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IPTV written out of TV script

IPTV is being written out of the fast- moving script of broadcast TV evolution, even though its worldwide growth is accelerating.

Last week’s IP&TV World Forum, held in London, cataloged this trend with presentations highlighting rapid growth in many markets as the name is ditched and replaced by OTT, connected TV or multiscreen TV. The London IP&TV Forum itself will be called the Connect TV Forum next year, having introduced the ampersand between IP and TV in 2011 to reflect the idea that IPTV was just part of a migration of all TV delivery to IP-based infrastructures including the Internet.

The dominating theme at IP&TV World Forum 2012 was the migration of video delivery to cloud-based infrastructures better suited for multiscreen services. There is a growing conviction that this will play into the hands both of Telcos, and also providers of the big computers and storage systems that will drive these cloud based infrastructures at the back end. Until recently, Telcos have struggled in some cases to transform themselves into media companies, since this requires fusion of broadcast and TV skills onto their core expertise in broadband and voice-service delivery. But, as broadcasting goes up into the cloud, it plays to their strengths as IP service providers.

This at least was the line taken by Gerry O'Sullivan, VP Global TV and Entertainment at German incumbent Deutsche Telekom, in a keynote presentation at the IP&TV World Forum. O’Sullivan, a UK TV industry veteran with past roles at BSkyB, BBC, Fox News and Australia's ABC, was hired precisely to inject that broadcasting experience and culture into Deutsche Telekom.

"I think what is really interesting is that all this content will come from the cloud. It's the only way to deliver content to multiple screens,” said O'Sullivan. “Telcos will have a major advantage as we move video services to the cloud."

This is because, according to O’Sullivan, they have the most experience of delivering services over IP networks, which already carry large amounts of video and require guaranteed QoS (Qualities of Service).

The importance of migration to the cloud was also highlighted by Ching-Min Cheng, Managing Director of the northern business group at Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan’s largest Telco, which now has 1.1 million IPTV subscribers. Cheng said Chunghwa Telecom will be launching a cloud platform for delivery of multiscreen video services cloud as an essential step for integration of social media into TV and capability to reach out to all connected devices over a common infrastructure. But, Cheng also cautioned operators against allowing functions such as interactivity to substitute for content quality in their strategies. He cited the quality of the content itself and the associated user experience, particularly availability of HD, as his most important potential differentiators over rivals.

"We need to deliver better content and provide a better user experience,” Cheng said. “We have good relationships with the Hollywood studios, and this year we have exclusive rights to broadcast the 2012 London Olympic Games in HD."

A similar quality theme was pursued by Giles Wilson, Head of Technology Solution Area TV at Ericsson, and by Kristin Frank, General Manager of Digital Media at MTV, during their keynotes at the IP&TV World Forum. Both insisted that, while social media integration can enhance good content and make it great, it is not a panacea for rescuing mediocre material. Wilson also argued that social media, as well as new forms of targeted advertising, must be handled sensitively, on the big screen especially, but also on subsidiary screens. He suggested that intrusive social media on PCs, tablets and smart phones was driving people back to the big screen for watching premium content such as sports and movies, even when they would otherwise have been happy to view on smaller devices.

Partly for this reason, Ericsson was conducting detailed research on how users want to consume content on the various categories of device.

"We took a very detailed look at how consumers wanted to experience content with different devices, targeting tablets, phones and connected TVs,” said Wilson. “We discovered that the tablet has six roles for consumers: alternate screen, enhanced TV remote, remote DVR management, game console, and social content discovery tool."

The smart phone, on the other, hand has five roles: for delivering TV schedules, as a companion social tool, video clip screen, enhanced TV remote and remote DVR management. Wilson went on to point out that phones have one key advantage over, say, tablets for blending into TV services, in that they can fulfill the pay-TV industry's long-held ambition to personalize the viewing experience. This is because a phone is used almost solely by its owner, while tablets are also functioning as second-screen devices floating around the home that could be watched by any member of a family, sometimes more than one at once.

Operators need to consider carefully how they differentiate between the different categories of device within multiscreen services, was the gist of Wilson’s message. But Wilson also made clear that interactivity and some form of social media integration would become important differentiators on all screens, and make that difference between good and great content that will be vital in attracting subscribers.

This point was extended by Won-ho Kim, Chairman of Korea's Digital Media Industry Association (KoDIMA), at the IP&TV World Forum. Kim argued that operators could not sit back and trade on content alone, but must embrace interactivity, and also introduce T-commerce (Tablet Commerce) services, if they are to thrive in the connected TV era.

“It is time for IPTV services to leap forward and become converged services by providing differentiated content and interactive services which encourage subscribers' active participation — for example, quiz programs, real-time communication current affairs programs, and T-commerce broadcasting,” said Kim.

Over half of mobile commerce transactions are already taking place on tablets, according to analyst group Forrester. Therefore there is a great opportunity for pay TV operators to collar some of this, given that tablets will be important second screen viewing devices.

Unlike some other speakers at the IP&TV World Forum, Kim mentioned IPTV many times and emphasized that Korea was actually accelerating its expansion alongside multiscreen deployments. Far from being ashamed of the term IPTV, Korea will be celebrating the passing of the five million IPTV subs mark sometime in April 2012, less than four years after Korea Telecom launched the first service in November 2008.

It then took just nine months for IPTV to reach the one million subscriber mark, passing two million in April 2010, three million in December 2010, and four million in August 2011. So, while percentage growth rate has slowed, IPTV subscriptions are on their earlier linear track.