Deborah D. McAdams /
07.11.2013 09:22 AM
McAdams On: TV Everywhere, Why Aereo Wins the PR War...
...and The IP Singularity
SOUND, GARDEN — 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 Bull.

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 subscriber. 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 apiece.

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 Registration is required.

Joe Zaller writes at Devoncroft.

Black Hole Flickr image from Jeff Keyzer.

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Posted by: Steve Symonds
Fri, 07-12-2013 08:58 PM Report Comment
Deborah -- You should stick with writing "distant future" Sci-Fi treatments as this piece makes it abundantly clear you don't have the slightest grasp of the current foundations of broadcast technology, IP technology, or copyright laws which govern the distribution of content via OTA or other distribution channels. Absent an understanding of these basics, you have concocted a "near term" event horizon that is so wacky and fundamentally flawed that I just about fell off my chair laughing. A couple of "duh" examples: >The "cloud" may be great for certain types of distributed data processing applications for sure. Possibly the worst application for the cloud is distributing video content generally -- and live video content in particular. Just imagine broadcasting an NFL game to tens of millions of fans...and a technical problem disables the video. This is a nightmare for the content owner (in this case the NFL), the distributor (broadcaster or cable network), the advertisers, Every second of outage involves huge economic consequences. Now, just imagine that all of the network devices and processes are "virtual"....fugetabout fixing the problem in anything approaching an acceptable time frame. Video content distribution is already done in IP by most major licensors and distributors -- but they won't put it in the cloud in your lifetime, you betcha. >Why isn't Aereo free? Because their business model is to resell the content. Now back at the Dawn of Time, CATV in fact did exactly this -- retransmitted the OTA signal to the good folks down in the valley who couldn't get it using their antennae. Except that the CATV Operator made a deal with the broadcaster to retransmit the content...initially a barter deal but these days involving serious money. Aereo would like us all to believe some mumbo-jumbo about paying for a "personal antenna"...paying $8/month for renting an antenna is the same as buying one from Radio Shack. NOT. Without the subscription fee, Aereo's biz model is busted, pure and simple. Eventually the jig will be up and the courts will shut down what is basically a business based on pirating copyrighted content. Your piece is so riddled with examples like this I could go on and on. But I have go to the garage and strap on my anti-gravity device so I can fly to my space station and recharge my desk-top fusion device. Meet me there and I'll be happy to help you write some of that awesome "distant future" stuff!
Posted by: rick rachford
Sun, 07-14-2013 07:18 PM Report Comment
Deborah, Great articles on Aereo. It's interesting reading some of the comments on your articles and on other Aereo articles across the web that one of the main things people, particularly younger people, seem to like about Aereo is that somehow they think they're "sticking it to the man". Barry Diller "is" the man and if anybody thinks that's his intent then they haven't read his resume. Aereo not only end runs retransmission fees it's also a Hulu killer. This isn't the kind of company with a 40 year plan, I'd bet money they have an exit strategy that involves shopping themselves to one of the larger cable companies once they've established beachheads across the US. If the broadcasters want to stop Aereo they need to seriously up their game on the legal front. The biggest flaw in Aereo's business plan is the dime size antennae scam and the content re-encoding (a big no no from a copyright standpoint). I think broadcast television is one of Americas greatest achievements and I'd hate to see it erode because of complacency. Full disclosure, I've never paid for television reception and I've no intention to start.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 07-12-2013 11:02 AM Report Comment
Great article Deborah! Mark G. Fehlig, P.E, CPBE Atlanta Aereo Viewer
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 07-12-2013 08:14 PM Report Comment
Wow Rebecca, sounds like a change in your usually skeptical view of all things IP. But a very good and sound analysis. Now, what do you think Aereo would do if I subscribed to their service, then set up a proxy server which I provided for free to all of my friends (via FB or YT?) Better yet, I'll charge everyone a six-pack, just like friends do when they come over to watch the game together. Huh, Aereo, what do you think? Would be kinda ironic if you sued me...

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