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I saw a note in Advanced Television daily news referring to a new Parks Associates whitepaper looking at IPTV service in Europe.  The whitepaper "IPTV in Europe: Digital TV in a Hyper-Competitive Market" considers Europe a test bed for deployment of advanced television services. It notes that global growth rate of suscriber base has grown 232% year-over-year.  Yet, service providers are "still strugging with how to price, differentiate and market this new service."  Regardless, though, it forecasts 500% growth in subscribers through to 2011.  Check out the paper at

Kirk Edwardson - Espial

And the results of our latest poll are in. Starting a few weeks ago, we asked you "what’s the most important IPTV application for subscribers?"  Three distinct groups of responses emerged from the results. Coming in a comfortable first place as your most important application is “internet on TV”.  Clearly, having access to internet on TV is important.  I’m wondering why this scored so highly? Do people want to:

  • look up information associated with the program they’re watching?
  • multi-task – watch one sports event while tracking results of other events?
  • have access to favourite web applications and portals?
  • watch video content like YouTube over the internet ?

Instead of guessing, I'm going to use this as a topic for the next poll. We can drill down to see why this is so important! 


The areas you voted as the next most important applications include Basic TV, Personalized Advertising, Red Button TV and DVR.  The message here seems to be “give me my basic TV and allow for some personalization (personalized advertising at 11%) and more interactivity while I watch TV" (DVR at 11% and Red Button TV at 10%). 


The third set of applications you want to see is EPG (4%), VOD (6%), StartOver TV (3%) and convergence applications (4%).  This grab bag of applications would appear to tell us a few things. That EPG, VOD and StartOver TV are now tablestakes applications. They remain important but are less differentiating than they were 12 months ago. My guess is that convergence applications will become more important over time - they are an exciting development but haven’t quite achieved critical importance for the industry. 


Of course, these are all my opinions & I’d love to get your impressions too.  Please post your comments.  And for those who love to see the actual results, here they are!  Watch for the new poll in a few days.



Poll Results

Basic TV


Personalized advertising




StartOver TV


Convergence applications


Red Button TV






Internet on TV


Kirk Edwardson

DVR Vs. Time-Shifted TV

August 20, 2007 9:04 AM | 0 Comments

DVR vs. Time-Shifted TV

IPTV has already moved beyond the “lab trial” stage to very large deployments. On the features/functionality front, while many operators are still challenged with getting a basic broadcast-emulation TV service deployed, others are finding ways to move beyond these less sophisticated offerings. Increasingly, this differentiation involves separating the time content is initially offered to subscribers from the time they actually want to watch the content.

One option is DVR, which itself comes in two varieties: CPE-based DVR which involves a hard-drive on the STB, or network-DVR (N-DVR) which utilizes resources maintained by the service provider. In both scenarios, the benefits of DVR is it gives the most flexibility to subscribers to choose what content they want to record, schedule repeat recordings, and view whenever they want. It has the potential for a high degree of personalization and integration with mixed media applications including VoD, internet TV, and personal photo and video storage. For the CPE-based variety it also has the advantage of adding cost burden to only those subscribers willing to pay for it (by obtaining an upgraded STB). Finally, CPE-based DVR is based on a business model that has become accepted in part because it provides reasonable security to content providers (however, some N-DVR deployments have been held up due to regulation and litigation).

On the downside for DVR, it tends to be more of a “lean forward” experience because the overall user experience is quite sophisticated, which, without an intuitive user interface, can also mean complex and confusing. Some users get frustrated with having too many options and having to set up recordings time and again. For this reason some operators are rolling out simpler applications such as “Start Over TV”, which allows you to go back to the beginning of a show if you missed it, making it easier for less sophisticated users to experience the benefits of powerful DVR technology.

Another challenge with CPE-based DVR is it introduces a fail point in an already difficult maintenance issue, the hard drive. Hard drives are always weak points in any electronic device and drive up mean-time-between-failure (MBTF) metrics and overall support costs.

While DVR and related applications will continue to gather steam, some operators are deploying a different architecture in parallel or in place of DVR. This option for flexible content viewing is time-shifted TV. Time-shift TV (TSTV) lets you watch content from a video on demand list pre-determined by the service provider. It could include all the most popular shows for the past 7 days for example. As an application similar to VoD, it can be a much simpler and more familiar user interface, leading to more of a “lean back” experience.  It also can be enabled on a lower cost STB, since the system taxes network resources of the service provider shared across many subscribers rather than adding expensive hard drives to each STB. Finally, the business model for TSTV is flexible and supports both subscription and, like VoD, per transaction billing.

Of course, for every application there is always a down-side. For TSTV, it has to do with the fact that the subscriber has less flexibility than DVR, since the operator decides what content is available to them. This can be a problem for subscribers who like DVR precisely because of its ability to record special interest content that only few may like, such as a special on the origins of Atlantis. Also, while the initial costs of the CPE may be lower, the operator now has an increased burden to purchase network storage equipment and must determine the right algorithm to balance costs to manage the higher transaction load from all the TSTV unicast video traffic.

At the end of the day, we see operators considering both approaches to flexible content viewing, and will decide based on costs, user preferences, and in some cases regulation, which approach is best for them.

-Brian Mahony


I've had many conversations recently about the differentiating attributes of various IPTV service platforms. Many things come to mind-- service interactivity, web browsing, 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.

-Brian Mahony

What's going on with the TV world today? Not IPTV specifically, but television in general. What makes the average viewer compelled to pick up the remote and power on their attention?

Nothing is making me do it lately. And I'm not pressing ON until a few of my biggest complaints are turned OFF.

1. Advert Vertigo: When I listen to free radio, I put up with the ads. But when I pay for radio, I pay for the privilege of not hearing any ads. So why should I have to pay such a heavy price to watch TV that's replete with advertising? What's stopping the TV industry from incorporating a similar radio model themselves? Sure producers, operators, set-top box manufacturers and all those in between need to make money. But why is the payment plan shouldered by the viewers? (Btw, a friend of mine pointed this out to an American cable company telemarketer and received an earful about being un-American. We're still trying to figure out if that was a part of the planned spiel or a sudden burst of pent-up frustration at yet another unsatisfied customer...)
2. Crap Crap Crap: Content, of course. While there is certainly some very good content, the more important points are that (a) my joy is someone else's crap, (b) I don't want to wade through crap to experience my joy.
3. A la carte, please: Let me buy the channels I want. When I buy a book, I don't expect to receive 10 other books and an accompanying page-turner which forces me to read the books in a particular order with someone controlling the page-rate. So I would prefer to buy my programs a la carte and, since I'm paying I'd like it without adverts please!
4. Regulatory purgatory: The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) wants to make sure people are offered Canadian content. Fortunately there is some great Can-con. Then unfortunately there's the rest of Can-con. See point 2 above and here's the problem with regulated enforcement: the folks making Can-con don't have to worry about getting their shows rejected because the operators HAVE to show Can-con. Unfortunately producers make shows with what appears to be $5 and a nickel or two! Are we just under funded in the country? Or does competition work to create better shows? By letting Can-con face-off with truly good TV we just might end up with good Can-con. And then it won't matter if its Can-con because it will just be good content and then who cares ... good-con is better than Can-con, USA-con, Mexi-con or whatever.
I would like to think that none of the above is new; surely brighter and more in-tune minds have seen the same and said as much. And perhaps someone's even listening.

The Dog Days of Winter

January 5, 2007 1:45 PM | 0 Comments

Normally at this time of the year everyone sits back, takes a hard look at themselves and says, okay, time to make a change. We use January 1 as the time to reflect and resolve to be more active, get more things done, and achieve more with our time.

What I hear is "blah blah blah."

Right after New Year’s Eve, I am done with entertaining, wining (not whining), dining and spending. What I really want most in the world is a little peace and quiet, a few walks with my dog in the sun…and a little bit of quality relaxation.

I, like many people, watch TV to relax, zone out, drain my brain…

Extrapolating my current cable experience to the future IPTV experience I expect to have, means that I need 100% entertainment…no channel fade, no quality loss, no service outages. (Remember, I didn’t say I’d stop whining in 2007!) In an operator’s strive to take IPTV live, keeping quality of service front of mind needs to be a number one concern.

From the results of the last IPTV Channel poll, it looks like a strong quality of experience might be in our collective IPTV future as only a few respondents said it was a major hurdle to delivering wide-scale roll-outs. Excellent! The majority of respondents said they most needed modular and open middleware (may I suggest you look at . Next on the 100-channel hurdle list was the need for wide-scale broadband access. Makes sense. Last on the list was the need for low-cost STBs…looks like the industry’s manufacturers have been filling the bill.

So…gotta go, I’ve PVR’d the O.C., and it waits for no one but ME.

Happy New Year! And don't forget to answer the IPTV Channel Poll and let us know what country you think will have the most IPTV subscribers by the end of this year.


Let me start by stating: if you think designing for the Web and the TV should follow the same blueprint, you’re wrong. Designing for the Web and TV are extremely different processes and every person within the IPTV industry should know that a design for the Web doesn’t automatically translate to the TV.

The main difference between designing for the TV and the Web is simply the medium of delivery. The process of designing for both can be fairly simple if certain sets of guidelines are followed. However, if it is looked upon as 'just another interface design project' instead of an ‘overall TV experience’ the project can snowball into a tedious and never-ending process. IPTV is a totally different medium; with experience and requirements that are very distinct. A designer should understand the critical difference in these mediums of delivery to fully design a user interface that will attract audiences and increase interactions with their chosen medium.

To design and create a compelling user experience, a designer requires a clear understanding of both the context and the target audience. In the case of TV, the audience is the viewer who watches television to relax and be entertained. For this very reason, TV design has to be extremely simple, linear and easy to follow. This limits distraction and doesn’t allow the viewer to shift their focus from watching TV to another form of entertainment. This experience has been coined the "Sit Back Approach". You can compare that to the “Lean In” experience, which means direct interaction with something, such as using a computer. The TV experience is a shared, entertaining experience. It is less of an interactive experience and more of an immersive interaction. A user decides to use the interface, only when a decision has been made to change something on the TV. This means that any activity performed as a part of interface interaction is secondary to watching of the TV. Needless to say, designing the user experience for TV goes beyond physical issues of resolution, pixel grid, Standard and High definition or palette configurations.

But get ready for even more change now because Interactive IPTV is all about involvement. A designer is attempting to convert the "Sit Back Approach" into an active experience by giving the user complete control of their entertainment choices. The key thing to remember here is that the quality of experience (QoE) needs to be very consistent and stimulating. The key difference between the experiences of Digital TV versus the experiences of IPTV is the interaction. And this interaction is increased by the number of services that can be accessed. For example, a viewer can surf through a plethora of programs that are available to them at any given time. While doing so, the TV watcher can also place a voice call or IM their friends for a quick conversation about their favorite programs. While doing so, they can place an order for pizza and invite friends over for a bite. All this can be achieved just while relaxing on a couch, at the touch of a remote. This is precisely why IPTV gives a whole new meaning to "Immersive Experience". It can thus be maintained that successful interaction is born from a concept that intrinsically enhances the experience through its content.

Here are a few simple steps (The Basics of Experience Design) as applied to creating the best IPTV experience:
1. Understand and reflect on product/client requirements.
2. Ensure that the conceptual and functional specifications are as detailed as possible.
3. Sketch and Draw - Invest a significant amount of time white-boarding concepts and thinking of every possible element, scenario etc. so you can prepare an acceptance test plan.
4. Storyboard the concepts. This will allow you to easily take your client / potential viewer through the concept. At this same time, this will also help you discover your own mis-steps. As in any design process, navigation will dictate how the experience will be perceived and used. It is therefore important for the designer to solidify the navigation at this point.
5. Once the basics are ready, the designers can focus their attention on creative development. The most critical aspect to remember here is ATOT -- “Always Test on TV”. Whatever design concepts are implemented, make sure to transfer them from your computer screen and test them in the TV environment. What looks good on computer doesn't always look good on TV. Colors, proportions, scales and dimensions all vary largely from computer to TV. And remember that the viewing distance of TV versus the computer is different too. This will dramatically alter how the user interface is viewed and perceived on TV.
6. Finally as always, translating all this effort into a successful implementation is the most challenging task. As all designers will concur, the designs they create don’t always get translated exactly during implementation. Steps 1 through 5 will help you reduce that gap significantly and ultimately help to provide your TV viewers with what you have envisioned.
7. Needless to say, user testing, focus groups and other methods are the final items in this process. Make sure that you test with a variety of viewers within your target market. This will help you consolidate the design more succinctly.

Keeping things simple is a Design Mantra. What may seem like a really simple piece of interaction may ultimately prove to be a deciding factor of your product’s fate.

IPTV has a great future and it has a lot to do with its immersive QoE. But the ultimate judge for it though, will be the viewers who watch TV.

-Amit Tungare, UI Designer and TV Watcher Extraordinare


When the first commercial IPTV roll-out started 6 years ago, it was quite a technical undertaking. Kingston Interactive managed to get the new services up and Newbridge’s 3DSL program made many promises come true! 



At that time, the European telcos were told that they were losing 10,000 subscribers a month to the cablecos. 



A race had started, but there were still many struggles to overcome.

Marketing knowledge was minimal.  What would make subscribers switch?  Would this occurrence happen because of all the promises of interactive services?  Would it be due to the ever popular Electronic Program Guides?  Would it be because of the web-like user interface?  Not many people knew.

Technology was at its infancy.  Although Oracle had an obscure product called OVS (then known as Oracle Video Server) since the early 1990s, most of the other IPTV components like middleware, STB, CA/DRM, encoders were all new and clunky to work with; they were really proofs of concepts at best.  Getting anything to work was a challenge, getting anything integrated  was a huge undertaking!



Fast forward to 2006, the situation has changed drastically.  Ecosystem components are strongly established and have many reference integrations to show.  Technology has matured dramatically and telcos are much better educated than before.  This progress has been fast but painful.  Indeed, the first IPTV victim saw its deathbed this year as Kingston Interactive closed its doors.



Although all the technological advancements are making IPTV roll-outs feasible, the telcos are falling behind in this race for market dominance. Cablecos have been successful in widening their gap and increasing their market share in the voice business.  Vonage just signed its 2 millionth subscriber, Time Warner has more than 1 million and Cablevision has passed its one millionth subscriber.  In comparison, the North American telcos don’t have much to show for!

An example of this lead is clearly shown in the Canadian market.  Cablecos across Canada are offering voice services, Rogers has over 800,000 voice subscribers, Videotron has over 220,000, Shaw has more then 210,000 and even the small Cogeco has over 50,000 subscribers.  And these statistics are accelerating.  Canadian telcos have already seen their subscriber base shrink by a few percentage points



Let’s not make any mistake about IPTV, its first and only driver is market protection.  The huge investments, the enormous learning curve and the big risks are not about ARPUs, they’re about basic bread and butter.



At this point in time, every day counts, the longer the telcos delay the introduction of their video services, the more damage they will need to deal with and the more catch-up they’ll need to do.  The acceleration of the telcos introduction into the video market is crucial!  To make themselves successful in the short term and be profitable in the long term, focusing on the introduction of basic TV services is a must. Revolutionizing TV usage and revolutionizing its experience should only become a second objective, an objective that should be attainable with the proper IPTV components.  Therefore, having full control of their own ecosystem and feature set is critical to the long term success of the telcos.



So, first things first.  Let’s first get IPTV strongly established before the battle wages on for too long and the only victory is catching up to the competition.

-Denis Lévesque


What Does "Open" Really Mean When It Comes to IPTV?

In every corner of the technology world, there are companies that claim their products are "open." But what does that really mean when it comes to IPTV? The fact that so many vendors try to tell this story, even though for many it is a real stretch of the truth, says something about how important openness is to the industry. Let me give you a few qualities to look for next time you see an IPTV vendor claiming to be open:

1) How easy is it to create new applications, customize user interfaces, or integrate in new IPTV ecosystem components?

In one sense, every technology-based system on the planet is "open"-- with enough time and money and developers you can customize every bit of the solution. But at what cost, and how beholden are you to the vendor or the "preferred" integration company? That really is the key. What I see around me mostly in the IPTV industry is a lot of technology designed without a lot of openness in mind. Oh sure, folks will tell you that they are open and you can easily make changes to your IPTV system, perhaps even choose your own set-top box, but then they open the door to this huge room staffed with an army of consultants all with big smiles on their faces and open palms--- 9-12 months and $2 million dollars later you get the changes you requested. I'm sorry, that is not open.

2) What tools are available for me to be self-sufficient to create my own applications, do my own integration, or port to new platforms?

This is a pretty good question to ask of your IPTV vendor and is equivalent to the house inspection before you buy a house. If they start waving their hands and mumbling something about their "roadmap", you know you are in trouble. If they don’t actually have these tools on their price list, it is probably a good indication they do not exist in usable form.

3) Is it modular? Can I buy separate components and evolve from there?

The lack of modularity of many of today’s IPTV systems is perhaps the biggest challenge holding back the entire industry. Carriers want the ability to choose which components they want to build in-house, source from vendors, or perhaps integrate with still other third parties. This is especially true of the too often overly complex and expensive IPTV systems today based on first-generation closed architectures. Modularity comes in many forms, but perhaps the most basic break-down is whether the IPTV middleware can be purchased as separate client software (STB) and server components (head-end). If so, this becomes a good indicator that there are open protocols for communicating between the STB and the IPTV application servers, and a good sign that you will not be locked into a “one size fits all” solution.

To close, it is important to remind ourselves why openness is important in the first place. Openness has real financial and strategic benefits. Because a service provider’s IPTV system is open, it has the ability to negotiate in (or out) the best technology available on the market. And even if it never changes its initial ecosystem of vendors, the threat of making changes will keep vendors honest when it comes to pricing upgrades and support. On the strategic side, openness gives IPTV service providers the greatest amount of flexibility and speed to create new revenue-generating applications and differentiate in a competitive market. In today’s market, subscriber needs and wants must be met before competitors offer the same. One only has to look at the PC operating system market to see why lack of openness and vendor competition translates into higher software costs, constant features delays, and all too often buggy software.

Yes, my friends, “openness” does indeed mean something real. Lack of it is a bad thing, and all of us in this rapidly growing IPTV market should fight against any trend towards closed, monolithic systems. It’s bad for carriers, bad for the industry, and ultimately limits the services choice and quality that subscribers deserve.

-Brian Mahony




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