— Television is at the event horizon of an IP singularity.
The singularity is where all content creation and distribution occurs on
IP-based networks. The event horizon is where the chaos happens. As such, there
are profuse moving parts going in multiple and unpredictable directions.
On the end-user side, for example, consider “TV Everywhere,” the television
industry’s underwhelming appellation for delivering programming to any type of
screen Chinese labor can churn out. The conundrum of TV Everywhere is the same
one unleashed by Napster in 1999—digital content is virtually impossible to
control. Consequently, TV Everywhere is subject to authentication, the types of
which vary like black-hole particle behavior, or a pack of feral cats on Red
Rather than a single, simple, universal interface that provides TV Everywhere
access to all network content, each network and provider has to have its own.
That’s understandable from their perspective, but a lot of methane for
end-users. I couldn’t watch any of the 2008 Beijing Olympics online, for
example, because I was not a cable
In other words, because I was a loyal viewer of NBC’s
over-the-air signal in Los Angeles, I was rewarded by being locked out of the
network’s online Olympics coverage.
Now, five years yon, this injustice has been rectified. No, it has not. BTIG
Analyst Rich Greenfield wrote this week about a new TV Everywhere app from ABC
that the local New York affiliate, WABC, has been barking up on taxi-cab TV.
“Unfortunately, there is no way for New York City residents to actually live
stream on the WatchABC app,” Greenfield said. “When you pull up live streaming
on the WatchABC app, you are asked to authenticate, but neither Manhattan
MVPD—Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS—allows you to authenticate WatchABC,”
nor does DirecTV nor Dish.
Meanwhile, Aereo is blasting the live signal from WABC and other local
affiliates all over the five boroughs to anyone willing to pay $8 for TV,
everywhere. Aereo doesn’t have a huge following yet, and while I’ve taken issue
with their legal maneuvers, the service appears to be far more user-friendly
than what networks and pay TV providers offer.
My query then to Aereo is based on their premise that they should be able to
retransmit broadcast signals for free: So why isn’t their service free? Aereo
would be much better off cutting deals with broadcasters to provide free,
universally authenticated service versus milking end-users for a few bucks
Broadcasters are instead trying to sue Aereo into the ground. If that doesn’t
work, News Corp. honcho Chase Carey says he’ll just pull Fox off the air. Fox
would presumably then become a pay TV network, or maybe an “Internet-only
broadcaster,” as TV Technology
contributor Wes Simpson theorizes in “Can
TV Broadcasters Really Go OTT?
Internet broadcasting, though IP-based, is fundamentally different from IPTV,
which telcos have employed for years to deliver television and broadband
service over dedicated networks. (Think NetFlix vs. AT&T’s Uverse.) IPTV is
bandwidth efficient because video signals are delivered to the home
individually, versus in a package as they are with cable and satellite.
Internet TV is similarly delivered per individual “request.” That’s one thing
when watching TV online is “over-the-top” of traditional consumption methods.
It’s another matter entirely to think over-the-air broadcasting can be replaced
by OTT via public servers and IP networks that can be brought down by
stampedes. This is not to say it cannot be done. Television delivered
exclusively online is the singularity, (in technical terms—socioeconomic
implications aside). We are at the event horizon, where steps toward the
singularity are being defined by companies like Cisco, for example.
What TV Everywhere currently lacks, Cisco is attempting to bring to at least
one aspect of television—the electronic program guide. Cisco is working on a
cloud-based EPG that uses one HTML5 code for rendering the same user interface
across TVs, smartphones and tablets, according to Videonet.
Service providers get a universal application, and end-users get one,
simple, consistent interface for all their devices.
Cisco’s cloud EPG also has implications for an all-Internet TV world as well,
in that it uses predictive analysis to anticipate usage peaks and manage server
capacity. There’s nothing particularly new about the concept, but doing it on
the level of universal TV delivery would be unprecedented. Perhaps not for
long, however, given the escalating advances in computer technology,
particularly on the software side. As Tiernan Ray writes in Barrons,
even enterprise computing hardware is being supplanted by software.
“A network switch
or router is a specialized computer with specially developed chips that perform
calculations to determine how to direct bits of data between computers,” Ray
said. “As complex as they are, some of those calculations can now be
efficiently performed in software running on Intel processors.”
It’s only a matter of time, and probably not much of it, before this same
concept is applied within the broadcast industry, Joe Zaller writes at Devoncroft.
Zaller describes a broadcast business on an IP event horizon, with
graphics, transcoding, even playout moving from dedicated hardware to software.
As with black holes, the parts are accelerating rapidly. Zaller and others see
a future of fully cloud-based broadcast facilities.
“Some have gone as far
as saying their ultimate goal is a ‘virtualized broadcast infrastructure with
in-line processing.’ In other words, they foresee a future where the
broadcast infrastructure is housed in an IT data center, and the operations
done today primarily by hardware boxes are carried out by software that plugs
in to the IT core. And by the way, broadcasters probably won’t be
building this facility. Instead, they’ll rent computing power on an
as-needed basis from AWS or some other cloud-based service provider.”
Some of the barriers now involve bandwidth constraints, incompatible formats in
the absence of standards, and certain security issues as perhaps illustrated by
the recent EAS hack. An all-IP world is by no means perfect, and going from
hardware to software means giving up a certain amount of control—like going
from a manual to an automatic transmission. There will be vulnerabilities and
bugs, as well as capabilities and opportunities not yet imagined. Cisco’s
“third eye” for example, which mines TV content metadata to notify viewers of
what’s happening on channels they’re not watching.
The broadcast business is not going away any time soon, a friend of mine likes
to remind me. It is definitely on the IP event horizon, however, from which
there is now no turning back. The current state of flux and fluid obsolescence
will continue until the singularity is achieved.
Rich Greenfield’s blog is at
BTIGResearch.com. Registration is required.
Joe Zaller writes at Devoncroft.
Black Hole Flickr image from Jeff Keyzer.