IPTV: killer apps and dead horses

Proceed with caution...

Industry comment Time and time again, industry talk comes back to what the one "killer app" will be for IPTV as a platform. Most assume it will be video-on-demand (VoD), as the historical business case has always rested on the fact that consumers love being able to have video whenever they want it, and it allows full VCR-like functionality over the network, which includes fast-forward (or ‘seek’). Fast-forward allows a viewer to skip ads, scan past what they’ve seen before and flick through material in a very efficient way. While this does put additional strain on video servers, technology is now emerging to counterbalance this.

DVD features for all VoD movies

The easiest way to promote adoption of a new technology is to demonstrate that it has increased value over what it is replacing. Evidence from many telcos across the world (including our own KIT and Homechoice) is that people watch VoD movies as a last resort because they associate it with having to pay. Another reason is that VoD is perceived to be a step down from DVD. DVD gives you menus, chapters, subtitles, languages, special features and more, whereas a VoD movie is just screening the main title. Operators should offer video-on-demand with full DVD functionality as "DVD without the disc", and true internet connectivity that is lacking on a normal DVD player.

Viral web content on your TV

IP set-top boxes are connected to the internet and effectively work as a normal browser. Most popular products tend to be installed with a mark-up language-based browser like Ant Galio, Espial Evo/Escape or Opera for reading menus, and screens built in X/HTML, Javascript and CSS. Optionally, they can also have Macromedia Flash 6 built in, even though it tends to consume resources heavily. But the best part is that they also have dedicated semiconductor hardware that eats video for breakfast, unlike a PC which does everything in software and chokes. This browser-based environment means content developers can produce flash and shockwave animations and web movies to be included for watching on your TV. Funny viral movies are no longer stupidly large email attachments - they can be on your TV for all of the family.

Your very own TV channel

The ubiquity of broadband connections means that anyone should be able to broadcast out a live video stream from their own house or office as IP multicast to their ISP, who can make it globally accessible to anyone all over the world. This could be the output of a video camera (yes, porn lovers, the world just got kinkier) or a looping playlist of home video footage (the free VLC player is a great way to do this at very low cost). Local football clubs should be able to produce their own sports channel, councils their own "name and shame" ASBO update, charities their own local campaigns, and local businesses advertising for their services, solely through a broadband DSL line.

View any CCTV camera in the UK

Homechoice does tend to get a kicking, but it has been first to market with this fabulous idea. In the times of our surveillance society, why shouldn't we all be able to watch the CCTV that records us every day? Estimates for the number of cameras in the whole of the UK (including private premises) have been put as high as 4m, with up to 500,000 just in the capital and 9,000 on the underground alone. These cameras already produce half-resolution MPEG-4 footage as it is, and should be easily configurable to multicast onto public network backbones. Combine that with Google Maps, localised services, and the crime-fighting abilities of anyone across the country being able to record footage at any time, and fans of reality TV would be delighted - something more boring than The Salon.

Highly-localised services

DSL is uniquely useful as it must be installed on a telephone line, which is mapped geographically to an exchange area, green street cabinet sub-loop and end-user premises, with its postcode and customer information. That means every transaction made between the operator's head-end and the viewer's set-top box can be intelligent, as opposed to the random scattering of typical broadcast TV. Set-top boxes should ideally ship with not just serial numbers and viewing cards, but the postcodes of the customers who have ordered them, so this information can help content developers produce highly targeted and localised services that are massively more compelling than their precedents, such as 'Find My Nearest...' and the likes of GPS and mobile integration (imagine getting directions to a dinner party on your phone from someone's set-top box - they both speak IP). As the RIAA has shown with its litigation spree, IP addresses can be geographically resolved by ISPs to individual premises and their accounts, which is now being used by content owners like the BBC to restrict viewing of material to certain countries.

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