Over the Top at NTCA

Over the top video was the theme of a panel at NTCA’s Annual Meeting in Tampa Bay. Robin Wilson of Nagravision provided an excellent overview of what over the top is and how people around the world are providing it as a stand-alone service or as a blended service with off-air or direct satellite feeds. He explained widgets in the context of IPTV and how integrate web content into the television service to create a richer viewing experience.

Wilson warned that the over the top entertainment delivery could be a significant threat to traditional (funny how something so new becomes ‘traditional’) IPTV networks. He recommended that operators look for ways to integrate over the top offerings and that widgets might be the way to start with such an integration.

He also talked of 3D and reached a conclusion similar to that which was described in the ViodiTV CES post on that topic; that is, there is hype around 3D and challenges (such as the 2D guide in a 3D world), but to pay attention to 3D as its impact will be felt in the not too distant future.

Dale Merton, COO of Toledo Telephone gave the operator’s perspective of over the top video and Toledo’s experience of offering the Vudu service to its customers. Toledo Telephone is typical of a small independent rural telephone company with about 2,100 access lines and 900 broadband customers. One-hundred percent (100%) of Toledo’s customers can get at least 5 Mb/s broadband, so their network is primed for over the top services.

Merton explained that Toledo Telephone made a strategic decision that they did not want to be in the middle between the content owners and customers. As a result, they got out of the cable business and now concentrate on their core strength of the providing a high-speed, reliable network and helping the customer simplify their entertainment experience. He provided these pearls of wisdom:

  1. User experience is paramount
  2. 99% of our customers are not geeks – the service must be easy to use and reliable
  3. Whoever has the best quality wins – quality being defined as interface, content, connections to other devices and customer service. 
  4. It must be flexible. People want to be able to use multiple TVs and be able to watch different things on different TVs. 

He said that people are moving away from single use set-top boxes to ones that are multifunction or that integrated into devices, such as BluRay players. He also said there is a market for a hybrid off-air/over the top video solution that would provide customers with local broadcast as well as on-demand and other offerings.

Merton’s comments echoed those of Bob Saunders of SkitterTV in an earlier Business and Technology meeting. Saunders suggested there is a value-conscious market segment whose needs would be satisfied with a mix of local broadcast, a minimal amount of cable network programming and access to over-the-top video. SkitterTV has developed a middleware platform for this new vision of IPTV; one where there is a blending between over the top and linear programming in one simple to use guide, supporting multiple devices (e.g. PC, TV, mobile) and yet is backwards compatible with existing FCC standards for cable (e.g. Emergency Alert, Closed Captioning, Non-Duplication).

The overarching direction of where things are going are summed up in the comments I made, while representing ZillionTV at the aforementioned Business and Technology meeting, which suggested that we are moving from an over the top approach to a ‘Through the Telco’ implementation.

[Note: In addition to his role with Viodi, Ken Pyle also represents ZillionTV in his role as Director of Broadband Affiliate Relations]. 

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