For IPTV to succeed, user data is critical

The Internet Protocol Detail Record Organization (IPDR) last month held its inaugural meeting to discuss accounting and settlement standards for IPTV services.

About 80 participants from a variety of IPTV heavy hitters, including Microsoft TV, Alcatel, Sun Microsystems, Bell South, Cox Cable, Comcast and Lucent Technologies, attended the event, which took place at Cisco Systems' headquarters in San Jose, CA.

While accounting and settlement may not seem to be the sexiest of IPTV topics, it may be one of the most important. Besides encompassing business realities, such as billing, usage and quality of service, accounting and settlement for IPTV includes methods for extracting critical user data from the network without which the full potential of interactive, user-customized IPTV will never be realized.

The IPDR is developing such a protocol. "IPTV Update" turned to IPDR president Kelly Anderson for her thoughts on the organization’s work, its meeting and the future.

IPTV Update: The objective of your organization’s recent meeting was intended to focus on accounting and settlement standards for IPTV services. What was identified as the basic requirements for IPTV accounting?

Kelly Anderson: I think one of the things that definitely came out of the meeting is that there is unique data required out of the network for accounting, customer behavior trending and service settlement with advertisers and settlement with content providers.

One of the things we concluded is that the use cases is more complex than voice. With voice, there’s quality of service and time and duration of use. These elements will probably be very different for IPTV. With voice quality of service, you need to know the aggregate of call quality. Call quality is mostly done in areas after the fact. With IPTV, quality is done in real time.

One of the things IPDR does is to create consistency in getting data from the network in the required time, provide that data to the service provider and send it out for consumption from BSS systems or other partner settlement. In IPTV, it is possible that it needs to be done in either real time or near real time. In voice, typically call detail is being done more in a batch mode. Customer support is also done in a reactive mode. So, it is a very different animal than what telecom has dealt with before. It must be very precise and consistent from the network to back office. It will have to be clearly defined. For advertising and billing, customer requirements may need to be handled differently and defined differently from how we have done voice traditionally.

IPTVU: IPTV offers two-way communications and interactivity. Besides billing information, what other information are IPTV service providers interested in learning about their customers’ usage?

KA: There was a lot of discussion at the meeting about this. What is the right and appropriate information that you need? You could gather a lot of information from the network. There are a lot of different applications to get that data.

Privacy becomes a concern. What is over the line? And honestly, there are very applicable reasons to gather information on how long a customer is pausing, and how long the TV is on for network management purposes. But if you called someone to tell them that they left their TV on all night three nights ago, that’s most likely going to be considered a privacy issue.

Traffic analysis trending to see how customers are using the new service is legitimate. A product manager realizing how his product is being used and being recorded and watched live, that’s very applicable to them to learn how to structure future offerings and give consumers the content that will make them stay with that provider.

Another component is what do the content providers want to know about what is being viewed? I think IPTV is going to redefine how ratings are done. I know today they talk about “American Idol” beating out Olympics skating, but honestly we watched one live and recorded the other. I am not sure how that would be recorded as far as ratings. We had a company that does ratings at the IPTV meeting last week and they were interested in different ways to record and assess ratings with IPTV services. They were really interested in how information can be collected in the network to provide a more accurate ratings scale for TV. With DVR and VCR, it is not that accurate. I know that I don’t watch much broadcast TV live anymore, so it probably doesn’t look like I watch much TV at all if it were measured by traditional means. That is very important information to advertisers and content providers. There are a lot of uses in the aggregate that have nothing to do with privacy.

IPTVU: How will concerns over privacy be addressed and what safeguards will your organization’s protocol offer for protecting that data?

KA: There were some suggestions from some participants that maybe we need to educate on privacy. Privacy really has to do with what the business application does. There are very good reasons to capture data like traffic analysis, performance measurement, and product planning. It is how the application of that data is used which will determine whether a consumer's privacy is violated.

I think as far as IPDR gathering that data, I honestly am not sure that we have control. We are just giving them the technology to gather the data, not the application of how that data is used. Again, there are privacy issues, but they don’t have anything to do with capturing it, but the use of the data.

IPTVU: What provisions are there in this developing protocol for reporting usage back to content providers?

KA: The protocol is well-suited for that. That is one big point we talked about at the conference. The information, being able to gather that data to provide sophisticated reports back to the content providers to make decisions about future programming. A lot has to do with redefining ratings, or how people are watching TV: live or recorded. What geographic area is watching it the most? The opportunity right now for IPTV is the information to track over the IP network makes it more feasible to track these analytics.

IPTV licensing is a huge issue right now and being able to provide detailed or aggregate information to the content provider to find how content is being used could lead to out-of-the-box license agreements. If the content provider had feedback on how their products were being used, I think it would open licensing issues. I think it is one of the more exciting aspects of IPTV.

I think that content providers being able to get that kind of feedback may help resolve licensing issues that exist today.

IPTVU: Doesn’t that same sort of information about IPTV customers open new avenues for marketers and advertisers?

KA: Especially when abnormalities in the demographic. For example, I like “American Idol.” I’m not the really targeted demographic. So the IPDR protocol could help them identify a lot of “silent” watchers out there, like myself, and target advertising directly to them.

It brings up a whole other area for personalized advertising. If I was watching a Ford commercial, the dealer shouldn’t call me out of respect for my privacy. But they might say let’s give her more of the same type of commercial.

So if I am watching a commercial on a couple of free exercise videos, they may start showing me weight control and exercise advertising. Feedback to advertisers gives me access to commercials about more things that I might want to watch.

I think there is a lot of advertising benefit here, and I am not positive advertisers realize that. This could also give a whole different level to what is premium programming.

Companies offering IPTV do not have to follow the same thing mainstream providers are doing. They could write their own rules. The easy way is to do it like cable, but then they will get into price war. To have the stickiness telecoms want IPTV has to be different.

The IPTV service providers are in a good place to write different rules. With IPDR specifications, I think the vendors are in a better position to offer more flexible services to their operators.

IPTVU: How important is your organization’s efforts to produce “Next Gen” accounting management standards and protocols to the successful roll out of IPTV in the U.S. and worldwide?

KA: I think they can roll out IPTV without it, but there is no other standards organization working exclusively on usage accounting The ability to get information out of a network for all of the business applications is important. If a company rolls out a system and does flat rate billing, they may not try to capture any user information.

To live up to the potential of IPTV, our protocol is necessary. Doing the work that we are doing is really important to reaching the full potential of IPTV. Services that will require personalization, interactivity, and measured usage will require an accounting protocol and an overall network data strategy. We have an aggressive schedule to have service specifications and protocol for IPTV in place by the fourth quarter this year.

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