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Ah, Amsterdam...Fuzzy Memories on 2008 IBC

Ah, Amsterdam...Fuzzy Memories on 2008 IBC
Colin Dixon, Practice Manager, Broadband Media
Andy Tarczon, General Manager

September 23, 2008

Once again, Amsterdam was the focus of the European media technology world last weekend with vendors, operators, and content providers crowding the 12 halls of exhibitors at IBC 2008. There were many new announcements from the hundreds of companies represented at the show, many with which TDG was able to spend time discussing new strategies and unique solutions.

From these discussions, we deduced three key trends—themes, if you will—from our three days at IBC.

Trend Number One: The PC as a Multi-Room Delivery Option

Does multi-room TV delivery have to mean delivery to the television? Depends on whom you ask. Companies such as Inuk, Latens, and Widevine believe the PC is but a secondary TV in the emerging digital home, though few were able to articulate its true value. In the case of Inuk and Latens, the PC should provide the same interface as the TV. Widevine offers a slightly different approach, directly integrating into the browser using standard media applications such as Flash, QuickTime, and Real.

But these strategies beg a very important question: is there a compelling reason for PayTV operators to serve TV content to home PCs? Absolutely.

First, it is the dream of PayTV operators to push TV services to as many screens as possible without shouldering the additional costs of a truck roll and (yet another) set-top box. Using a PC as a PayTV conduit means the subscriber does a simple self-install of the software and leverages existing hardware.

* Second, laptops offer PayTV operators a unique way to recast their PayTV services as portable, mobile; as available anywhere throughout the home or, on a larger scale, within the service provider’s network. Given that home LANs will reach 80% residential penetration by 2030, and high-speed broadband wireless service will be pervasive by this same time, we view this as a logical progression—nay, a strategic necessity—of modern PayTV.

A warning, however, to those seeking to deliver such PayTV-to-PC services: the PC should be viewed as a new viewing location, not as a new fee-generating platform. In this instance, the PC is but another TV-type screen, an extension of the existing service versus a new service for which additional fees can be charged. Early market tests for fee-based PayTV-on-PC services have seen only limited success, with offerings from Time Warner and AT&T failing to gain traction.

Trend Number Two: Ad Splicing, Ad Insertion, Ad Nauseum.

Talk to any platform vendor at the show and the conversation inevitably seemed to end with “…and we can also do advertising.” True, the ability to insert advertising down to the individual box means greater relevance to the consumer and the opportunity for more revenue per eyeball. However, enabling advertising does not yet equate to selling advertising. In this matter, carriers and vendors have a long way to go.

To be serious about creating customer-centric advertising models, vendors must work with operators and advertisers not only on the insertion tools, but on creating the ability to segment the market, provide recommendations, and enable detailed profiling without invading ones privacy. Forget “one-to-one” advertising, at least initially. At this early stage, we first need to get to one-to-several, one-to-segment, and one-to-select. All of these models exist within the web world, so one can expect these will soon reach the TV. That being said, the immaturity of such solutions was obvious at this year’s IBC.

Trend Number Three: Transcoding Comes of Age

With operators now fully engaged in delivering video across their triple-play infrastructure, they are beginning to suffer the pain of managing multiple versions of the same video asset. Clear evidence of this pain was reflected in the products of their vendors: you couldn't sling a cat without hitting a content management solution. But as TDG noted in last year’s The Little Book of Broadband Video, transcoding is the key to enabling a true quantum media experience—that is, anywhere, anytime, any device access and delivery. This allows a content provider to deliver the video in one format and the operator to simply transcode it for delivery to a particular device. And transcoding companies were out in force at IBC. Motorola, Harmonic, Digital Rapids, Media Excel, and many others all had products on show to handle the most onerous of transcoding tasks.

Perhaps the most unusual and, in its own small way, impressive of the transcoding solutions came from a new Scottish Company called NXVision. Lurking in the ST Microelectronics suite above the show floor, they showed us how a standard STB can be used to transcode live television in real-time. With a live TV feed playing on a television connected to the STB, we were able to watch the same TV feed, delayed by a few seconds, on a mobile handset while wandering around the suite. The NXvision software was using a 3.5 Mbps MPEG2 TV signal and transcoding it to 300kbps MPEG4 using the audio/video coprocessor of a standard STi7109. They also assured us it would work with other standard chipsets from the likes of NXP and Sigma. Sounds like a really cheap way for an operator to deliver place shifting services such as provided by Sling but without the custom hardware!


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