|IPTV Walled Garden Gate Opens, Bringing New Navigation Challenges
Karen Liu, Vice President Ovum Components team
North American operators presented new apps at the IPTV World Forum in New York. Among the many topics covered at the forum, panelists and attendees pointed at the additional navigation burden on the user, particularly the lack of progress in the remote control.
New services, not new channels, increase content to the TV
AT&T's spokesperson was bullish about special interest apps such as the Masters Golf Tournament app, which provides complementary content across three screens. He said the future direction was to fill out the offering apps to satisfy additional interests. Pointing at Verizon's Facebook and Twitter applications, he promised that AT&T would also pursue social networking apps.
In contrast, he downplayed the need for additional HD channels or huge video on demand (VoD) libraries, the latter because most VoD demand is satisfied by new movie releases and catch-up viewing of recent TV broadcasts.
IPTV video content is growing beyond movies and TV. Verizon has recently opened the back gate to its walled garden, offering Internet short-form videos to the TV. Content arrangements are currently limited to three video aggregation sites, but Verizon promises more to come soon.
PC has been enlisted to aid TV in transcoding and search functions
In Verizon's service, as well as in a number of recent IPTV vendors' offerings, the PC's processing horsepower is used to ingest and transcodes Internet video for compatibility with the set-top box and TV. Meanwhile, viewers are encouraged to use the PC to shortlist their TV channels and VoD selections before trying to navigate on screen via the remote control.
Can existing devices be similarly enlisted to aid TV screen navigation?
The audience asked more than once about how users should navigate the expanded offerings, and seemed less than satisfied by answers centered on recommendations. One panelist held up a remote control and his BlackBerry to demonstrate his wish for a QWERTY keyboard on the remote.
When pressed, both Verizon and AT&T presenters conceded that the remote needed improvement but suggested that something like the iPhone or Wii remote would be preferable to a keyboard. A Korean attendee said that trials of point-and-click-style remotes were in progress in Korea.
Given the operators' challenge to minimize hardware costs in the home, the example of the PC (and mobile handset) to support TV viewing is very interesting: it reuses pre-existing devices purchased by the end customer.
So, could we see an iPhone app for advanced TV remote control? The technical barrier is much higher than the non-realtime use of PC and handset via a Web portal. There had been efforts to use IrDA ports on mobile phones for remotes, but these did not catch on. However, a few angles keep us from dismissing the possibility out of hand:
Multiple constituencies for the TV. Could most of the relevant market be served by integrating remote control functions onto only the iPhone, BlackBerry, Wii and Xbox remotes? Operators have to span a growing chasm between the traditional TV viewer and upscale early adopters. Verizon maintains separate roadmaps for the 'geek' market and the mass market. A 'soft' remote would address just the target geek market - and in the case of AT&T would build additional stickiness with iPhone subscribers.
Leading operators willing to experiment with new models. AT&T said it could be more aggressive in developing the Masters Golf Tournament application because its expected ROI was from wireless and broadband pull-through and TV churn reduction rather than by selling the app. Verizon went further to say that its internal processes for new apps gives it "permission to fail", with lower management approval required to proceed to trial and expectations that some trials would not move forward.
Too many device and middleware flavors remain a barrier. As operators look more and more to third-party app developers, the problem only increases. The remote control problem is just part of the larger issue that needs to be solved.