Sunday, March 16, 2008

IPTV: The View From London

I just returned from IPTV World Forum in London. This is the world's largest trade show dedicated to IPTV, which doesn't necessarily make it very big (attendance was esitmated at 7,000 early in the show,) but does make it quite influential. Senior executives from many if not most of the world's largest telecommunication companies attended, although the focus was clearly on Western Europe (there are separate versions of the show covering Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and for the first time this summer, North America.)

I wish that I could tell you that I saw something earthshaking, but I didn't. That's one of the problems of being an industry analyst; we see almost everything well before it's revealed publicly, so there are rarely big surprises. However, at a show summary session on the last day, one of the analysts had an interesting insight: There were no content companies exhibiting at the show. Compare that to The Cable Show, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's conference, which will be held this May in New Orleans. Virtually every cable network that operates in North America will either be exhibiting or operating a suite at the show. These are the same companies that sell programming to IPTV operators, so why aren't they at IPTV World Forum?

My suspicion is that they see the Forum as a technical and engineering show, in much the same way that the Western Cable show eventually turned into a technical show before it was discontinued. The problem is that the primary thing that IPTV operators have to sell is programming. If the programming vendors don't see the industry's premier trade show as a viable venue, perhaps they don't take IPTV all that seriously.

What's the subscriber count at which programmers will see IPTV as a serious business? 25 million? 50 Million? My argument is that they need to take IPTV seriously now, even if it won't be a "real business" by their measures for a few more years. In particular, they need to start thinking about how the markets for their programming will change when the telcos are "busting silos" between the Internet, set-top boxes, mobile phones and landlines. In the long run, this is how IPTV will compete against cable and satellite.
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