On paper, the UK’s broadband market has performed very well during the last two years. The country is among the most broadband-friendly in the world, with more than ten million subscribers, or one in six of the population. The country continues to climb the broadband ratings charts, and while technological developments regularly allow providers to increase data speeds of their broadband packages, the competitive environment prevents them from increasing prices. The UK was also one of the first countries in the EU to bring quad-play to consumers, following ntl’s purchase of Virgin Mobile. The formula is now springing up throughout Europe ? the latest to embark of the quad-play formula, this month, was Belgium’s cable provider Telenet which now offers a bundle comprising broadband, fixed and mobile telephony and interactive digital cable TV. Providers across Europe are gearing up for their triple play deployments, as infrastructure improves.
Yet does the man on the street understand what it all means? On a recent trip to the UK this researcher was pleased to see how the television market had developed during the past three years. Interactive TV had become very popular, and the range of channels available on Freeview was impressive. In July the well-regarded Film Four channel abandoned its subscription service to become one of the Freeview family of channels, calculating that it could generate sufficient revenue from advertising alone. It appeared that most living rooms had a Freeview set-top box. Coupled with BSkyB, it seemed that the living room had a firm grip on the average family’s TV-based entertainment.
Therein lies a fundamental difficulty for IP-delivered entertainment at present.
Firstly, computer illiteracy is a hurdle which must be addressed before current computer-based services can become mainstream. An Ofcom survey in March this year showed that about 60% of people without Internet either could not understand it or had no interest in it.
Secondly, people must be attuned to the unfamiliar notion that streaming video as entertainment could be delivered to the living room rather than to a computer tucked away in an unsociable part of the house. For many, the two concepts do not co-exist happily, and this is largely a result of poor understanding.
There is currently only one company ? Video Networks ? that makes most of its income from Video-on-Demand (VoD). Its service, HomeChoice, is limited to certain areas of London, and its subscriber base is only about 30,000. BT had been trialling VoD since the late 1990s and is clearly committed to the platform, having selected Microsoft’s IPTV Edition software platform for its broadband delivery and management service and Philips as the STB provider. In addition, several content deals have been signed in recent months with some high-profile entertainment companies, including BBC Worldwide, Paramount and Warner Music Group, the National Geographic Channel, and children’s TV programming suppliers HIT Entertainment and Nelvana.
By the end of the decade perhaps 60-70% of European households will have broadband. This will create an enormous potential market for IP-delivered services. Clearly, network upgrades and faster data delivery go hand in hand with the public’s ability to purchase VoD products and to make full use of existing video services, such as YouTube, and those yet to be developed. But just as clear is that services need to be delivered to the living room before most people will grasp that IP will have much to do with entertainment, and increasingly less to do with computers, as presently understood. Once this conception is popularised, IPTV will have a bright future. For the computer illiterate across Europe, and those disinterested in the Internet, this will be a welcome change.
United Kingdom – Broadband – Fixed Network Overview;
United Kingdom – Convergence – Triple Play & Digital TV;
Europe – Convergence – Triple play and Digital TV;
Europe – Infrastructure – FttH, NGNs & IP ;
Technology – IP 5 – Video On Demand.
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