Posts tagged ‘television’

video bits

Behind the transition
Lies a sense of ambiguity
Why hide behind the truth
Of what you are?
Your character becomes distorted

Every once in a while I have to check myself to ensure that I am getting things right about IPTV. There is soooo much confusion in the marketplace from a variety of sources, some accidental, some intentional, some is generational and some is borne out of a lack of understanding.

What is IPTV? Easy, video (TV) over IP!

This is where, for the moment, I part company.

By the above definition, the service provided by AT&T’s U-Verse product is exactly the same as that provided by YouTube or Hulu. Somehow that just doesn’t seem quite right. Obviously not alone with this definition, ‘the industry’ coined a new term of “Over the Top”. This is video that is delivered over any generic IP connection, be it ADSL, Cable Modem, 3G, WiFi, WiMAX or other.

Therefore it would seem that a major differentiator is quality (and price!).

The lounge room of the modern home has just shelled out some serious dollars for a large TV, and wants to get a quality experience. They want quality productions, quality picture, quality sound and a quality jitter-free delivery of that experience in response to the incessants clicks of their remote. Notice here that quality of experience here is not just picture quality, but the overall experience…

“Over the top” cannot yet match that quality of experience. Partly because of the encoding techniques and partly because of the buffering/partial downloads required to smooth out the non-deterministic nature of the delivery mechanism, in this case the internet. Add to this complexity the user interface issues, and the ease of getting Web video into the lounge room, and… well you get the picture (or not – pun intended).

In order to overcome this mess, many new services are focused on VOD in order to define a niche by competing directly against DVDs and suchlike. They enable you to download content to a box (even your PC), and you play it locally – you pay for the bandwidth/storage tradeoff with time. But the value proposition is that time investment is still less than running to your local ‘Video Store’.

This brings up another point. Is video the same as TV? Likely in the future it will be. But today, TV is a streamed, real-time medium that brings appointment shows to facilitate a collective experience. As we increasingly personalize our content consumption real-time will become an increasingly moot point – except perhaps for competitive events like elections, sports and for time specific events like live concerts and news. It will be ‘my time’ TV (TM).

So IPTV is not just TV over IP. It is a managed service, that ensures comparable (or in many cases superior) quality TV experiences to that of the current home RF delivery mechanisms of Antenna, Cable and Satellite. But this is just the first step. With a common IT network infrastructure, your STB is now capable of allowing you to self-provision many more applications and services – just think of an applications store for the lounge room TV experience.

Can I do that on any other IP infrastructure? Yes, its called the web. And maybe that’s where the confusion lies, that fact that it can be done, rather than being done well.

But we all have come to expect that even this will change. So in the future IPTV will be video (TV) over IP, but just not today.

Tell me is isn’t so… I’m listening.

May 28, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

where does cable go from here?

But where do you go to my lovely
When you’re alone in your bed
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head, yes I do.

Is it just about big pipes?

The average cable connection can theoretically dump 6Gb* into the connected house. That’s a lot of bandwidth. However, as it is utilized today, even with the benefits of switched digital QAM, it’s the STB-Headend relationship that limits cable’s utility in the new world of IP. Yes, I know about DOCSIS, but it’s more than that…

In a homogenous managed IP network, the time it takes to implement a new service, and have it provisioned by the customer, is about as long as it takes for the customer to download an application. Prime example, the iTunes App Store. Believe me, that same paradigm (or a derivative thereof) is coming to the home STB (or media appliance) with IPTV. Not so easy with cable…

Here is an infrastructure that is largely heterogeneous and leverages legacy technologies that are so interconnected and tangled, that developing new applications and having them deployed costs a lot of time and money and support. Cable will be ‘out-apped’, out-serviced, out-priced, out-maneuvered and very quickly out-dated.

What cable does well is manage video content better than the IPTV providers. Nonetheless, it is going to take a very brave cable operator to take plant and equipment and re-invest heavily to move to IPTV. Right now it doesn’t make economic sense. But they’d better be planning for it… change is inevitable. Ask the free to air broadcasters about cable and satellite. Ask the print media about the web, ask the record manufacturers about CDs, and then about MP3. I could go on… Now, that doesn’t mean cable will go away, it just means that there will not be as much money flowing through that business as once was.

A bit of good news… Many IPTV providers looked to their cable brethren for talent hire and have found themselves saddled with bad cable practices on their shiny new platform. A temporary setback I’m sure.

IPTV is inevitable. Technically it makes sense, economically it also starting to make sense. As the media utility becomes the norm, the appliances will just plug in… and they’ll plug in via IP. Already the networks are eagerly HULUing an over the top IPTV play. Oh, and did I mention that the consumer is quite likely using cable bandwidth to enjoy that experience! Capping that IP bandwidth (both economically and technically) is only a temporary tactic at delaying the inevitable.

Focus on your expertise – managing a video network, leveraging content and those big fat connections. Get with the program and forget about QAM and those stream filtering, RF tuning STBs. Move to IP and save yourselves. The Telcos are coming. They have deeper pockets, a green field infrastructure, an ability to roll out services faster than lightening, and an eagerness to learn about video – just as aggressively as cable demonstrated its eagerness to learn about VOIP.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

*A common QAM level in CATV is 256 QAM, which amounts to about a 38 MBPS data rate per each channel. HFC systems are migrating toward 1,002 MHz upper frequency limit, so at 6 MHz per channel, there’s about 158 channels of capacity on these upgraded systems. Simply put, that’s 6 GBPS full spectrum that fits on a single wavelength using the radio-centric cable signaling method. While this capacity is no big secret, it is almost never presented this way in the HFC vs. FTTH forum because cable employs so many different radio formats over the typical system that it’s hard to make a direct comparison given the state of a cable system today, with its mix of analog channels, digital channels, cable modem channels, etc. (http://www.acicomms.com/hfc_vs_ftth_1.html)

May 14, 2009 at 12:00 am Leave a comment

thinking about IPTV

So many obstacles
(so many obstacles)
Gettin in the way
(gettin in the way)
What if we step past this transition
there is so much we’ll be missing in our lives
such as you and I
so should we swallow this frustration and hope that this temptation will subside
or should we just try

Recently a colleague of mine posted some comments on IPTV to an internal team. I thought that this was an interesting compilation of issues that still dog IPTV implementations. Whilst I do not fully agree with all of them, they are worth considering as you consider the development of your IPTV business model.

CAPEX
“A Video headend costs atleast 1M Euros, maybe 2M.  If you are going to serve 1000 or 10000 customers, you are never going to get your money back.  Typical critical mass for most of the business plans  I’ve seen is atleast 50000, otherwise you are talking about a shared infrastructure that does not yet exist”
– Benjamin Schwarz, Farncombe Technology

QOS/AVAILABILITY
“Managing to deliver something of quality is critical.  The companies that launched back in 2003 are still struggling to deliver service availability that is equivalent to satellite or cable TV.”

MANAGEMENT
“One of the huge issues that has come up for IPTV companies that have been around a while is managing the Set-top boxes.  Its all very well to patch, refresh one model but when you have been running a service for a while, you tend to have multiple set-top boxes from multiple vendors, multiple chip-sets and that gets very complicated…because contrary to satellite, where the usage life of a STB is about 7-12years, IPTV STBs rotate in three years…resulting in a very heterogeneous enviroment.  They still represent 60% of the CAPEX.

BUILDING A CATALOG
“One of the typical technical challenges is that media companies know about media, they have technicians that know about video, filimg , how to produce a trailer.  Telcos haven’t a clue how to set about that, so if you are going to set up a VOD service and build your own catalog, its a very upward struggle, complex issues to solve to actually ingest all that content, get the quality right, as I said  get the trailers done, you usually need to produce your own trailers done, because out-sourced trailers look different …so getting the pure technical issues of managing video, the telcos are good at managing communications and IP network, they are not yet good at managing video.”

ASIAN IPTV
“By 2013, 60% of TV households in Asia will have pay TV solution and half of those will be served by IPTV.”
– Phil Lawrie, Director Global Distribution, Al Jazeera Networks

COMPELLING CONTENT
“The fixed line business has been declining and the broadband business has been increasing,…and by having a triple play offer, we have been able have this very strong proposition that attracts customers.  The TV element is becoming a must have and addding TV to broadband keeps customers loyal”
– Paula Souloumiac, Director of International TV – Content Division, France Telecom

Regardless of the business obstacles, delivering video over IP is the future. Broadcasting may be an efficient distribution model, but it is increasingly become an inefficient business model. In the world in which we live, consumer money speaks. And, consumers are willing to pay to get what they want.

Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

May 8, 2009 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

NAB2009

I fell down in the desert baby, yeah
I had nothing but a peice of paper, oh yeah,
I had to write something down,
And I found myself alone, then I let go of everything,
Into another dimension

Another year and another NAB. Although I typically post on a Thursday, I was dragging by the end of the show. Getting home late after such a draining exercise was a great reason to postpone any writing effort.

NAB2009 South Hall lower, looking back towards upper level

NAB2009 South Hall lower, looking back towards upper level

A couple of observations.

Attendance was down. No surprise. But the interesting side-effect of this was that the quality of the meetings I had, on average was far better, with more engaged people. There were fewer tire kickers.
Time was important. Most NABs, people are late for meetings, if they show up at all. This year, for some reason, I cannot think of one scheduled meeting that was late or cancelled.
3D is here. Seems as though most other stuff was about speeds and feeds, or derivatives of existing products and processes. However, there was a real lot of innovation happening in the 3D world, focused on production, presentation technologies and general focus on getting this technology to the consumer. It’s just around the corner folks.
Business Models. Sun held our Media Advisory Board and the topic was on advanced advertising. I was amazed at the level of interest, the degree to which some organizations are investing and building their business models around it, and most importantly, the lack of common language as to what it all means. Even our friends in the advertising world are not in agreement. Sun also conducted a test of a pilot Video As a Service for IPTV delivery.

Video as a Service test pilot at NAB2009

Video as a Service test pilot at NAB2009

The economy. Every year at NAB there is a job board, but this year, it was busier than ever.

    One of the many job boards at NAB2009

    One of the many job boards at NAB2009

    Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

    Looking forward to seeing you all next year.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:44 am Leave a comment

    occidental, oriental, new and old

    While holy men in shadowed calm retreats
    Pray through the night and watch the stars,
    A lonely plane flies off to meet the dawn,
    While down below the busy life goes on,
    And women crowd the old bazaars;

    It’s just about NAB time once again, and as I pack my bags, I thought I’d reflect on last September when I was visiting with some customers in India. It just so happened that during the weekend of my stay, Broadcast India 2008 was in full swing. Naturally, this was a great opportunity to visit and see first hand how things had changed since my last visit to this fantastic country about nine years ago.

    It’s Saturday morning and I arrive at the show with my local host. The exhibition complex is like an old series of warehouses in a compound, surrounded by a high concrete fence – about 10ft tall. There is a main gate with an elaborate, very modern looking sign indicating Broadcast India 2008. We drive through the gate and wind left, dodging people, auto-rickshaws, parked cars and motorbikes.  As we make our way towards hall 6, my colleague instructs the driver to stop and ask where one registers. The car stops. Right there. Right in the middle of the road. The driver puts his captain’s hat on, and walks over to the security guard in a very officious manner, exchanges a few words, and comes back. He tells us to get out of the car. For a split second, I wonder what is going on, then I realize that just above the entrance sign it says “registration”. We get out and head towards the show.

    Such a strange place. Security guards who desperately try  to manage traffic and the chaotic parking, patrolling the entrance sporting long canes. Were they walking sticks or were they the remnants of British authority that had been handed down to these surrogates of order? Trees were painted with both brown and white – to keep the bugs from crawling up? It’s very shady and pleasant. There is a buzz in the air, very reminiscent of the earliest computer trade shows I attended in Sydney as a student. They were modest. These were more than modest.

    Registration was a pretty straightforward process. Simply take a form, check all of the attributes that apply to you (so that they can send you junk emails), and attach your business card. I get an official badge and lanyard and embark on my voyage of discovery. It’s not a big show. Walking at a leisurely pace, you could cover the booths in less than an hour. This is what I do. I make a fly by and take a few photos, while my colleague catches up with old friends.

    He asks my impression of the show.

    “Quite impressive”, I reply.

    In fact it is. Although it generally looks pretty tacky by occidental standards, there is one characteristic that does not escape my attention. Youth. There is a swarm of young people eager to see, experience, absorb and learn everything they can. Media is a seductive industry. It has opportunities that span from from producing content through to distributing it. It has that cachet of being hip and close to pop culture. It is a natural magnet for youth.

    Compared to the west, where there is a generation of  self indulgent ‘video engineers’ clinging on until retirement comes, here in emerging markets, it would seem as though the technically literate youth is making its own rules and competing with raw energy. I catch up with  few business partners, visit the booth of my former employer and catch up with a few old colleagues from past days. It truly is a small world. I seem to be going through business cards like sand through my fingers. Eventually I’d had enough and headed for the exit.

    Nonetheless, as I stood there, peering back that the sign, I saw hundreds of people shuffling to the entrance and leaving through the exit. I wondered how they all managed to look past the mess and managed to focus on the objective – to learn. This was not the NAB of India. NAB is all glitz and sizzle. Here the gear had been flown in from IBC just a few weeks earlier. It had been show tested, it was a little more robust than the usual demoware that you glimpse between the glitzy distractions in the main western shows. This was stuff that companies actually used, wanted, and wanted to learn about.

    And perhaps that was what it was all about anyway…

    Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

    April 16, 2009 at 4:49 pm Leave a comment

    the disruption of IP

    As the present now
    Will later be past
    The order is
    Rapidly fadin.

    When an industry is undergoing substantial change, market leaders hoping to thrive must adapt their business models to the new industry’s realities. As simple as that may sound, most organizations are not flexible enough to meet such challenges. This is born out historically through the rise of new players as industries change.

    In the current media landscape, the ability for a media organization to aggregate an audience is becoming an increasingly Quixotian task. As channels, mediums and entertainment opportunities proliferate, audience fragmentation disproportionately accelerates, exacerbated by the technology opportunities in the consumer’s arsenal of gadgetry. The consumer is increasingly dividing time across home media networks comprised of gaming consoles, personal computers, digital cameras, MP3 players, DVD players/recorders and media hub hardware in addition to the ‘traditional’ TV. All of these devices are becoming IP enabled and networked to the world at large. As they do, bits spill out, leaving a crumb trail behind the consumer. This trail reflects a decreasing span of attentiveness, with a correspondingly increased craving for the latest digital morsel recommended by their social network peers.

    The key here is that all of these consumer devices are now IP enabled.

    This drives networking of devices, people and content. People with devices, devices with devices, people with people and both devices and people with content.

    That is what is driving the behavioral changes and the disruptive force behind the media industry – a standard, seamless way to plug into the world. And yet, over 70% of the world is still not connected. The natural consequence of this technology and behavioral change is that ads can be placed in the delivery channel far closer to the consumer more cost-effectively than ever before… and before long we’ll be inundated with ads specifically destined for our eyeballs.

    Tell me it isn’t so…I’m listening.

    April 2, 2009 at 10:58 pm Leave a comment

    when tv grows up…

    May you build a ladder to the stars
    And climb on every rung
    May you stay forever young

    Typically, convergence is discussed in terms of technology. But let’s talk about money.

    The most amazing thing about media is it’s ‘stickiness’. Print hasn’t gone yet, nor has radio, nor TV. What has changed is the usage patterns of mediums relative to each other. And that affects how much money is invested in different mediums. And that varies with the age and attitudes of the consumer. There has been a lot of discussion that TV is dead, and that the computer has won. Frankly, this is just posturing. It is a matter of definition. Today we define TV as we have known it, tomorrow ‘TV’ will be different. In all instances it supports moving pictures with sound, and in many cases much more. So in ten years, we may habitually (or endearingly) call it TV, but it will be characterized in the following way, it will be:

    • a rich media environment that enables the consumer to be passively entertained, or interactively immersed – the consumer will choose.
    • tethered to the lounge for a family theatre experience, or portable in the pocket or car for a personal engagement – the consumer will choose.
    • the appliance that enables the payment of bills, shopping, playing games, connecting with distant family and friends, and the sharing of memories as photos, videos and voice – the consumer will choose.

    Above all, ‘TV’ will remain a prime vehicle that connects the human experience – within and beyond the local community. The main difference between today’s world of TV and that of tomorrow’s, is choice. Today, choice is measured in number of channels and our individual lack of control. It is measured in the things that I “can see” as a viewer. Tomorrow’s choice will be measured in number of services and the things that I “can do” as a consumer.

    The 80’s were a tipping point in media. Collectively, the media made more reference to us as consumers than as citizens. Seducing us with, and immersing us in wanton consumerism. And think of the money you could make by tracking these consumers across any device they were attending to at any given point in time. You see, that’s the holy grail of convergence. That’s the money in convergence.

    My hope is that with all these choices we’ll become a little more socially conscious and consume less, or at least what we need. And that’s got to be good for our children’s future. These choices will enable us to actually find something worthwhile to do with our time. No more thousands of channels with nothing to watch.

    Tell me it isn’t so… I’m listening.

    March 12, 2009 at 2:37 pm 1 comment

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