It is no secret that we here at High Speed Experts have an appreciation for IPTV, even though current implementations are often lacking in one way or another and still slightly flawed. It is clear that IPTV is the future and that IPTV may single-handedly redefine the role of cable providers, studios, and even broadband providers. While other industries are likely to be impacted to one degree or another by IPTV, the surprising thing is that the FCC and many digital cable providers seem to be slowly coming to terms with IPTV before it really hits the mainstream.
Of course, one could make the argument that this is a chicken and the egg sort of problem, where IPTV may have been held back by the lack of even a tacit agreement between digital cable providers and the government body that oversees them. After all, who would invest a serious amount of time and money on something bandwidth intensive after seeing what Comcast did to P2P traffic? Keep in mind that Comcast’s efforts were fairly broad, but imagining what such a giant network might do to what they consider a rival making use of its own network is cringe-worthy, and rightly so. So, now that some of the largest digital television networks and the FCC are hashing out a plan, the time is ripe for IPTV to leap to the forefront.
The Promise in Seven Steps
The current 7-point IPTV compromise is something of an offering being issued from a collection of digital television and broadband service providers that are looking to avoid and/or postpone as much FCC oversight as possible. The first point is that customers should basically have the option to purchase their own STB (set top boxes) and/or other home media streaming devices that can be used to connect to IPTV services. Examples of these boxes are the Apple TV and the Boxee Box, but there are literally dozens of media streaming boxes on the market. There are also an ever-growing number of studios, such as HBO with HBO GO, that are entering the IPTV world in a significant way.
Other promises seem less interesting, such as the provider not cutting off video due to the use of third party hardware and/or media boxes. Other promises do seem interesting, such as the fifth clause that seems to more or less sound like an indictment of DRM technologies that lock content to any particular box. While DRM is certainly not something that has many fans here at HSE, or among our readership if e-mails are any indication, the fact is that content providers do need some way to know that their content is being given away for free. DRM of some form is their best interest, and if the FCC works with providers and studios, consumers just might end up with a solution that is not another cable-card-esque failure.
The only problem with the proposal is that there are not many well-defined clauses for punishment. In short, the proposal is like a child telling his or her parents that they will make the honor roll next term in exchange for lifting curfew immediately and for the foreseeable future. What happens when the child fails to make honor roll, or a provider fails to live up to their end? Without any criteria to define failure and mete out punishment, the entire offer seems empty at best. This is too bad because the future of IPTV could hinge on the FCC, digital cable networks, studios, and media e-tailers coming to a single understanding. Sadly, a fundamental truth states that when additional parties are brought into a decision making process that the decision itself is often delayed or never reached. It may seem counter intuitive but look at Congress or the Senate and the point is clear: so many different interests and fears makes reaching common ground difficult at best, and the FCC and digital cable networks have not exactly been able to agree on major issues in the past.
Why IPTV is Good
What makes IPTV so compelling is the ability for consumers to truly vote with their dollars and buy only what they want. While digital cable providers have long since been touting that customers can buy one package or another, IPTV promises the ability for consumers to buy or receive content from anyone. This might mean negotiating separate billing arrangements with multiple providers, but it also opens up the doors for new studios and video-bloggers. The future of television viewing could be so wildly different from today, and to just in terms of advertising and quality, but the fundamental integration of data services can be truly amazing. Verizon Fios customers have seen a modicum of this future via the company’s gadgets, but the future is wide open.
What IPTV Needs to Survive Thrive
The biggest problem with IPTV at this point is that setting up and securing networks can be a lot more challenging than many think. Wireless networks seem to be the source of endless troubleshooting nightmares for some consumers, and that fact alone might be enough to kill IPTV in its tracks. After all, not everyone has a broadband connection near their entertainment center.
What is needed is a new generation wireless technology that can use dozens of frequencies and wavelengths simultaneously to punch through interference with aplomb and/or houses that come pre-wired for Ethernet access. Until networks become more reliable and/or easier to install and maintain, the average household will not be able to take advantage of IPTV. This simple fact renders many WiFi connected television sets, gaming consoles, and even media streaming boxes next to useless for some consumers. Until these problems can be ironed out, IPTV may be held back, but the day of Ethernet-wired properties seems to be upon us.