IPTV: killer apps and dead horses

Proceed with caution...

Video conferencing through the TV

This is a favourite of conference exhibitors in the IPTV world everywhere, as it looks great to investors and directors board. But that's all it really is - a dreadful gimmick that only seems to have taken off in Asia. Most people are quite satisfied with a normal telephone for making telephone calls and just don't want or need to make video calls through their TV. First you need a tiny webcam-style camera in your lounge (a bit creepy) and are sitting least 8ft away from the screen so barely anyone can hear you. There is one very simple reasoning video calling hasn't taken off in the UK, and it's nothing to do with technology. It's because it's nice to be anonymous and invisible on the phone - no-one wants the other person to see them while they are talking. Conceptually speaking, the service fits well into an IPTV architecture, but in reality it just doesn't seem to work.

Websites on TV

There is no excuse whatsoever for this. Back in the dotcom days you could be forgiven for experimentation with it in the same way your parents could be forgiven for the weird things they did in the 1960s. Some hotels still offer this monstrosity for reasons unbeknown to the rest of us. Little more comment is needed as there is very little say its defence. Suffice to say that if you offer still think it's cool and want to offer this, you are truly beyond help.

Instant messaging

BT are the latest IPTV operator to want to include messaging technology in their set-top box feature portfolio. All the noise Skype and Google Talk have made around converged telephony and/or multiple-service communication products has convinced those in the higher echelons that it needs to be put in there as a killer application. Not so. Yet another example of a technology company (Microsoft) walking into an area they have limited or no experience in and don't understand (television), and then scratching their heads in wonder when no-one uses what they have built. Commercially, IM is incredibly popular (mostly with the under-30s) and technically speaking its relatively easy to integrate with other IP systems, for instance the open source IM server, Jabber, uses the XML-based standard XMPP for communication which can talk to Asterisk or any other type of messaging technology. But it all comes down to the problem of text-entry - it's not a computer. How exactly do you have an IM conversation when someone else wants to watch Eastenders?

T-Commerce

A definite sore spot for Sky, who made whole departments redundant at Osterley when their investment in it collapsed. We may laugh, but their nearest rivals didn't even get to the starting block. Entire business plans were drawn up on the belief the mass market would swamp electronic TV "stores" through browsing catalogues on their TV screen and paying with credit cards in the same way as they do on the internet. It didn't work then, and it won't work now - IPTV as a technology is not suddenly going to transform the UK market into an audience of mail order fiends. Shopping only seems to work on TV when it is intimately merged into the programming itself (e.g. auction channels such as BidUp TV and traditional teleshopping such as QVC). The other form of commerce that works well is premium-rate telephony (PRT) micro-payment, either through dialling a premium 090x number or sending text messages that cost several pounds a time.

URLs

These are how we access resources on the internet, be they for HTML, RSS or WML in the case of mobile phones or Sky Active. Text entry limits as discussed earlier give us a maximum of 10 characters that will be typed in using a remote control. The average URL in the form protocol/sub/domain/directory/page format just will not work as its clunky and tedious when put in the TV environment. If your IPTV service revolves around an embedded web browser (as most do) and you follow cable’s lead in getting your users to type in addresses, you are staring into the abyss.

Banner advertising

Although advertising is the lifeblood of conventional broadcasting and is a central tenet of IPTV systems, banner advertising is a horror that must never see the light of day on a TV screen. Before anything else, its just awful interface design. There simply isn't space to put advertising on a normal PAL-sized screen when services need to be centred around broadcast video and placed amongst a large deal of screen space-padding to be accessible. Blinking, colour-soaked i-frame nested animated gifs are totally inappropriate for anywhere on an IPTV EPG, as are any other evil forms of product marketing, like pop-up/under screens, text links deliberately made to look like editorial (e.g. Google AdWords style). Advertising needs to be placed away from menus and screens so it does not devalue and/or detract viewers from their TV experience into more relevant and compelling places, such as TV programming, viral video material, EPG "skins" or accessories.

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