Friday, September 07, 2007

The Future of (IP)TV

The start of internet-based TV (IPTV) is often claimed to be as much of a step forward as the introduction of color television. The most significant change, from a consumer's point of view, is the potential use of a backchannel, turning a former broadcasting device into an interactive media center.

Two alternative approaches are known: on one hand, the set-top-box based delivery, on the other, P2P based interactive television. The former seems a suitable way to sell high speed broadband connections for telecommunication providers, the latter is yet another attempt at bringing P2P platforms to a wider clientele, with competitors such as Joost, Babelgum or Zattoo. (A posting comparing these three P2P platforms can be found at ReadWriteWeb).

Perhaps it is to early to say who will be winning the competition in the long run, but the following factors seem to be essential for IPTV, whether P2P or not:

  • Attractive and high-quality content: In order to substitute and / or expand regular TV, partnerships with both traditional broadcasting houses and niche providers of video content is a prerequisite to offer a decent selection of (streamed) media. This is also a great opportunity for professional content producers. However, it is important that the main focus should not be user-generated content (such as YouTube), although this may be offered as an addition.
  • Audio and video (technical) quality: This should be considerably superior to PAL or NTSC standards, otherwise there is no point for end users to give up conventional TV
  • Extensible widgets on the software that delivers content and functions to the customer: Like Facebook that opened its interfaces for third-party application providers, additional functions that enable interactivity may help turning TV into a collaborative experience. More precisely, this is essential for any kind of personalized content delivery that suggests specific programs based on past viewing or permits user-triggered suggestions (e. g. forwarding of a program to specific user groups as a suggestion). It also permits IPTV providers to focus on developing their core platform while remaining open for future development.
  • Integration of external information sources (such as news portals, weblogs, discussion boards) via RSS fields, with the option of filtering the currently delivered feed against the characteristics of the currently delivered media stream - call it personalized aggregation of multimedia channels
  • Intelligent filtering and forecast: The more diverse the delivered content (e. g. number of broadcasting channels), the more efficient the filtering and search mechanism need to be. While personal recommendations require some kind of user profiling, quick access to all available content needs to be ensured via an efficient combination of search and navigation techniques.

IPTV has the potential not only to substitute broadcasted TV, but may also offer media distribution to a broader public (such as video on demand) and turn uni-directional viewing into a communicative experience. However, there is still quite a way to go in order to be a true competitor for the mass markets.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Local portals: bridging the gap between reality and virtuality

How do you find special offers in your town? You either know what store you want to go to (either in reality or via their web page), or you could just go and see (trial and error), but where can you possibly find specific products or services? For the former, you have eBay, where you can look for any goods which are either offered via auctions or static (instant) purchases, assuming that the provider of the product offers some means of sending his products to the requesting customer. For the latter (services), you have auctioning platforms such as my hammer, bringing demand and users together. But what about the real word, e. g. you have a need for a product that you would like to buy locally, wanting to find the best value for your money (which does not necessarily mean the lowest price)? Local platforms such as Qype may help in finding opinions regarding local places, but although it is possible for stores and service providers to enter their own information, they seem to be reluctant to do so. Perhaps this is so because of lack of time, or fear of being bashed, but I am not sure. My feeling is that these platforms can help in raising awareness for local product or service providers, but their task does not seem to be to answer specific demands.

Entrepreneurs of small businesses often do not have the time nor the money to invest in their own web presence. For them, some framework where they can easily place their products, specific offers and background information can be helpful. On the other hand, before investing their time (and possibly, money), they need to be sure that such a platform will not only help them in improving their business (i. e. more customers), but that they can also trust in the platforms' persistence and reliability.

One example in Germany, targeted at just that is CityPedia (not to be confused with the British platform bearing the same name). Of course time will tell whether it will succeed in attracting businesses and private users alike, but I am quite confident that its founders will succeed provided they manage to emphasize the benefits and potentials of their platform for both businesses and end users.