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Thursday, 27th January 2011

Graeme Aldous reports from the RTS November meeting.

Now, here’s your starter for 10 W what is the difference between Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) and Television over the Internet? I’ll have to hurry you W we haven’t got all day!...

Fortunately Bill Manthorpe and Ben Kittow didn’t need all day to explain W just an evening at Newcastle’s Mansion House. They are (respectively) the Technical and Commercial Directors of Scarlettec, an independent company specialising in streaming media via the internet. And, like any industry, there’s more behind the scenes than the lay person might expect.

For instance, there are a number of key media strands that will encourage viewers to depart from the traditional ‘live to air’ broadcasting that we’ve lived with for more than half a century. The first two have been, up till now, (perhaps not surprisingly) live sports and adult material. But close behind that come live webcasts for corporate internal communications, followed by financial services and gaming. And then there’s the attraction of services offering Exclusivity (eg movies on demand or special interest) and Quality (eg dramas).

That’s the content which appeals to the internet user, but there’s also the back story which is attractive to the providers. Media streaming is by its very nature a ‘targeted’ delivery system when compared with the ‘scattergun approach’ of broadcasting. The day is already with us when an advertiser (for instance) can be shown in real time just who is watching what, and their demographic. As the available spend is spread ever more thinly over multiple channels, this fine tuning is more and more important.

And as Ben Kittow explained, technically the move away from traditional ‘live to air’ broadcasting is getting more and more feasible. As so often happens it’s a particular innovation that’s making it possible. All the time that we rely on POTS (the Plain Old Telephone Service), with its clunky copper wires, we will never aspire to the full broadband dream. But now that it’s become possible to manufacture cheap fibre-optic cable from plastics, rather than expensive glass, bringing fast, wide bandwidth closer to our homes is more realistic (even in the rural areas like mine, where the arrival of cooking-grade half-meg broadband has been a miracle achievement.)

But there are still many technical hurdles to overcome. One growth problem is the lack of a world-wide standard for the set-top boxes that channel the digital stream into our TV sets or computers. Individual operations are going ahead on spec, but they may not ultimately be compatible. But Ben is optimistic W SWe’re learning more than we are losing.T
Critical mass is also a financial consideration. SIPTV is still in its infancy, and we still have to break through that initial take-up barrier to become fully profitable, just as Sky had to. There’ll be consolidation amongst the operators, and mergers will be inevitable.T

But Sthere’s no doubt that this train is not going to stop,T and media delivery to our TVs, computers and (yes) mobile phones is going to be the future. Not that the UK is leading the world in setting up the infrastructure W in the past 12 months we have expanded our broadband network by just 15%, and the USA can only claim 22%. China was higher with 25% and France (29%), but even they were eclipsed by Spain, which expanded by a whopping 39%.

SBut what about ‘Internet Meltdown’?T was a question W can the internet itself cope with the squillions of bits of data that such media expansion will generate? Bill said that killing Spam was a vital key to the future. SSpam email represents 70% of internet traffic W get rid of that and immediately there’s sufficient bandwidth for everything else.T Unfortunately the question of how to kill Spam was not answered!

And what about that difference between IPTV and TV over the Internet? Well, there is a difference, and it’s an important one W the crucial thing being whether or not the provider owns the delivery network. A good example of TV over the Internet is YouTube, where the media instigator has no control over how the material is distributed or received, and to overcome this the material is best provided in low quality so that everyone can access it quickly. If, on the other hand, the content provider can control the delivery chain from start to finish, then quality is assured. This is IPTV, and if (for instance) you want to persuade a Hollywood film distributor to allow you to broadcast his product, he’s going to want to know that it’s not going to end up like a YouTube video in a muddy box. Control is the key.

So, that was Bill… and that was Ben, with their explanation of IPTV. And now I think that the little (Mansion) House knows something about it too!

By Graeme Aldous 

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