IPTV developers express strong interest in ISMA open standards, says LoBue

Michael LoBue, executive director of the Internet Streaming Media Alliance, says a recent survey shows broad industry support for the group’s IPTV-related specifications.

Results of an Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) survey released Sept. 24 revealed two-thirds of people seeking specifications developed by the group plan to or had already implemented its open standards in a product.

Given the amount of work on IPTV features that needs to be done, having open standards to facilitate interoperation among systems is important, says ISMA executive director Michael LoBue.

Additionally, the survey showed only 10 percent of respondents were actually ISMA members, indicating a wider base of industry support for alliance specifications than just its members. ISMA specs are used in IPTV deployments. The survey concentrated on the five released as final publications at the time of the poll: ISMA 1.0 and 2.0 providing an interoperable IP video and audio framework, ISMACryp 1.0 and 1.1 defining end-to-end content encryption and ISMA Closed Captioning.

IPTV Update spoke with ISMA executive director Michael LoBue about the survey to glean some insight on how the IPTV market is developing.

IPTV Update: There seems to be significant support for ISMA standards from vendors, whether or not they are members. Why?

Michael LoBue: Having standards that are open is what’s valued most in a lot of industries. I think this survey really underscored that. One of the strongest responses for interest in the ISMA specifications in the survey was open standards.

So in that respect, a lot of companies are just concerned that open standards exist. They have a high degree of confidence that they are being generated in a fair and equitable way. They are happy just to get the specifications and don’t necessarily feel the need to offer input. I think that’s what this survey demonstrated — that is, the confidence the industry has in the work of ISMA.

IPTV Update: It struck me that there was a high degree of support for ISMA standards, but many don’t participate in the organization and don’t influence setting those standards. What’s your perspective on that?

Michael LoBue: All organizations face a free-rider challenge. This was a survey more about adoption of the specifications and not so much about the organization itself. But it could very well be that over the years, ISMA has gained a reputation as having the kind of active members who did represent a balance. A lot of companies are spread across a lot of industry associations.

One of the other characteristics about ISMA up until fairly recently is that a lot of the technical specifications were implementation specs. So, ISMA did not have a “not invented here problem.” If there was a standard, like MPEG for example, generated elsewhere, and it met ISMA’s requirements for being open, then ISMA would incorporate that spec.

ISMA’s focus has been end-to-end interoperability, so a lot of the early specs were what we call implementation specs as opposed to original, core specs.

When we got into the ISMACryp area, we started to get into more of some actual original work being done as opposed to simply taking some specs from elsewhere. I think that is one of the reasons that ISMACryp specification was so well appreciated — because there weren’t a lot of other open standard options for encryption.

In the survey, we specifically asked respondents if they had implemented the spec. We did not ask them why they were or were not a member of ISMA.

IPTV Update: Did you see particularly strong interest in Digital Rights Management (DRM) in general and ISMACryp in particular?

Michael LoBue: I think there are probably two issues related there. There are a lot of different flavors, and the whole issue around DRM is that it’s almost a situation where you have different flavors for different verticals and different horizontals.

ISMA was trying to be as generic and as neutral as it could be in its ISMACryp 1.0, which was included in the survey. In the new 2.0 version just now being released, the encryption is actually codec-agnostic, meaning it can work with any codec. This is a tremendous advantage. Again, it falls in the line of being an open spec. I think those two issues, of trying to be reasonably generic and also open, have attracted a good bit of adoption and attention.

IPTV Update: Getting back to the importance respondents placed on open standards when it came to their reasons for turning to ISMA specifications, how do you see open standards playing into the development of the emerging IPTV market?

Michael LoBue: In terms of the IPTV market and deployment, the issue of open standards is important. There’s still a lot of work to be done on features in IPTV, and the ability to have an open standard and have it interoperate provides maximum flexibility. Open standards are probably the best way to manage product risk in terms of picking a particular architecture and a particular direction.

I think the survey tells us the open standards are important and the ability, recognizing where IPTV is, to add features down the road is very important.

IPTV Update: What other areas were of interest from those planning to use your specifications in IPTV products?

Michael LoBue: Second to open standards, when we’re talking about interest in the specifications, appears to be “well-developed” and “product integration,” especially for those who are interested in product implementation. I think what the survey tells us is that the specifications have good utility for product implementation and was strong in terms of being able to integrate, leading to ISMA’s mission, which is end-to-end interoperability. Now of course, this doesn’t have to do with any particular spec, but the ISMA spec set in general.

IPTV Update: Given the survey findings, what is ISMA’s plan going forward?

Michael LoBue: Well, certainly it’s studying these results for now. I’d say the members are taking the results in house, and over the next quarter, I think, we’ll be answering that question.

So this was the first major attempt to really go outside the organization and find out the extent to which its specifications were being adopted. No one is required to take a license to implement our specifications, so we had no particular requirement to have companies come to the organization and register.

After a number of years of doing this and realizing we had quite a broad distribution, it was time to find out how valued our work is outside of the membership. So, I think member companies are examining this and will come together in the next quarter and discuss the implications of that going forward.

IPTV Update: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Michael LoBue: Yes. We were quite pleased with the response level for this type of survey — over 7 percent is a good response. There are a lot of things that track profile-wise in terms of the respondents and those who asked for the specifications over the years.

I think it also indicated a high regard for ISMA, the organization, and the work that it’s done. It’s very validating.

Editor’s note: The ISMA has made a portion of its survey results available to the public. The summary document is available at:


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