As we reported
today, the global IPTV subscriber base reached more than 30 million households last year. It's difficult to imagine that major vendors such as Alcatel were predicting 100 million by this stage a few years ago. That sort of over-optimism is hardly new, but in this case reflected a failure to appreciate the strategic challenges facing telcos as they entered the TV market. My colleague Ben Piper suggests that the IPTV market globally may be hitting a speedbump: perhaps it just never built up much speed in the first place.
IPTV was supposed to be different. The built-in ability to integrate communications services with content delivery, together with one-to-one targeted delivery, would enable powerful and compelling new features and experiences which would help telcos leapfrog their established competitors in the cable and satellite industry. But instead of changing the game most telcos which offer IPTV today still play to the rules originally fixed by the incumbents. Most could not avoid getting dragged into content rights battles and disputes, and few if any have deployed the sort of exciting advanced capabilities which have been on show at countless exhibitions over the past decade or so.
Which brings us to this year's IPTV World Forum, opening tomorrow at London's Olympia. Ericsson gave us a preview of its announcements this evening, which are encompassed by the new tag-line “End-to-Endless Television”, or “E2E TV” for short. Sure enough they include subjects such as on-demand advertising, new connected IP devices and hybrid solutions. Without doubt what I am most looking forward to seeing is Ericsson's IPTV Remote. Someone will explain to me one day why a home device with no obvious cellar network implications was launched at Mobile World Congress; in any case now that the mobile phone industry has seen it we await reaction from its core target customer base. Ericsson describes the IPTV Remote as the best thing they have done in a long while.
The challenge for Ericsson, like its competitors, is that it does not sell these products to consumers, who are the end users, but to service providers and operators, who decide what they think their customers will want and will make them money, before making them available to the likes of you and me. Ericsson carries out a lot of its own consumer research to identify future customer needs, but it still has to persuade its operator customers of the validity of these predictions. Many of these scenarios sound good in a Powerpoint; Ericsson’s own presentation sees the future of TV as “blended services”, “converged interactive communication”, and “your media anywhere, anytime”.
I hate to sound like a weary old cynic, but we have heard these promises more than a few times over the years. But I do look forward to seeing the IPTV Remote in action, and maybe, just maybe, this 10” touchscreen “tablet” (definitely not an iAnything) will persuade operators that their customers might value their service over their competitors for the privilege of using a particular device, rather than receiving targeted ads or first run movies. Our own research
showed TV viewers are waiting for touch screen controllers, so Ericsson may be on to a good thing.
Client Reading: Orange's IPTV Challenge: Create a Non-Content Differentiator