IPTV World Forum Examines Rise of OTT and Multi-Screen Viewing

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IPTV operators delivering content over managed networks are facing huge competition from the delivery of content over-the-top, not just to connected TVs but to a multitude of devices.

That was the overriding theme at IPTV World Forum in London with the broad conclusion that smarter operators of all colours (cable, satellite, telco) should look to augment their offer with OTT services or risk being cut of the loop.

"Let's be in no doubt that commercially deployed OTT is happening," stated Andrew Burke, CEO of Amino Communications. "Whether it's TV manufacturers, IPTV service providers, or the big cable networks, OTT is now on the map."

Burke highlighted Telecom Italia which in December started its Cubovision hybrid/OTT service, delivering a range of traditional broadcast- and Internet-delivered content plus apps.

"Cord-cutting is real and OTT is the scissors," says Burke. "The debate about whether customers were really just moving between pay TV providers as opposed to abandoning them has moved on. TV providers are fighting back and upgrading their solutions with OTT services by either replacing their existing STBs or enhancing them through a companion box."

Revenues from OTT services are set for years of growth, according to ITMedia Consulting. The Rome-based consultancy predicts a 110 percent growth per year by 2014 in Western Europe. At the end of 2011, revenues for the sector will amount to E340 million, a fraction of the total revenue of TV broadcasters but this figure will exceed E3 billion in three years.

The latest research from Informa, meanwhile, suggests that 380 million people worldwide will be viewing OTT video on connected devices by 2015, with growth driven by the popularity of such services as Netflix.  By contrast, the analyst states that in the same period, 163 million users will be watching managed IPTV services from the likes of Verizon, BT, and Orange. Indeed, it predicts that in just two years time there will be more OTT TV viewers globally than those watching IPTV services-a trend that may already have happened in the UK given the popularity of BBC iPlayer.

Clearly OTT is a disruptive technology but it's also clear that it is not a polar opposite to IPTV. Vendors across the show floor were highlighting ways in which the two could be merged together.

"Consumers don't care about an Internet or TV  experience; they want a service experience," declared  Klaus llgner-Fehns, managing director of German research institute IRT and Chairman of the Hbbtv consortium, which is vying to make HbbTV the defacto standard for hybrid services in Europe.

"To our mind, it's not sufficient to show the consumer a key on the remote control and ask them to choose from two locations for their content. You have to bring both worlds closely together."

The challenge facing TV operators is how to leverage the modern appetite for mobile devices and applications to extend and enhance their existing services, argued Jonathan Beavon, director of segment marketing at NDS.

"The first step to meeting that challenge is to accept that consumers are already multitasking on companion devices while watching TV," he said. "The solution is not to try to persuade them to change their viewing habits and synchronise and combine them with the TV experience, enriching the experience considerably."

NDS was promoting its Service Deployment Platform (SDP) which enables third-party developers to create TV apps for any connected CE device, using metadata and content from the TV and providing contextual integration with the Web.

It's clear that the original definition of IPTV in which a single service provider offered TV content and interactive services via a single STB is being superseded by a multi-network, multi-content-source, multi-service provider, and multi-device concept.

Central to this changing definition is the fact that video from multiple sources, delivered through various networks to any device must now be considered an inevitable and desirable part of a compelling TV experience.

"For this reason, credible IPTV solutions must be prepared to adapt and evolve to accommodate this broadening definition of IPTV," says Yun Chao Ho, president and chairman of the Open IPTV Forum, which sees its mission as joining all these islands together with standards.

"OTT may be the new IPTV but the true killer combination is a mix of both," adds Burke. "IPTV to deliver consistent broadcast and quality on-demand complemented by OTT to deliver niche content."

OTT services present a threat to the IPTV platform because they have the ability to deliver unique content in a way that can be consumed across multiple devices.

"Telco operators can respond by offering their own over-the-top service and by offering differentiated services in terms of quality. Quality is what makes the difference in the OTT space," said Duncan Potter, chief marketing officer at Edgeware.

Ericsson's head of technology, solution area Giles Wilson said operators needed to forget about vertical solutions when planning multiscreen deployments and consider the overall experience of the consumer.

"Multiscreen is about taking a TV service and delivering that very same experience to multiple devices. If you want to take advantage of what is driving video consumption you need to break into a matrix of network and device capabilities."

He added that those who were looking to put search and interactive services onto the main TV screen were going in the wrong direction.

Ericsson has developed an IPTV Remote, which uses a single interface to control live TV, on-demand video, Internet video, and media stored locally. It includes a touch screen so that the consumer can intuitively browse different sources of media as well as preview and organise playlists.

"Fundamentally, what consumers want to do is changing. There are different use cases, but they are moving to something that is experience-led," he said. "We need to share user data across delivery platforms and multiple devices, so when you are building a platform it needs to be consolidated into one."

A rare criticism of OTT was made by Ian Mecklenburgh, Virgin Media's director of consumer platforms, who claimed that the volume of unedited apps on certain services meant that functionality varied considerably. "For the customer there is no consistency in over-the-top world. On some apps even the pause button doesn't work."

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