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IP&TV World Forum 2012 preview

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, AppMarket.tv, 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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Five thoughts after chairing day one of the CDN World Summit in London this week.

1. Imminent bloodbath

There is a phoney war going one with everyone patting everyone else on the back and smiling as is if we could all stay friends. We all know that a bloodbath is coming. There is no way that all the network operators (e.g. BT), transnational operators (e.g. Level 3) content operators (e.g. Sky), existing CDN players like Akamai and new-comers like Amazon are going to all live happily ever after collaborating to deliver a great video experience. The cake is just too small.

We might just be able to cut it in up for 2 stakeholders, surely not 4 or 5. So if 2011 still sees a lot of hype and optimism, I think 2012 will see consolidation and then simplification in 2013.

2. Drowning in poor quality content

OK so lets say all the CDN ambitions flaunted at the conference are realised, what would that mean?

Well firstly you need to reinvent the TV experience. Platforms like Sky or Comcast are already struggling to offer a decent experience with hundreds of channels and thousands of videos. Add on another zero to both those numbers, then what? We will be completely lost and confused as to what to watch. Anthony Rose and the Veg 2.0 he is developing at T-Bone might be an answer we are looking for, I am eager for them to come out of stealth mode.

Secondly, there will be a quality issue. Once all the zillions of videos are at the edge, probably in some kind of rate adaptive format, who apart from the end user is going to know if the video actually played well if at all. If its all part of a paying offer that could get very sticky. The only company addressing this issue head-on at the conference, with a solution ready to roll, was Ineoquest. I will be writing more on that in a forthcoming white paper on this subject (post a comment if you would like me to include your product also, so far I have talked to Edgware and Packet Ship).

3. Content sill matters

The conference had a broad representation from the industry, but the few people from content, did not really have much to say. That may have been that we had the wrong people, but it did light up an alarm bell in my mind. Great network technology include state-of the art CDNs will indeed deliver a compelling user experience. But if we forget to get the content owners on board from the start, we may end up with a beautiful solution that has no problem to fix.

4. Standards
Standards are often late to the game. This time IETF and ETSI are both scrambling the jets to get there on time for intercept. I wish them well, but if I were a betting man that is not where I would put my money.

5. Interconnectivity
There is a worldview where Akamai continues to dominate the content delivery space so that interconnectivity eventually just becomes an issue of talking to Akamai. I no longer believe that can happen, the Akamai empire has already lived its thousand years in Internet time. So a more realistic worldview is one of interoperability. In the end, the standards guys will catch up. Getting different CDNs to talk to each other certainly seemed to be a hot topic at the CDN World Forum as. EdgeCast for one is already was saying they have it fixed interconnectivity already. As the old man said, being there first is not as important as being there at the right time

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Back from my first Anga

My feelings from the Anga cable congress can be summed up by my reaction to Cologne’s main landmark.

A surrealist sight hits the visitor exiting the main Cologne train station. The gargantuan cathedral called the ‘Dome’ seems to rear up from the past; which is how I perceive the cable industry that Anga represents. The Dome is surrounded by modern, more ugly buildings, that seem to be slowly encroaching upon it’s lebensraum just like the Internet or DTT threaten Cable. The train station itself, with its underground lines, represents different hybrid ways of transporting things; I wonder if it’s undermining or on the contrary underpinning the great old cathedral’s foundations. From the outside it’s as if the majestic building, symbol of the cable industry, were dying. It’s blackened at places and has almost permanent scaffolding that seems to hold it up.

A different story emerges when you are inside. One’s jaw drops with the shear size. Wikipedia just told me that it was once the tallest building in the world. The vertical proportions of the arches stretch upwards as if some divine hand had pulled malleable stone upwards. Then you look closer and realise that no, this is the work of hundreds of humble stonecutters over centuries. All the carefully crafted slabs stack up in powerful columns, just like the innumerable insignificant single-valley cable plants, in nearby Switzerland, add up to a powerful force. The strength of this force will keep enemies at bay for the foreseeable future.

OK I’ll leave the poetry there; now for some reporting:

A first surprise on my first visit to Anga is that it’s marketed as a cable event when IPTV, FTTx, Satellite, hybrid and more abound. OK so there are a bunch of booths with nothing more than little bits of cable on display, but no-one ever stops on those anyway and one sees one or two even at IPTV World forum. The organisers must be doing something right though because at least one company I met, Zappware, were on the waiting list and didn’t get a booth.

Wondering around for two days wasn’t enough for my sense of direction to kick in so I kept on getting lost in the huge hall’s two sections. There were an order of magnitude less booths than say at IBC, but almost all of them were mid sized. I used the Korea “Green IT” pavilion at one end as a landmark. It was a mistake because each time I passed it I felt a little worse about how clueless-marketers are trying to jump on the green bandwagon and have all but broken it before it has even left the station. The only green thing in that pavilion was the word.

On the positive side, the TivO demo on the Conax booth rocked. It was by far the most convincing illustration an industry oxymoron: walled garden OTT, where operators give access to all the content that is readily available out there, while reassuringly (?) never letting the subscriber out of their sight. The business models and content deals are not yet clear as earlier failures from the likes of Joost show, but the end-user proposition is now overwhelmingly compelling. It’s beautiful. I want it now in my home now!

The OpenTV 3D demo was the first, modest but effective, effort of using 3D in the interface itself, not just the video, which I’ve seen. 3D will not be revolutionizing mainstream interfaces soon, but I definitely got the feeling of peeking into the future.

I saw three interesting companies from my hobbyhorse Quality of Experience area. Ineoquest where present with a big booth clearly hoping to push their IP and head end leadership further into the cable market. Skyline’s Dataminer product was on prominent display. It’s an interesting way to commoditize the likes of Ineoquest by putting the effort on a central piece of software, which other quality systems then report to. Another outsider in the Quality area was the German supplier Axiros. From a background of managing zillions of legacy boxes, their approach is now built on the TR69 protocol. Axiros offer a new product that sits between the device management systems (ACS) and the devices themselves (STBs) so that more meaningful info can be taken from each device. Axiros performs some of the QoE monitoring functions themselves this way.

I got a private demo from German STB maker Winbox. They had a really simple “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” ideas and an effective demo for simple « push » playlist. A VoD server pushes short content like trailers to device’s local storage (HD or Flash memory) so a personalised preview or barker channel is available. If not a killer app, this could at least be a killer VoD-ARPU generator…

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Why I’m going to IPTV world forum – March 23rd 2010

I’ll be staying for the three days at the event next week. I always spend long moments hesitating whether such a time commitment is reasonable. I thought I’d share my thinking in case it helps you make your mind up (and helps me decide whether to fork out a couple of k€ to go to NAB next month or not).

When I worked at Orange, heading international IPTV deployment, I gave one of the first talks from a major IPTV player at one of the first versions of the show in 2005 or thereabouts. It was about the technical challenges of IPTV deployment from a Telco perspective. IPTV World Forum holds a little sense of nostalgia for me.

In the early days Junction ran the show, and I remember it feeling like a special occasion. It’s probably the nostalgia speaking or maybe the fact that as it wasn’t yet mainstream we all felt a bit more leading edge. I suppose I can replace “feel good” factor from being a pioneer then to a “feel good” factor from knowing I was here first. To illustrate the newfound importance of the show, big decisions now get initiated at Olympia and the IPTV WF awards get fought over more and more.

We’re not supposed to decide which show to go to based on the quality of the tea and biscuits (no don’t pretend you never do). In this respect IPTV WF is pretty good on logistics, except maybe fort the A/V equipment that forces me to sit in the front rows if I want to both see and hear.

The main reason I’m going is networking. There’s only so much you can do with LinkedIn & Co and face-to-face meetings do make a difference. I know at least half the companies exhibiting and over a dozen speakers so it’ll be worthwhile just to catch-up. I also need to generate some new leads for my consulting business (;-€).

I’m looking forwards to awards ceremony at the end of day one. Only the English can make a pompous event fun as well (mind you the great food & drink helps). As I’m a judge, I can’t really talk about that till the results are out … but there were loads of good entries this year.

There will be demos of some really new things I want to see at the exhibition. This year I’m looking forward to seeing the BeeSmart free middleware that’ll be launched during the show. I’m also hoping ROVI will show their new promising looking EPG offerings. As I missed the NDS widget demo at IBC I was hoping to catch up on that but I can’t see them on the exhibitor list :o( – maybe I’ll have to go to the NAB show after all.

I wrote an blog entry here on the rosy future for the IPTV Monitoring market so I’ll be asking all the vendors like Mariner, Bridgetech, Ineoquest, Agama and the new kid in town from India called First Media what they think about that i.e. do they too see a blue ocean of opportunities?

I hope to do a post-show blog on the future of interfaces so I’ll also hop into booths from some middleware people like Dreampark and Nagravision.

Many of the usual suspects from the STB arena will be at the show so I’ll be checking out where they are in terms of chipsets & new deployments (although these tend to boringly all be confidential). But the ecosystem is constantly changing as the box makers move upwards or sideways in the ecosystem so I’ll be looking out for any exciting demos from booths like Netgem, PACE, SoftAtHome, Echostar, Awox and Amino.

I’m a bit disappointed in the content recommendation supplier line-up. Recommendation is still a stumbling block that we haven’t fixed. Hopefully Gravity R&D will have a better demo than they showed at the Prague show. I don’t know why the more mature suppliers like Jinni aren’t coming to the show. That’s food for thought for another in depth analysis.

I always drop into the Edgware booth not only because it’s invariably one of the nicest but mainly because they are a surprisingly interesting company to talk to; they have a real vision.

Oh and I’ll make a point of having a proper talk with the Canadians from Evertz because I kind of botched it last time in Prague and have heard they deliver a monitoring good job for Sasktel in conjunction with Mariner Partners who btw will also both be presenting at the show.

With over 100 exhibitors I expect it will take me at least a day and half to see everything I want to, and As I’m chairing during day one I’ll be there the whole time.

There’s some luck involved in choosing the best conference to listen to unless you know the speaker beforehand. Most speakers do go to the trouble of writing interesting fresh slides and are really worth listening to. However as with any mainstream conference, some vendors that pay a lot to get to say basically what they want amazingly get away with too much sales pitch. You should complain to the organizers if you see this. I certainly do. Telcos with big IPTV deployments who also get red-carpet treatment sometimes go around with the same slide deck from conference to conference; I’ve identified the speakers by now, but it’s always worth listening to them if you haven’t heard it before.

In the end I clearly do recommend going (twitter me @nebul2 to meet). If you decide not to come, several of us will be reporting from the show on Videonet.

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Why Iid invest in TV monitoring if I were a banker

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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French Public Broadcaster goes IQ

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.