I've had many conversations recently about the differentiating attributes of various IPTV
service platforms. Many things come to mind-- service interactivity, web b
rowsing, quantity and quality of content and applications, targeted advertising, triple/quad integration, etc. One characteristic that often gets bandied about is fast channel change speed. Let’s delve a little deeper into this concept.
First, if you accept the fact that, to be successful and enjoy decent uptake, IPTV service offerings from Telcos and other service providers will need to be differentiated from the traditional broadcast TV services of cable and satellite providers, one needs to challenge whether fast channel change will measure up to what is provided today. Folks like Microsoft promise improvements of about 50% or so for channel change speed, from 1-2 seconds to “under a second.” Several questions can be raised as to what the exact apples to apples comparison is (compared to cable or other IPTV service platforms) and whether a 500-800ms channel change is even good enough for a quality of experience that might motivate a subscriber to switch from cable.
Assuming there is some significant incremental value for fast channel change, the cost to deliver this value has to be analyzed. All of the information I have seen to date tells me that the incremental cost in terms of D-servers and other equipment to deliver this value is not worth it. IPTV service providers may find that the cost and scalability of this solution simply does not add up, and would only make sense for the high-end of the market willing to pay more for their IPTV service. The question remains whether operators will be able to allocate the equipment and cost of fast channel change to support only those subscribers willing to pay for it, rather than burdening the entire network and subscriber base with this cost.
The final, and I would argue most important, consideration with regard to fast channel change is exactly why you would need this in the first place. I don’t doubt the value relative to existing broadcast TV offerings. I only question the value relative to IPTV service offerings (which now exceed 7 million subscribers worldwide according to market research firm Infonetics). The problem is IPTV service offerings, again to be compelling and differentiating, will have huge numbers of assets to be managed. These will include hundreds of IPTV channels including HD, hundreds of DVR recordings, tens of thousands of VOD assets, PPV, music and other media, hundreds of games, many micro-applications, and potentially millions of YouTube-type internet video assets and internet TV channels and blogs. In this environment, it can be argued that “flipping channels” up and down to find the content or apps that you want is a prehistoric approach to the problem. More appropriate is having a very intuitive EPG with very fast universal search capability, with some level of personalization and artificial intelligence and subscriber profiling to help guide the viewer to the content they want to watch. In this world, channel change speed is an archaic metric; “time to find and watch” desired content is the correct metric. The goal here is to help the viewer think about, find, select, and tune the content they want (even sometimes when the viewer does not know in advance what that is). This needs to work independent of any determination of channel number or even asset type (e.g., live TV versus VOD). Increasingly, viewers are forgetting about at what channel their content is found (snap poll: name the channel number and network of your top 5 favorite shows; now do the same for your favorite VODs, DVRs, etc—can’t do it, can you?).
So to conclude, while fast channel change speed is indeed important for improving subscriber quality of experience, differentiating IPTV services with a multitude of content options would benefit most from fast scrolling, fast and intuitive navigation, and fast searching for content across all the different asset types. This can be done with next-generation interactive IPTV middleware systems without the need to burden the network with extra (and perhaps unnecessary) equipment.