huge, spanking new booth loaded with demos. As with Jinni, all vendors complain that the sexiest demos are confidential because operators don’t want to share what they’re working on. But there were two novelties of real significance for IBC 2011 on Harmonic’s stand.

The Electra 9000 is a multi-screen-output encoder capable of delivering 2-4 channels depending on the number of required profiles (i.e. different screens targeted, and number of bitrates per screen for Adaptive Bit Rate encoding). The 9000 is based on the previous Electra 8000, the main novelty being new software. This product illustrates the industry trend towards converged headends that should make multiscreen deployment both easier and more cost-effective for operators. Fautier went on to comment that it’s impressive that connected TV has already become a reality despite MPEG DASH not being quite ready yet. In 2012 when this and some other industry initiatives come through, there should be a further acceleration.

The other key novelty this year is that Harmonic has now fully joined the software encoding bandwagon. The complete product suite is now available as software modules. For the moment, Harmonic servers are still needed for some elements, but commoditized servers will soon be able to run the whole suite. There will soon be OTT headends within commoditized blade servers. This will bring down the Total Cost of Ownership especially for operators who already have server farms.

The Harmonic monitoring features (described in my IBC 2010 report) are now available within hosted services. This illustrates the same trend as Nagra and Ericsson and is a step towards a fully integrated customer care centre. I asked Thierry Fautier about the Mezzanine-in-the-network concept that rival Envivio is pushing. Thierry answered that an IP backbone with Mezzanine format and decentralized functionality is still a bit Science-Fiction-like. It looks like I’ll have to visit Envivio to find out. Fautier asked a savvy question concerning this topic; what do I do with my Akamai relationship with an unprotected mezzanine format in the network?

I wrapped up my short Harmonic visit with a demo of live HLS on a Samsung Connected TV. The demo was as unimpressive (basically watching TV on TV) as it was significant. Industry wisdom has it that OTT services will be enabled by devices like Connected TVs and that the distribution of live TV feeds over unmanaged networks will be enabled by Adaptive Bit Rate such as HLS. Barry Flynn posted a nice write up of his chat with Thierry about the future AVC Codec that will be available in 2014. It’s on the connectedtv web site here.

Panasonic

This year I was courted by Panasonic’s PR team (only by phone I promise), so I set up a meeting with Markus Naegele on their booth. The key 2011 message from Panasonic was “Dreams, Ideas, Reality”. Panasonic is saying that the stuff we’ve been dreaming about for the last few years actually works in affordable products now. I stuck with domains I understand so we talked just about 3D and new codecs like AVC-Ultra.

I have blogged on my scepticism for 3D in the living room before (see here for example) so we started out exploring Panasonic’s take on the issue. Nigel pointed out that until recently, a key difficulty has always been in getting all the different engineers you need to get 3D right from all parts of the production cycle. Panasonic believe the 3DA1, as the first all-in-one camcorder they brought out last year, helps solve this issue. This year at NAB, they announced the 3DP1, which can deliver five different 3D formats including AVC, 100MB per channels, etc. This camera debuted during the French Tennis Open at Rolland Garros in a joint project with the French Tennis association (FFT), EuroSport and the production company Alphacam. What a challenge to combine all the required tech systems together for a multiday event! Markus told me that in the end, the trophy ceremony was too crowded to get a whole rig on site; it could only be accessed by a singe cameraman hence the key advantage of the new Panasonic Integrated cameras.

If Rolland Garros was a 3D production challenge, the London Olympics in 2012 will be fun for the Panasonic teams! Some sporting events will be covered in 3D as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Panasonic is doing it all. I asked Markus if sports are really appropriate for 3D as they are so unpredictable (i.e. if you plan for full 3D effect during a goal and there are 10, people will get headaches, and if there are none they will be frustrated). Naegele astutely answered that it’s more about the added emotion one gets from the more immersive 3D experience.

For most sports one addresses mainly fans, so if a camera set inside a goal doesn’t get used, so be it – the frustration of the lack of goal will only be mirrored by the frustration generated by the absence of any 3D effect occurring there. Hey, that’s what sport is all about isn’t it? Markus did agree though that Avatar had set expectations so high that we’re not yet out of the hype phase and thus, some frustration is inevitable. The whole point of Panasonic’s current 3D drive is to show just how much the industry has already caught up with those expectations: Markus believes we are now in the realistic phase. Indeed, on the display front, 3D is now getting standardized.

Panasonic believes that although 3D without glasses will be part of the future, there’s still work to do. I was shown a very light dual lens 3D camera that was announced at IFA. Panasonic is now addressing, with the introduction of the HDC-Z10000, the high-end of the consumer up to the entry level of the pro market.

On the Codec front Panasonic were showing off their latest wares. AVC-Intra is the current Codec family name and class-50 and class-100 are currently in use (the number referring to bandwidth in Mbps). IBC saw the launch of class-200 and class-400. AVC-Ultra is Panasonic’s new Codec initiative that will cater amongst others for 1080/50p and 4k formats.

But the main novelty, answering the current multi-screen bonanza, is that the codec can scale down as well as up so there will also be class-50 and class-25 versions. Also to answer customer demand, a new long-GOP version is in the works. To illustrate the point of this new long-GOP format, consider a 50 Mbps MPEG-2 using 8 bits per sample; well the new AVC long-GOP version, in spite of improving the samples to 10 bits, will be available within half the bandwidth at just 25 Mbps.

Posted on

Take one from the IBC 2010 conference

Despite numerous visits to the exhibition, this was my first time at IBC's conference - overall the quality both in terms of logistics and level of speakers was topnotch. I only caught one sales-pitch, much better than most trade shows. If you are going to choose one source, IBC is a good candidate. The only problem is that there is just too much going one to be able to focus as my notes below show. Also once the trade-show opens there's too much pull there to stay at the conference. Going the day before seems the only way for me.

Snippets from the social media session

I caught the wrap-up of the BBC speaker: we are looking to help people find other people already talking about their programs. I expect a TV station to cater to a community created around their content, but was surprised to see one so actively looking to actually create one. The beeb’s innovative attitude is impressive. I’m curious to see if they can be successful sustaining this new mindset.

Android based tablet should bring the true democratisation of tablets device for this year’s Christmas season.

The MTV guy said that talking about social media now is 6 yrs too late; I wonder what he was talking about 6 years ago.

Scheduling is recommendation by a brand you trust that is telling you “we think you’ll like to watch this content at this time”.

On BBC iPlayer navigation is still basically by channel. So maybe TV stations won’t die after all.

The Music industry is several years ahead of TV. What Spotify does with Facebook is showing the way. Facebook isn’t as much social recommendation as social validation.

Recommendation is content coming to you, whereas search is you going out to content.

Scheduled content is often the beginning of a recommendation chain. If scheduling looses its importance, how will broadcasters promote shows that are not scheduled?

Is there really wisdom in the crowd: probably not always.

It now seems clear that Social-TV will be multi-screen so connected devices are key. Who will own this value chain, Samsung or Sony Bravia have a head start in terms of brand positioning.

Social TV ain’t easy: Scandinavian broadcaster had to close down Facebook trials around football matches as tempers rose out of control.

BBC: setting up any kind of forum requires a lot of effort to manage. One can’t simply put up a system. Moderation costs will soar.

At this stage an idea came to me that shut out the talking as I wrote it dow:

Back to the future: After the Internet enabled the long tail, is recommendation, be it social or otherwise, converging back towards front catalogue. Technology under the hood might whiz obscure back-catalogue or UGC items to the forefront in a flash. But as consumers, will we live in a world that will shrink back to hundreds of choices, not the millions the Internet once promised? Ouch, it would be like going back to the middle-ages!

Back to the session:

I heard talk of many devices at the IBC 2010 conference the three that show what a wide variety are on decision makers’ minds were: iPad, the iPad and oh yes, I almost forgot: an iPad.

Cisco #fail

Alex Balfour, is the new media guy from the excitingly named LOCOG A.K.A the 2012 Olympics organisation committee. In 20 dull minutes he mentioned the name Cisco four times and their product name 3 times, the session should actually have been called Cisco & Social media. A Cisco rep took over and when this became a clear sales pitch. I left. Come on Cisco & IBC, don’t let this sort of thing happen, your better than that. Some of the most interesting speakers in the industry work for Cisco, Yes you can!

I caught the last part of a Panel on “the way forward with online video”.

US TV networks are finding that when they promote alternative distribution channels as well as main broadcast feed, there is no cannibalisation. However movies are not available outside of the main feed and TV content is only available during small windows, so as to maximise syndication etc.

Connected TV

The last session I caught on my IBC conference day was on the Connected TV chaired by David Docherty

I was disappointed at how UK centric things were in the intro to this session. The “D-Book” that was described as some sort of holly grail is actually technical specs for UK’s DTT, what’s the big deal?

Ian Fromely from NBC Universal is an entertaining speaker, he had me smile a few times, but he didn’t seem at liberty to say much of significance, or if he did, I didn’t understand.

LoveFilm

The LoveFilm lady gave the same presentation as six months ago in London. The company is basically a UK based baby-Netflix (that Amazon now wants to buy – LoveFilm that is, not Netflix Doh!). LoveFilm is 6 years old, with 1,6M customers in 5 countries but mainly UK (1,2M). The main challenge is educating customer base for the move from mail order to digital. The digital service was launched in UK may 2009. Lack of figures on digital usage leads me to assume the take-up is disappointing. But the way Netflix is transforming its 1950’s style mail order business into an online on-demand business shows that it’s easier for these companies to make the transition than it was for Blockbuster. Consuming from home seems to be more important than having a huge choice …

Google – I’m still not convinced

The GoogleTV presenter was not giving anything away. She might as well have cancelled. Oh no she gave a scoop: GTV will be launched in US before EOY 2010! Oops we know that too.

Her presentation showed just how immature Google still is in its approach to TV: he key focuss was on 5 hrs a day average viewing (hmm I though Google was global not just a US company) – 70bn$/yr ad revenues– 4 billion TV users.

She did say something that caught my attention: “TV is reliable” to which I’d add just like fixed-line phones before VoIP. If that is really a USP of the TV then a company whose products are all branded ‘beta’ for several years after launch should stay away.

The Google spokesperson went on to say that the web needs to be a natural extension of the TV. So hooking with previous remark I take it Google is going to tame the web into being well behaved and reliable.

In response to an audience question she said “Google TV will be a free open source platform” finishing off with “If anyone can scale to support explosive demands on the Web from connected TVs, Google can”. Next time she should just take questions, cause that’s the only time she said anything of interest.

My song for Samsung

Despite prohibitive roaming charges the only talk that got me to tweet during the conference was Samsung’s. I tweeted “By saying their connected TV’s aren’t about disintermediation, but about bringing value, Samsung is coming an intermediary.”

Their site www.samsungsmarttvchallenge.eu shows they mean business and sales figures got me listening: 1 set in 4 sold in Europe is a Samsung.

On the down side Samsung’s connected TV is proprietary environment, but at least it’s built on open standards.

I’m still not actually sure what got me to sit up and listen to Dan Saunders. Maybe it’s that Google and Sony are pushing in so many directions at once in the connected TV space that I’m confused and think even their staunchest supporters will be too. Apple on the other hand is very focussed, but runs closed TV shop for now.

Samsung has the mix that feels right: aggressively pushing a single way to get TV’s connected with just enough control to keep things working, and enough openness to recreate the Appstore phenomenon that put the iPhone into orbit around the sun.