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.

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