Monaco Telecom has joined the growing ranks of European operators adopting cloud computing for delivery of IP based TV services, driven by the need to make on demand content available to tablets and other devices. But there is a twist to the story in that the platform called nCloud is provided by a STB maker, Netgem of France. This refutes the idea that cloud computing is bad news for STB makers by making their products redundant, or at least shows that these companies can reinvent themselves as cloud platform players. Indeed this is what some other STB makers, such as ADB of Switzerland, have been doing through similar strategies involving new softeware that turns their boxes into multimedia home gateways. These gateways provide staging posts for onward delivery of content served from the cloud to connected devices such as tablets and PCs around the home.
Unlike ADB, Netgem specialises in IPTV STBs. In the case of Netgem this strategy was enough to pesuade Monaco Telecom to become the first customer for its nCloud platform, including software that upgrades its existing STBs into multimedia servers reaching wireless enabled devices. This will allow Monaco Telecom to extend its existiung IPTV video over broadband services to wireless devices as well as TVs and Internet connected PCs. A key benefit of this particular cloud based approach is that customers will be able to transfer personal multimedia content such as photos and home videos between devices without going out over the Internet. This should help overcome fears held by some consumers that cloud based services intrude on their privacy by storing personal content outside the home. With nCloud, customers will be able to store and view both personal files, such as photos, and multimedia content downloaded from the internet such as films, securely on any wireless-enabled devices within the household, including televisions, laptop, desktop and tablet computers and smartphones.
This will be one of Europe's first services that turns the iPad into a fully fledged TV, allowing subscribers to flip readily between channels without having to download an app to access and manipulate content. At the same time it exploits the iPad's potential as a companion screen beside a home's main TV, allowing customers to integrate with social media and discuss content they are watching with friends.
Other operators and broadcasters are also reaching out to the iPad, although often with restrictions over content rights. Sports broadcaster ESPN has a free app called WatchESPN that allows users to tune into the family sports channels, but at present there is a catch: It is restricted to Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks or Verizon FiOS TV subscribers in the U.S.
In a different vein the BBC, which broadcasts free to air in the UK, announced late July 2011 that its iPlayer catch up service will be available to European iPad users for a subscription of €7 a month, through an app that allows downloading as well as streaming of content from a catalogue going back almost half a century. A U.S. launch is expected to follow shortly.
These examples highlight the benefits of a cloud based approach pioneered to a large extent in the U.S. by original OTT providers such as Netflix, Hulu and ABC. But cloud computing is not itself a panacea, merely a way of describing the use of shared IT storage and computational facilities providing access to data, applications and services via the Internet. For OTT this was a key enabling step for on-demand services delivering content on a one–to-one rather than broadcast basis, providing the back end scalability through shared storage and servers. This in turn created a new industry in provision of facilities to service the cloud, such as server farms and storage silos, provided by the likes of Amazon as a utility paid for by metering consumption of the resources.
It also created a new problem downstream by putting pressure on network bandwidth, but that is another story, addressed through CDNs and adaptive bit rate streaming (ABRS). So these problems are being solved, leaving digital rights as the final frontier that must be crossed before the world of fully connected TV services reaching all devices able to consume them can be truly said to have arrived.
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