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Telcos Declare TV Love

Craig Matsumoto
11/12/2008
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- TelcoTV -- Verizon can definitely say it's beaten out cable in one area. Too bad it's one consumers couldn't care less about.

Verizon, a telco, is claiming to be the first company to commercially deploy cable's Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF). It's an amusing little triumph that John Harrobin, the carrier's senior vice president of marketing and digital media, brought up during his TelcoTV keynote this morning.

Mostly, Harrobin used his keynote to declare that telcos are in the best position to steer the "revitalization" of TV, which is losing audience attention to the Internet.

His argument was a familiar one: Telcos already have the networks (both wired and wireless) and the customer relationships to put together a widespread media service across the almighty "three screens" (PC, TV, and cellphone).

"The magic happens when we connect those platforms so that customers can discover, buy, and consume content on any of those platforms. We, telcos, are in a position to do that better than anyone else, because we don't require any complicated in-home setup for the user, and we don't require any hardware," he said. (That last part is a dig at Sling Media Inc. and Roku Inc. )

TelcoTV is a show targeted at smaller operators, but attendees packed the room this morning to get a glimpse of what the big guys had to say about the state of telecom TV efforts.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) kicked off the morning keynotes with what amounted to a state of the U-verse overview. There wasn't much new to it, but executive vice president Dan York did talk up the possibilities of three-screen convergence.

Between the two carriers, VUDU Inc. tried to make the case for being more an ally to the telcos than a threat.

VUDU's peer-to-peer video-on-demand service would seem to be a problem for telecom, because it eats up telco bandwidth while generating revenues for someone else. And Edward Lichty, executive vice president of strategy and corporate development, conceded that VUDU competes with telco TV but tried to say that doesn't make VUDU the enemy.

But what VUDU brings is a simple, desirable service that can make broadband look more attractive, he said. "I would emphasize convenience over control, because our strong view is that the customer experience is going to be the thing that drives the success of a service, not control."

Lichty, a former TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) exec, also had a word of warning for telcos about how quickly an Internet audience expects new features.

"When we were at TiVo, it was a great if we got one software release out a year," he said, adding that set-top box upgrades come even slower than that. But "in the Web world, people get new features every week, every month. I think that's a fundamental shift in the living room."

VUDU puts out upgrades every six weeks, he noted. Verizon's Harrobin would later brag in his keynote that three FiOS upgrades have been downloaded to set-top boxes this year.

As for that EBIF tidbit, Verizon is using the technology to deploy onscreen widgets -- near-real-time tickers for weather, sports, or Olympic medals. A Facebook widget is also underway in the lab, Harrobin said.

That means Verizon has gotten the CableLabs standard out to the field while the cable giants are still in the planning phase. (See Comcast, TWC Plan for EBIF.)

Harrobin also mentioned that FiOS -- and AT&T's U-verse -- will soon be delivering targeted advertising, a key element in any type of TV delivery.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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