Time to take IPTV to the next level

17 May 2012

If there’s one key takeaway for delegates following the IPTV section of the Broadband IP&TV conference in Kuala Lumpur, which wrapped up Wednesday, it’s that IPTV operators are being forced to evolve like everyone else.

IPTV continues to be a growth market globally – Point Topic reported earlier this month that IPTV subscriptions approached 60 million at the end of 2011, with revenues up over 30%.

But with market saturation starting to curb growth in early-adopter markets as smartphones, social media and OTT content increasingly dominate the discussion, a recurring message at Broadband IP&TV is that IPTV operators must evolve from value added video channel providers to the next level of connected homes, HTML5-powered set-top boxes and multiscreen strategies.

NTT has already embarked on a multi-screen strategy with its Hikari-TV service. Hidefumi Ito, senior manager of the R&D planning department of NTT Group, said that the operator working to take IPTV to the next level with new technologies that enable personalized recommendations and virtual promotion channels. NTT is also pursuing a B2B strategy with FLET’S Joint, a white-label platform that service providers can use to provide their own IPTV services.

Ito said NTT is also working towards a digital-home scenario where the home gateway can enable services like appliance remote control, security, healthcare, energy management and a “virtual living room” in which a large wall display becomes a window to your relative’s living room, and can also be used to share photos, play games, etc.

A major challenge to that kind of Connected Home scenario is that it requires a flexible software-based platform that can adapt quickly to new services, handle multiple devices seamlessly and be able to shift content between them (which also means support for cross-platform DRM in the case of entertainment content). Pierre Lin, who represents Telstra on the management committee of the Home Gateway Initiative, outlined the challenges by highlighting the group’s work on a new smart home architecture that’s capable of supporting app downloads, dynamically mix cloud and native apps – which means a gateway that can support local APIs, cloud APIs, device abstraction and a software execution environment (such as OSGi, for example) to handle on-demand capabilities.

PCCW CTO Paul Berriman said for Hong Kong, it’s no longer about growing the IPTV subscriber base but building new services to keep the subscribers you have. For NOW TV, that includes apps, interactive game shows and content geared towards the multiscreen experience such as the NOW 360 service.

Sheau Ng, head of technology at NBC Universal, talked up the need to combine multiple sources of content in a smart and synchronized way to enhance the viewing experience without disrupting it. Ng said automatic content recognition – which would coordinate between different devices (say, your TV and your tablet or smartphone) and pull relevant content (ads, supplemental info, Twitter streams, etc) that supplements the linear TV show you happen to be watching – will be “the glue” for the new TV experience, but said it will require close partnerships across the telco, IT, content and other industries to pull off.

Joshua Eum, regional director of technical operations for Home GTM Asia Pacific at Motorola Mobility, talked of the company’s work on incorporating HTML5 into the STB (via its acquisition of Dream Gallery), which he says is the ticket to developing a browser-based UI that’s more engaging, makes content discoverability much easier, and can be used consistently across multiple devices (at least once HTML5 browsers for smartphones reaches critical mass). It also allows IPTV players to update their STBs with new service features without having to deal with a native middleware vendor.

Eum also notes that operators need this kind of functionality because right now, IPTV is not a big moneymaker for many telcos. “That’s why a lot of operators are gun-shy about more investment in it. It does depend on the market – in places in Japan, Korea and Australia, the ARPUs are large enough to justify more investment,” he told your reporter.

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