I am grateful to my colleague Alan Breznick, because I now know I wasn't just nitpicking. In a recent column, Alan said the cable guys are concerned about the reliability of the video signal and quoted Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) COO Steve Burke as acknowledging the problem. According to Alan, the cable companies are having their struggles with technologies such as switched digital video and tru2way. (See Getting the Signals Straight.)
Cable operators obviously cannot afford to lower their standard for quality if they are to successfully fend off the assault from telco TV. Now, I happened to be reading Alan's piece just when I'm about to head off to the IPTV World Forum next week in Chicago, and also not that longer after AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) announced it was dumping satellite TV provider Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) Glancing through the event's brochure, a few items, like the following, caught my eye:
- Is "everything-on-demand" inevitable? What role for scheduled TV?
- Towards 150 channels of HDTV, HD on-demand and HD multi-room
- Will cable become an all-IP video delivery platform?
These types of forward-looking topics are standard fare at industry events, but they suggest an undercurrent of uncertainty. So if the future of IPTV was pretty clear just a year or two ago, there now seems to be some hesitation in terms of having a clear notion about what to deliver to subscribers and how to deliver it.
For example, GPON technology was until recently considered a safe bet for future-proofing the network, but now the buzzword is WDM-PON. And if the greater bandwidth of WDM-PON is the way to go, will this also give a boost to the proponents of active Ethernet? Or consider that what just a couple years ago was cast as an epic battle between the telcos and cable operators now has the additional complication arising due to the very rapid emergence of Internet video as a spoiler. Things will get even more challenging if multi-platform video distribution becomes part of the industry wisdom.
Despite the uncertainty over video, I do happen to hold some opinions quite strongly. Yes, I think video over IP makes sense for telcos and cable TV companies. I think it's a matter of what, not how much, content is provided, and that it's somewhat less important whether it's in high- or standard-definition format (but HD is, of course, better). I also think there is greater value in delivering video-on-demand then simply offering a lot of linear broadcast channels. Instead of walled gardens, I prefer gardens without walls. I also hold the viewpoint that it's not what technology can enable, but what customers want and what they are willing to pay for it. Finally, and this is the trickiest part, the really successful service provider will be able to figure out what customers want even before they know they want it.
It's really that simple. And aside from these few things, and possibly a very few others, there are not that many safe bets you can make about video. Yup, I'd say video is on a pretty slippery slope right now – for telcos, cable and satellite TV providers, and anyone else.
— Sam Masud, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading