In a recent meeting with Minerva Network's Italian-born CEO Mauro Bonomi, he told me today's IPTV service is the equivalent of driving a Ferrari at 55 MPH and his point is the technology needs to shift into the fast lane.
Mauro, no offense, but I have always been a Lamborghini guy. No hard feelings? ;)
Minerva has been a digital video pioneer for over a decade and many years back decided it made sense to focus on the IPTV space. Recently he says due to improvements in compression technology and better IP network support, the market is ready for IPTV adoption to grow even faster and he feels YouTube and other "over-the-top" services complement and do not replace TV. Upon further questioning he said he thinks perhaps in five to ten years the world may migrate to an Internet-only viewing experience. Until then his company is happy to be providing the advanced IPTV solutions carriers need to be able to compete effectively.
Just as IP communications vendors began with voice and eventually morphed into video, Mauro believes the last four-five years are how long it took for the industry to catch up with services provided by cable companies and now is time for it to evolve. Just as the Internet Protocol revolution has shaken up just about every other market from commerce to newspapers he feels it is time to utilize IP so as to deliver a television service which is far superior to legacy satellite and cable. Notice the use of the word legacy - it was at an ITEXPO in 2004 when I sensed the communications industry considered any non-IP products and services to be legacy. It is a given that the television industry will consider non IPTV services to be legacy one day soon as well.
Mauro sees the need for more innovation and services which tie set-top boxes to the Internet while affording them tight integration with social networks. Minerva bills themselves as a leading IPTV middleware provider and to become even more relevant to the 120 carrier customers the company has to date and to be attractive to new ones they have developed a Widget Engine as part of their iTVManager 4.0 product line.
I asked how this solution will compete with TV-specific widgets like those from Samsung and Mauro said there are a few differences including the navigation meaning with a widget platform integrated into the service itself you are able to deal with one system of menus and not have to learn the UI of the TV and set-top box. In addition there is the challenge of disparate TV types - with a TV-centric widget model you are bound to a single TV manufacturer.
In addition the company is focusing on tight integration with social networking applications allowing a consumer to tap into the programming of their friends to see what they are watching and recording (assuming the privacy issues are handled of course). The point here is the TV-specific widget has no idea what you are recording so is unable to provide similar richness to a widgetized carrier television platform.
According to Bonomi this blended unified experience becomes television 2.0 and he feels as the largest independent player in the market they are in a great position to drive this vision forward. He further believes the proprietary hardware companies are tied to their own equipment and are likely not able to tie together the hardware-agnostic solutions today's carriers need. In addition the alternative he describes as a Microsoft-only solution would likely mean commoditized hardware with the world's largest software company owning the most profitable applications. He went on to mention companies like Oracle and Google are best served with a platform which is open - one where they can freely add value. Mauro says carriers are also becoming concerned with Microsoft as they have strong consumer relationships and products like Xbox which can allow them to eventually bypass carriers altogether.
I mentioned Apple as a competitor in the space and Bonomi said they would need the provisioning and real-time experience which Minerva could provide them to help them become a force in the market.
He reiterated the need for more services and mentioned in-home DVR seems to be the first differentiator the IPTV providers have in their corner so far. We also briefly discussed Verizon FiOS and how it has recently integrated social networking through its Widget Bazaar. His company's goal of course is to help carriers broaden their service suites and in the process become the provider of the platform which takes television into the social networking and internet world.
I think the vision is logical but the competition to this sort of solution may just be a company like TiVO which is also adding services at a rapid clip. The final point? If you ever have to bet who will act faster, a carrier or Silicon Valley company -- you can virtually always bet on Silicon Valley.
Will carriers quickly enough to not be eclipsed by the cadre of companies looking to replace them and relegate them to dumb pipe delivery? Time will tell but if I were them I would be stepping on the gas.