IPTV may be the future of pay-TV and the heart of the average telco's 'triple play' strategy, but telecoms/IT experts are advising telcos that if they want IPTV to be a commercial success, it has to be better than current pay-TV offerings - but not too much better.
IPTV success stories like PCCW's NOW Broadband have made their name by bringing innovative competition to markets long dominated by monopoly cable TV companies, but at the end of the day, the chief differentiators between most IPTV systems and cable are IP technology and price, says Eric Li, Asia-Pacific sales director for Microsoft TV.
'The first generation of IPTV services has been fairly standard broadcast TV offerings. A few may offer some VOD or DVR services and a small level of activity, but apart from the price, it's not fundamentally different from existing broadcast-based cable or satellite TV services,' Li says. 'The next generation must be better than cable and satellite.'
And they will be, according to Li. Next-generation IPTV promises everything from better DRM and wider choice - enabled by IPTV's ability to stream channels direct to users, rather than the cable/satellite model of broadcasting all channels to all STBs - to interworking with other devices, including mobile handsets.
Other advances in the pipeline include instant channel change (eliminating the 1-2 second lag found in current IPTV systems), multiple camera angles for sports events, retrieving program info and setting DVRs via mobile phone, and a search function.
The tricky bit is that there is such a thing as throwing too much technology at the end-user, if recent consumer surveys are anything to go by.
For example, a survey of 6,000 consumers in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy by Accenture found that 46% of them had no idea what IPTV was.
Another study from JupiterResearch found that the majority of consumers who are interested in IPTV are far more interested in cheaper prices and a'la carte subscription plans than in high-tech wizardry.
'While [IPTV] proponents get caught up in the futuristic possibilities of the technology, consumers remain much more levelheaded about what they look for in a TV service,' says Joseph Laszlo, research director at JupiterResearch. 'Competitors looking to deploy IPTV should avoid overwhelming the consumer with Jetsons-like 'TV of the future' and focus instead on delivering real value in terms of TV of the present.'
Put another way, says Ray Dogra, global IPTV lead for Accenture's Communications and High Tech practice, telcos planning to offer IPTV had better get a good idea of what consumers actually want from it.
'Consumers clearly desire choice, control and the ability to personalize their viewing experience - all of which are the key benefits of an IPTV service,' Dogra said.
For example, 30% of respondents in the Accenture study said they wanted access to more movies, while 26% wanted the ability to create their own channel to watch programs whenever they want. On the other hand, cost will be a key barrier - 54% said they aren't keen to pay extra for an entertainment service even if it allows them to search for content such as TV, radio shows and music.
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