At CES 2013, Verizon Communications showed off a variety of updates for its FiOS TV service, as well as a demonstration of the forthcoming Redbox Instant service from the Verizon-Coinstar joint venture. Read this article on Telecompetitor…
No, I don’t mean Ray Kurzweil’s singularity, a point at which the intelligence of machines exceeds that of humans by evolving on their own. I mean the ability to deliver any video content anywhere, enabled by cloud delivery and any-screen encoding.
A friend of mine forwarded a notice to me, for a Webinar entitled “Turning your software applications into a Cloud Suite,” hosted by Microsoft. Far from being a stranger to the cloud, Microsoft is a major driver of cloud technologies, having virtualized Microsoft Office with its Office365 service in 2010; and by pursuing a number of product and service initiatives in that area.
But it prompted me to reflect: this friend of mine comes from an enterprise-IT perspective. I find that IT people who work in the enterprise space are still generally unaware that the cloud is a reality in the carrier and entertainment space (unless they work in those industries), even though they go home and increasingly use these services every day.
Many (if not most) Tier-1 cable operators and larger Telcos (US, Canada, W.Europe) have now deployed some form of cloud/hosted services. Verizon FiOS TV Flex View, AT&T U-verse Mobile, Comcast XFinity, Time Warner Cable, DISH Online – all have built multi-tiered distributed cloud architectures to host TV, movie and user-generated content over the past two years. Also, ecosystem providers like Apple, Sony (Playstation store – and remember that Sony owns Columbia Pictures)… Not to mention content companies and online aggregators – ESPN, HBO/Cinemax, Showtime, Hulu, Netflix…
Most of these are online-on-demand, but only the rights issues (not the technologies) prohibit them from streaming live/OTT to non STB devices outside the home (many already stream live TV to apps, connected TVs and other IP-connected non-set-top devices inside the home – again, rights-limited). Common streaming, DRM and rendering environments for all types of devices (see MPEG-DASH, DECE/UltraViolet, and HTML5, respectively) – are in the latter stages of standardization, and harmonization across a variety of technical standards bodies is underway.
Also, there already are standardized or proposed reference (network and architectural) models for Transcoding / transcrypting / transrating / trans-sizing etc for multiscreen – at the headend, in the cloud, and at the home (for the latter, see the video gateway category – the next step in the evolution beyond whole-home DVR set-top boxes).
Yes, this ‘singularity’ is coming to the screen nearest you, and it’s on many of them already!
Note: I hope to see some of you at IP&TV World Forum. On March 22, I am chairing the Cloud TV track of that conference. I am also a judge for the IP&TV Awards and will be leading an analyst round table while there.
The annual TelcoTV conference is one of the premier events in the IPTV industry. As a conference with a telecom heritage (not streaming media or broadcast), TelcoTV’s focus has been IPTV (pay TV over managed IP access networks) and not IP Video (video on a best-effort basis). Many of the attendees are Telcos that looked at video as an engineering problem first, and by the way, also an answer to the competitive threat posed by cable – rather than the other way around.
In November, I had the privilege of moderating “Capitalizing on the OTT Opportunity,” the closing panel discussion of Day 1. On my panel were executives of two Tier-1 pay TV providers: Verizon’s FiOS TV and DISH Network. There were also the head marketing person from Netgem, a French provider of hybrid IP-broadcast set-tops and middleware, and an executive of Dailymotion, a content provider.
The basic premise of the panel session was to discuss the impact of Internet-delivered video on pay TV. In a few words, the impact will be very positive in the long run and there are lots of reasons why. But at the moment, everyone in the industry is blundering about and fearing for their own safety and survival, like spelunkers in a dark cave.
Verizon was the first large US-based service provider to deploy and scale an IPTV service (technically, a hybrid solution using IP for on-demand and cable TV technology for live TV). DISH Network is the first pay TV operator to deploy Google TV. Netgem has no U.S. presence yet, but has deployments in Europe – including one of the largest TV service providers in France, SFR (which operates Neuf Cegetel) which has more than 3 million IPTV subscribers – as well as Telstra, the incumbent Telco in Australia. Dailymotion’s video content is found on FiOS TV, Google TV, and many other platforms. So the panelists could all speak from personal and company experience.
I wrote an early analysis on Google TV, released in August (for which I’m about to release an update). So I was very curious about the actual product, and had it installed the week before TelcoTV so I could speak about it intelligently as the moderator.
So what was my verdict? For the most part, I have been very impressed (with the integration and the user experience), but also disappointed (for lack of content). However, I have every confidence that the early disappointments will be addressed and that, as a platform, Google TV will ultimately be seen as the game-changer it is. I have three reasons for this assessment.
1) The content owners’ blockade against Google TV is likely to be temporary
Because they don’t want to disrupt their long-established business models, the major American TV networks have blocked their content from being accessible by Google TV over the Internet. Network TV is largely ad driven, and has been since its very early days. So is Google: 98% of GOOG’s revenue is from advertising. So it’s a tug-of-war over ad dollars. The major networks and Hulu are blocking Google TV because no ad revenue sharing deals have been cut. Once they resolve their business issues, the content will flow. It’s as simple as that.
The TV content that Comcast distributes online via its Xfinity TV online service won’t work on Google TV because it uses Move Networks codecs (and in 2011, Microsoft Silverlight), which current Google TV-enabled devices can’t decode.
Also, Comcast seems to see Google TV as competition – in some ways correctly and in some ways erroneously. Comcast is reported to be readying its own Internet TV device, code named XCalibur. So, in that sense, yes, the two devices would be competing over online video ad dollars. But Comcast seems to be ignoring the potential of Google TV as a distribution medium that they can leverage, which is the potential that DISH saw. As a sidebar, if, by limiting the types of Internet-delivered content viewable by XCalibur, Comcast is acting as a gatekeeper, it is violating the “open networks” and “open services” tenets of Net Neutrality – another reason why the FCC should regain its backbone, but that’s another story.
2) Industry opinion leaders were nonplussed with Google TV, but impressions will change once it’s understood for what it is
Many in the industry punditocracy have said that Google TV’s success hinges on the availability of programming. True, but that’s only part of the story and is (in my opinion) temporary. They neglect the technology and service integration side of the discussion.
The only Google TV launch partner to date that has implemented the full vision of Google TV is DISH Network (with Logitech and with Sony, although I only have tried DISH with the Logitech Revue). This means that DISH’s TV DVR and EPG metadata are handed off to the Google TV search function, so you see a search result that includes them. That’s real TV through DISH Network, not just Web videos from YouTube (which also appear in the search result).
The other part of the integration is control of the set-top box. This means that DISH had to write software that ties their set-top box, the Revue, and Google TV via their respective APIs. If a program turns up in the search result and you want to DVR it, you press the DVR button on the Logitech Revue keyboard (or the regular DISH remote) and that’s it.
3) Google TV is not being merchandised or positioned correctly at retail.
If you go into a Sony Style store or a Best Buy (both were Google TV launch partners), you’ll find Google TV set up for demonstration. But in my experiences, both were set up with DirecTV, which hasn’t done the Google TV integration. Also, most sales people in consumer electronics shops are not subject matter experts, or trained on Google TV.
When the Sony person told me that he happened to be the designated “go-to” person for Google TV, I thought “Great, you don’t see that too often anymore! I got the right guy.” So I confidently picked up the remote and searched for a popular movie that I know is on pay TV right now. When I asked whether a Google TV search result would include TV programs and movies, he said “yes.” What a let-down when the only search results were the movie’s Web site, a Wikipedia entry, and some trailer videos on YouTube. No “real” TV. I guess he thought that, because the content was tied with something that’s on TV now, that it qualified as “TV.” I knew better, and more importantly, consumers do too.
The other disappointment was that the Sony products use this little game-controller-like remote control, and you have to press a trigger to use the keyboard. Reminiscent of the IBM PC Junior of the early 1980s. Because the Google TV integration has not been done with DirecTV, the retail experience quickly got into a mode where I was using the little mouse controller on the Sony remote. To be charitable, I’ll just say that this violates the most basic principles of TV user interface design 101, and did not pass the 57-year-old curmudgeon test.
But Google TV, as a technology and as a tool-set – and as a concept that addresses new expectations about what TV should be – is a really good effort. What it needs is consumer awareness that rises above noise-level. If Google has the wherewithal to give away 10,000 Logitech Revues to developers, and now, 100 free 46″ HDTVs to consumers, why not deploy their minions to Best Buy and Sony Style stores to make sure it’s set up with DISH and to demonstrate it correctly?
I reiterate that DISH did a good job with it. Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges – as the old adage says, “beware of version dot-oh software.” We’ll see if the updates shipped by Google and Logitech in mid-December made a difference. I am told that DISH is working on some tweaks also. Hopefully, at some point, the technology will be refined sufficiently so it doesn’t require a companion device like the Revue.
Give it time. Anyone in TelcoTV circles will tell you that it also took years for the content owners to trust IPTV.
Battle lines in the Net Neutrality debate have long been established – if you have a vested interest in being paid for Internet access (e.g. if you are a communications service provider) or if you sell content (e.g. if you sell pay TV and/or own the conduit over which it travels), you probably are of the position that Net Neutrality will destroy the economy and the civilized world as we know it, and give you no choice but to lay off half your staff if it passes (heaven forbid). If you are a consumer, or someone that gets paid for facilitating access to content (like Google), you are likely to be in favor of it.
Which is why it was initially such a surprise to see Google on the “anti” side in its joint statement with Verizon that proposed (among other things) that the wireless Internet be “closed.” After all, hasn’t Google championed N.N. forever? Then I remembered that Google 1) derives 97% of its revenue from advertising and is becoming more concerned with protecting the interests of its advertisers, 2) offers paid content over YouTube, and 3) is close to launching a music service. Not surprisingly, Google is defending its stance.
But another unexpected party took a stance in Net Neutrality debate, unequivocally siding with it: the media industry executive Barry Diller. His holdings present his argument – he wants consumers to have unfettered access to them. The New York Times last week had one of the most objective articles I’ve seen on Net Neutrality (and Barry Diller’s position) in a long time. It seems counterintuitive that Mr Diller would be pro N.N. and anti-consolidation of the media, but kudos to him for taking these positions.
I was initially willing to give FCC chief Julius Genachowski the benefit of the doubt for his “Third Way” attempt to strike a balance between both sides of the Net Neutrality debate, but on further reflection, I have to agree with Mr Diller – it’s a sham. The New York Times article had the best one sentence definition I’ve seen in awhile: “in the broadest sense (the principle of N.N.) holds that Internet users should have equal access to all types of information online, and that companies offering Internet service should not be able to give priority to some sources or types of content.”
PS – This is my second recent blog post with a Lord of the Rings reference – although it’s just because I liked it as a title, not because it has anything to do with the actual story. Sorry ’bout that but I’m enjoying the books again.
The way I understand Net (Internet) Neutrality, it’s pretty simple. Internet content should be able to go anywhere, and no commercial interest or government agency should be allowed to interfere with the free flow of information. Why is Net Neutrality so difficult?
The FCC has been ruminating over Net Neutrality for years now. In recent weeks, they’ve hosted closed-door meetings with major commercial broadband service providers. This week Google and Verizon came down from the mountain with a seven point proposal for Net Neutrality, called A Joint Policy Proposal for an Open Internet. Meanwhile, the FCC’s own talks were dissolved. Again, why is Net Neutrality so difficult?
Historically, Google has always championed Net Neutrality. Their four principles – Open Networks, Open Applications, Open Services and Open Devices – remain important guiding principles of the Internet. This week’s seven point proposal encapsulates these four, add two new ones proposed in the National Broadband Plan and by the FCC, plus one more. Let’s review them at them one at a time
First, make open principles enforcable (good!). Second, add an antidiscrimination principle (good!). Third, force service providers to explain their services clearly (good!) Fourth, give the FCC a clear mandate to regulate the Internet (which is currently in question, due to the the court ruling allowing Comcast to regulate what is on its private network, contradicting the FCC position that all Internet traffic be treated equally – so, good!). Fifth, allow for differentiated services (which promotes value added services – good, and it’s OK if some of them are paid or intended just for vertical markets). The seventh one favors extending the Universal Service Fund to the Internet (good).
The sixth proposal is troublesome, right from the get-go: “…we recognize that wireless broadband is different…” Think about it. Connectivity, to most people, is like water; people don’t think so much about how they are connected anymore. The only reason that wireless and wireline are being positioned differently is commercial, for bandwidth reasons – which LTE and WiMAX are poised to solve.
I will make no secret that I am a Net Neutrality advocate, but I’m not black-and-white about it. For example, service providers should be able to charge for premium content and that the activists are blind to this on purpose. But not be allowed, like Comcast, to bar traffic that they don’t like. Or like wireless providers, be given a “pass” essentially not to enforce Net Neutrality at all. Bandwidth is a temporary limitation in the long term, and Net Neutrality shouldn’t be confused with protection of intellectual property (pirated video distributed over P2P), which is a separate issue.
It all comes down to balancing corporate interests with the public interest, and those interests are not always aligned (shall we say politely). With Google’s Android and Chrome software being embedded in so many communications-savvy smart devices, and with Google TV on the horizon, Google is increasingly siding with its profit motive and doesn’t want to upset the media industry ecosystem. Especially when 97% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising.
Especially when Verizon’s latest Android-based smartphones are so successful, and especially since Motorola is reportedly building an iPad-like Android-based tablet for Verizon FiOS TV. No wonder Google appears to be compromising, and now I start to see why Net Neutrality is so difficult. Google has transformed from being a pure Internet company, into a platform for paid content.
Give the Google-Verizon proposal a few points for effort, but make Google stay after school to write on the board a thousand times: “I shall be true to my principles” and “I shall do no evil.” Hopefully, the FCC regains adequate spine to ignore clause number six.
Link to my article on Connected Planet Online (formerly Telephony Online), published on June 29, 2010. Enjoy!