IPTV interactivity to 'shake' foundations of cable, satellite

NAB2007 will offer a new conference and program devoted to the needs of those from the telecommunications industry who are grappling with the launch of IPTV services.

Former USTelecom executive John Abel, who now heads Lightbulb Communications, is helping to organize Telecom@NAB2007, which will take place April 16-18 at the show.

IPTV Update took the opportunity of the launch of this new event at the NAB convention to gain a little insight into the view of the IPTV market by the event's co-producer.

IPTV Update: What are the primary goals of the Telecom@NAB2007 conference and program schedule?

John Abel: If broadband video services delivery to consumers is the future of the telecom industry, then the industry must understand video and the special requirements of video on telecom networks. In addition, if telecom carriers are to understand consumer-driven video in ways that their competitors (cable/satellite) do, then they need to be at NAB, where their competitors have been convening for years. Digital video is what drives the world of entertainment and information. There is no better place in the world to learn about video than at the NAB Convention.

There are other quality events for telecom industry professionals, but if consumer-based video services are the future of the industry, then the NAB show is a must-attend.

Our intent with these conferences is to educate telecom carriers about video services and the special requirements of video on networks; provide a forum for the discussion of technologies that affect broadband network deployments; have telecom carriers experience the living laboratory on the exhibit floor and to become immersed in video technology; and provide a forum where telecom companies and broadcasters can network and get to know each other. There are business deals to be had here for local exchange carriers and local broadcasters.

IPTVU: Does entering the IPTV space require any fundamental change for telecom operators from the point of view of service quality? While the five nines might be what's required of a telecom voice network for acceptable quality of service, will that be enough for delivering video over an IP network? Will the new conference address these different QoS expectations?

JA: Yes, it does require a change for telecom companies. Over the past 20 years, the telecom networks have become more driven by data than even by voice, but data and voice networks are very different from high bandwidth video networks. As examples, data is a non-real time service; there can be dropped data packets, and the lost packets can be resent through the "did you get it" protocols of data networks. Actually, the same is true in voice; one can conduct a voice conversation with a few dropped packets, and most of the meaning of the conversation can still survive. But, in video services, dropped packets are fatal. Dropped packets can destroy a video picture, or other impairments can destroy the consumer's confidence in and enjoyment of the video service.

It should be noted, however, that the largest telecom companies have been transporting video for broadcast and cable network programmers for many years, so the largest carriers have considerable experience at transporting video. What they lack is the experience at delivering video services directly to end-user consumers.

Consumers have increasingly higher and higher expectations of video quality and video services; consumers want more video services at higher video-quality levels. If telecom companies are deploying broadband video or plans to do so in the future, then they must immerse themselves in video. They need to understand video encoding, rendering, nonlinear editing, video compression, video formats, etc. This is precisely why a telecom operator should attend the NAB convention, the destination for all things video.

Finally, many technology suppliers to telecom network operators are focused on producing testing and monitoring technologies to monitor the network and make certain that the video served up on the broadband network is the highest quality that it can be. We already have received several abstracts that have been submitted for the Telecom Technology Papers Conference that address monitoring and maintaining quality of service.

In today's video marketplace, the consumer has a dizzying array of video technologies that are available to from DVD players, HD sets and receivers, multiple STBs, game consoles that connect to TVs, projectors, sound systems, etc. A future business opportunity is to keep all of the consumer technology connected and integrated so that the consumer can enjoy the technology and know how to use it. So watch for telecom carriers to become the digital network administrator for the consumer's home.

IPTVU: What's your perspective on the role of IPTV operators in reshuffling the multichannel video delivery deck and how broadcasters can benefit from this restructuring of gatekeeper control of distribution (i.e., cable)?

JA: When true IPTV arrives and more interactivity is available, there will be more video searching capability. The consumer will have a more enticing and meaningful experience to interact with digital content. This new reality will shake the very foundations of the current model employed by cable and satellite operators. Cable and satellite operators will need to rebuild their networks to compete with the super-intelligence of next-generation telecom networks.

It is difficult to imagine that broadcasters do not benefit from having their content distributed over more intelligent network architectures than those networks currently provided by cable and satellite operators. More intelligence in the network is a good thing, and the next-generation networks being built by telecom companies will have more intelligence in them than today's cable and satellite distribution networks.

It is unlikely that any new video distribution network (such as a network provided by a telecom company) can be ultimately successful unless the distributor has access to local broadcast channels. Through subscription to cable and satellite, consumers are accustomed to having their local broadcast channels bundled in the mix of the channels available to them. So, from the standpoint of local broadcasters, it is clear that yet another network provider is a good thing. Having more companies bidding for access to broadcast channels is ultimately a good thing for broadcasters. Telecom network provision of video and IPTV is definitely helpful to broadcast stations as they negotiate for additional retransmission fees. More bidders for broadcaster content will increase the value of their unique content.

Further down the road when IPTV is more fully deployed and the network is even more intelligent than it is today, the possibilities for broadcasters are even better. The ability to have more interaction with advertising through IPTV controls could open new revenue streams for broadcasters.

IPTVU: Should the availability of IPTV service in a broadcast DMA influence a broadcaster's decision about what to do with multicast channels? If so, how?

JA: Yes, perhaps in a longer time frame but probably not immediately. First, IPTV and the richness of broadband video will not be widely deployed for a few years. Almost certainly it will be a few years before IPTV and broadband video are widely available throughout an entire DMA. Broadcast DTV signals and multicasting are already here, creating a lag between their availability and the broad availability of IPTV.

In the longer term, the consumer is probably going to be increasingly attracted to the bundle (the bundle of voice, video and data, and certainly the bundle of all video in one place and available on one STB). With the architecture of IPTV and broadband video, there is no theoretical limit to the number of channels. As a result, the IPTV operator is interested in acquiring as much content and services as possible into one bundle to reduce customer churn. It would seem that a broadcaster's multicast services should be more desirable to an IPTV provider than to a channel-limited cable system.

IPTVU: Do you believe IPTV operators will eventually originate programming, or will they strictly enter into retransmission agreements to source content?

JA: I think this depends upon the size and resources available to the telecom provider/IPTV operator. If one looks at the current universe of cable systems as an historical example, there are a few cable systems providing locally originated content, but very few. Those cable companies that are providing some locally originated programs tend to be the largest systems owned by the largest MSOs, which can support these efforts. It seems to me that this will be the same with telecom companies in their IPTV deployments. Some of the largest telecom companies are likely to experiment with new video and digital content applications. But even in the case of the largest telecom companies, it is probably easier for them to arrange for joint ventures with current content companies than to produce original programs.

There are opportunities here for telecom network operators and broadcasters to work together to produce local content that perhaps is only distributed on one of the multicast channels of the broadcast station or on one of the channels of the local IPTV network operator. Local telecom companies are looking for content that can attract customers and subscribers, so to the extent that the local broadcaster can assist in these new programming ventures, then there can be real synergies between the two.

For example, earlier this year, Verizon announced FiOS1 as a local content service. It is my understanding that FiOS1 will be seeking agreements with broadcasters to repurpose their content on FiOS1. Michelle Webb, executive producer/general manager of Verizon's FiOS1 local channels, will be speaking at Telecom@NAB2007's Broadband Video Conference.

For more information, visit: www.nabshow.com and www.lightbulb-communications.com.

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