Better late than never, I should summarise the main discussion points from last week’s IPTV World Forum
in London. In general “IPTV” in the context of this event means “managed TV services over broadband”, and indeed, “managed by broadband service providers”, as opposed to “managed by over-the-top providers”. It’s easy to spot this because the interest of the major sponsors – Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco etc – has historically been to support BSPs rather than their competition.
But in spite of this natural bias, much of the debate in the conference and on the show floor revolved around how BSPs could counter the impact of emerging OTT competitors such as Hulu and the BBC’s iPlayer. While anecdotes are always a dangerous foundation for analysis, it is not unprecedented to hear of people in the US claiming to have cancelled their cable subscription (ie TV) because they can now “get all their shows” on Hulu and other internet-based services. However much they pretend to dismiss these claims as isolated or atypical, such stories strike fear into the hearts of operators, and their technology vendor partners, around the world.
The general impression from IPTV World Forum debates is that the BSP response will be to “embrace” OTT content, encouraging providers to join their managed services and packages so that customers are guaranteed quality of experience for their Youtube videos. Before accepting these overtures, OTT providers themselves should consider whether this embrace will resemble a loving couple gazing at the sunset, or a grizzly bear hugging its newly captured prey.
Broadband providers have little choice but to offer content in some form or other, and that’s really what IPTV is about. As we are seeing in France
, bundling content (TV) with broadband access can be a highly successful, if controversial, strategy. And the regulators have barely begun with this issue, let alone completed their assessment. As Christophe Forax, a Member of EU Media Commissioner Viviane Reding’s Office, informed the conference on day one, all broadband service providers would be expected to embrace “platform neutrality”. Quite what this means to the bundling of access and content, however, is a topic for further very heated and lengthy debate.
The key question, as Juniper’s EMEA Director Paul Gainham put it, is “what is the role of service providers in a few years’ time?” For now, a number of them are placing their bets on content, either as partners and distributors or as fully fledged owners and developers. The other main strategic option in a mature market is often described disparagingly as becoming “bit pipe providers”, and incumbent telcos in particular are reluctant to admit to this possibility: it would inevitably mean considerable downsizing, and that’s something that’s tough to sell to any investor.
Client Reading: Global Media & Entertainment Market Forecast, 2004-2012