FTTH: It's More Than TV

At this year's Fiber to the Home Conference, hosted last week by the FTTH Council Europe in Lisbon, Portugal, the Council announced a move to encompassing services.

This means the Council is also encompassing broadcasters as part of its membership. To that end, a panel titled "FTTH: It's More Than TV" explored various issues from the broadcasters' perspective.

Moderated by Richard Thomas, Member of the Board of Directors of the FTTH Council Europe, the session explored the fact that video is seen as one of the main drivers for FTTH.

All companies represented on the panel—NOS, RTL and Veronica Holdings—are based in the Netherlands, which Thomas said was key to choosing the speakers.

"Given the country's adoption of broadband, including fiber," said Thomas, "as well as the consumer who is widely adopting media services online, it is natural to bring speakers from the Netherlands to talk about media."

Bert Habets, CEO of the media production company RTL Nederland, started the panelists' presentations by talking about RTL's pan-European scope in a presentation titled "Broadband Requirements of a Broadcasting Company."

"We are in both radio and television," Habets said, "with 45 channels in 11 countries as well as 32 radio stations in 7 countries. We are also the market leader in Dutch landscape. Yet we're now moving from two groups (TV, radio) to adding a third (digital) and doing so to enhance new opportunities."

Habets then laid out the vision of RTL in its inception, starting in 1989 with a single channel.

"RTL 4 was started in simpler days when media was consumed on one screen in a home," said Habets. "The only way to see a different program was to use remote to switch to another channel. In today's world, there are many impacts on our business model, not the least being multiple channels we own, but also to many different distribution efforts."

"It's not just the TV anymore; there are many, many more screens," he continued. "All these screens trigger changes in customer behavior - both in terms of the ability to watch on multiple devices but also from our end where we have to consider the non-linear distribution of both push and pull."

"Consumers choosing when to watch content means that we have to rely on infrastructure partners," Habets said. "In 1989 there was an 86% analogue cable adoption rate, but now DVB-T takes on a full 12% of viewership, stealing almost 9% of cable's growth, which is now stands at 77%. Fiber is still at 1% but beginning to grow, with the biggest uptake in gaming, internet surfing and online video."

Habets mentioned that RTL did not see online video impacting television viewing in the Netherlands, which was at a low of only 135 minutes per day in 1989 and now sits at 138 minutes per day.

"6 minutes, on average, of the 138 minutes are being on other screens," said Habets, "but we expect significant growth to 20-25% of total viewing will be done on these other screens in just a few years."

One of those ways is through RTL Gemist—a Netherlands-only catch-up service that is offered 3 different ways.

"Gemist is delivery IP delivery via PC which we've had for four years," said Habets, "as well as a more recent catch-up service on cable operators, which has operated for four months. Finally, as of last week, we signed an agreement to deliver catch-up via IPTV / Internet TV over the Philips screens."

"We have had over 189 million views in the 2009 year on our IP catch-up service," said Habets. "While the other services are new, we are finding that content accessible via a remote on the TV is receiving a higher uptake than our PC service."

Habets said scalability is a problem, and that his presence at the FTTH Council is an encouragement to the Council to deliver speeds that will mimic adoption rates.

"We are seeing a seasonality pattern on monthly video views, comparable to traditional television viewing," said Habets. "Our current peak need is 2,500 terabytes per month for the average of six minutes of viewing. If we expand beyond the six minutes to quadruple that amount, over the near term, we question whether today's cable and DSL infrastructure can handle it."

Guido van Nispen, Managing Director of Veronica Holdings, a 50-year-old media company that started as pirate radio in the 1950s, used his time to discuss production in a "Fragmented and Abundant Universe of Distribution.”

"The challenge is that everyone can make media these days, as we've seen with the iPhone," said van Nispen. "Plus, everyone can generate content, as we've seen with live bloggers at an event that can easily do what years ago used to require significant funds and a large group of people."

One additional stronghold of media companies, broadcasting appears to have been taken over by the five-year-old, with the popularity of YouTube," he said.

"These issues alone portend a high fragmentation in the production marketplace, but there is another issue as well," he said. "Technologies are always in beta, it seems, so we need to understand what technologies have stabilized and which ones will require us to spend extra time getting it to properly deliver."

Ferry Kesselaar, Manager Technology, NOS, the Netherlands' public broadcaster, echoed that sentiment.

"When we consolidated our newsroom, we moved to a digital workflow," Kesselaar said. "Yet we found we needed workarounds because software is often better in the next revision. We have had to connect hardware and software systems, entering the IT world from the broadcast world."

"We call it a digital cliffhanger, in move terms," he said "because the move to IT means a shift from having people as redundancy, as backups to hardware that worked, to having extra machines as redundancy for hardware/software solutions that often don't work as planned."

"So we found that, besides needing to convince 800 employees with a workflow that changed fundamentally 180 degrees, we also needed management of expectations, such as technical drawbacks and workflow, as we implemented the NOS CrossMedia Strategy," he said.

"During Tour de France 2006, the biggest cross-connect in the Netherlands went down because we had too much traffic," he saide "so the end-point fiber solution should help solve the last mile issue as well as the cross-connect issue."

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