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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 But with those millions of out-of-date screens out there, could HDMI dongles like Google’s latest offering finally make that change?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)

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What does the sale of Microsoft’s Media Room to Ericsson say about Redmond’s TV strategy?

By finally ditching its Mediaroom middleware and all the associated IPTV baggage, Microsoft is at last well placed to make a big splash in the living room, driving in with a new version of the Xbox console. The Mediaroom sale to Ericsson was well timed from Microsoft’s point of view, coming just ahead of a long planned Xbox announcement in May which we are sure will lay the foundations of an ambitious and aggressive OTT strategy designed to beat Google and Apple, as well as beleaguered service providers.

At least by selling Mediaroom to Ericsson Microsoft has ensured that its existing IPTV customers are not left high and dry this time. Back in the 90s this happened to the early adopters of Microsoft TV such as TV Cabo in Portugal. This was Microsoft’s first foray into Pay TV, focusing mostly on the cable sector, although the technology later evolved into Mediaroom for IPTV.

With the market confused over its direction at that stage, Microsoft

pulled out all the stops to gain customers. Steve Ballmer came over to Europe several times to meet CEOs from the leading Telcos, and many technical teams were flown out to Redmond.

Commercial success for the first Mediaroom customers was dampened by technical teething problems and unavailability of good content, which retarded subscriber uptake. BT Vision in the UK being a good case in point, still being short of a million customers in 2013. But all Microsoft’s marketing might did prevail in the end and sufficient operators around the world took up Media Room to make it officially the leader of the IPTV middleware market according to many analysts.

But the rise of OTT services in the last few years has left Mediaroom falling behind the curve, although that has also been the fate of Microsoft’s IPTV middleware competitors. Now the sexy new Service Delivery Platforms are all the rage.

If even a B2B2C company like Intel wants its slice of the OTT pie, through its soon-to-be-launched web TV service, then surely a true B2C company like Microsoft would be even more motivated. After all the xBox, which started life as a pure games console, has always had the potential to become a living room Trojan horse. With Media Room now gone, there are no more cannibalisation concerns, no more internal conflicts over strategy and no more market confusion.

So we are in line with those who predict a major push by Microsoft in this area. Windows 8 was supposed to stop the decline of the PC as a platform. It hasn’t even slowed it! Steve Balmer doesn’t need us to point out how urgent this is. It could even be an opportunity to get something right before Apple for a change.

So next month we expect Microsoft to unveil the next version of Xbox positioned at the heart of its OTT strategy, with a feature that allows the new console to take control of a TV and set-top box. This sounds like Google TV but with the additional force of the existing Xbox gaming and the large user base that goes with it, about 76 million worldwide.  This will give Microsocft a big leg up into OTT, armed with a product that will overlay its own UI on top of existing TV channels, with the Xbox presumably being capable of connection to existing set tops via HDMI.

For service providers Microsoft’s bold change of strategy will exert further pressure. After Apple stole control of the smartphone form telecom operators and Google jumped into that breach, are service providers now going to lose what little influence they still have in the living room?

Blog post written By Philip Hunter & Ben Schwarz

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CDN 3.0 White Paper

CDNs have improved in leaps and bounds in the last decade. This white paper asks if mainstream suppliers are now struggling to deliver the next big improvement. We look into whether there could be a window of opportunity for network operators to get back into the game. Live OTT streaming is considered a great catalyst for this opportunity.We finish by looking into what the future of CDN’s might look like in the next few years.

Enter your name and email address to download CDN 3.0 White Paper

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IPTV is dead long live OTTIPTV

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

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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Standards in the age of Connected TV

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”.