Two weeks ago, a summit of top television engineers, managers and vendors wound up in Orlando after exploring the changing competitive landscape of the television business.
IPTV, and the impact it's having on core business issues facing broadcasters, such as cable retransmission consent negotiations, took center stage for a portion of the conference.
One of the sponsors of the event, Avid Technology, provided some useful insight on that and other IPTV-related topics in preparation for the event. This week, IPTV Update presents a conversation with David Schleifer, Avid Technology vice president, strategic planning.
IPTV Update: IPTV offers the potential for unprecedented viewer interactivity with program and commercial content. Should and can broadcasters take advantage of this possibility by versioning their programming for IPTV distribution?
David Schleifer: I think so. I don't know that we as users are yet trained to look for that. We've had a lot of discussions internally about the younger generation that is used to interactivity with media — whether it's via the Web or games — and also some interesting moves, like Microsoft announcing that its Xbox gaming system basically could be a set-top box as well. Both start to blend these two worlds.
We are seeing generations coming up that are used to interacting with their media. We see it in people's willingness expressed in shows like "American Idol" where — even though that's via the phone and something that everyone from Grandma and Grandpa on down are comfortable with — they are interacting with the content they are viewing. I absolutely think that it not only offers an additional revenue stream, as in the case of "American Idol," but it's also an opportunity to get people excited and actually tied into your program.
IPTVU: What technologies and workflows will be necessary to support IPTV versioning of broadcast content?
DS: Right now, IPTV is basically a derivative of just the video and audio editing process. Quite often, IPTV is either switching to the live stream in progress, or it is on-demand-type of provisioning to the home. So, that really hasn't changed the provisioning for IPTV that much.
We've got technology in our products like meta-sync that will help content providers deal with that interactive world. Basically, it becomes another version just like phones or the Web.
IPTVU: For IPTV service providers to compete effectively with cable, they must be able to deliver at least two streams of HD content, SD, phone, Internet access, etc. MPEG-4 AVC is seen as the enabling technology in this regard. Should broadcasters hand over their signal to telecoms for MPEG-4 AVC encoding, or should they deliver a version they encode themselves to assert quality control over their content?
DS: At this point, in order to keep costs in line, broadcasters have not taken on that task of delivering MPEG-4, or whatever the format de jour is for the IPTV provider. So they don't have that quality control. When I see my signal at home break up, I know it's not necessarily what left the facility but in the process of getting to me that happened.
I think if we see more standardization out there, and it's affordable for the broadcaster, yes, they will try to manage the quality of their signal, and they should. But until that point, I think it's too much to ask of them to stay up to speed with changing requirements and multiple providers and so forth.
IPTVU: How much leverage does IPTV distribution give broadcasters in their retransmission consent negotiations with cable operators?
DS: I think as we see multiple choices out there in the world, the gatekeepers start to lose some of their power. The old saying that content is king is going to be tested. Who wins in this? The person who owns the customer — has my address and the wire into my house — or the person creating the content? Ultimately, I think it's the content providers who have the opportunity to leverage this newly found choice that I as a consumer have — and also a choice that they have in terms of distributors to leverage their content and retransmission rights and so forth.
IPTVU: Closely aligned with IPTV is Internet TV. What if networks build large online audiences for streamed content — ABC and its streamed episodes of "Lost," for example? Does that further change the affiliate-network relationship by diminishing the value of affiliates in building audiences?
DS: The local stations that exist today — that model has been created around the fact that they are the distributor of that premium content to a geographic region. Obviously, that comes from the reach of the antenna and how we sliced and diced the country years ago, but that's going away.
In fact, is it not only going away on a global basis? I think that all the pipes coming into my house ultimately get converted to Internet on the other side. Whether it's my cell phone or my hard-line phone, my cable TV or my Internet, they all go into that cloud, and that cloud encompasses the globe.
So what's to stop a data antenna, if you will, which is a network anywhere in the world from reaching anyone anywhere in the world? So, I think there are some big shifts coming here.
IPTVU: Telecoms typically don't have program origination capability. How can local broadcasters best take advantage of that fact to develop a win-win approach to programming IPTV channels?
DS: The real issue is: What are the telecoms going to develop? Will they build brands? Can they leverage their brands? Can they develop viable content? Can they purchase viable content? The telecoms are right now in the position of purely being aggregators. I guess you could say the same way Comcast does a channel, the telecoms can do a channel. But they have to find where their value proposition is. If they want to, I think the technology has been democratized to the point where our systems are affordable to anybody. The real issue that differentiates you from a content provider or an aggregator, aside from the infrastructure you build, will be the people, the knowledge, the intelligence, the creativity that you can harness.
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