Guardian Changing Media: Will IPTV change TV forever?

Session Chair: Nick Higham, correspondent, BBC News

Merlin Lilley, head of airtime management, Channel 4

Anthony Lilley, CEO, Magic Lantern Productions

Griff Parry, director of broadband and mobile, Sky Networked Media

Dr Abe Peled, chairman and CEO, NDS Group

Marc Watson, commercial director, BT Vision

Marc Watson of BT said they have 5,000 customers. The product is a hybrid set top box, a free set top box that has Freeview channels and BT broadband line – content, interactive services, games. We are progressing to spring launch.

NH: Are you a rival to conventional broadcasters?

MW: We’re an alternative to those platforms. What we found. Big gap between analogue and free services and subscription services. There is a big gap in the middle. People want extra services but not keen to subscribe. They can then access on demand content. People will be able to buy content at a discreet prices like premiership football, children programming and niche programming.

NH: Advertising or payment supported?

MW: Content that is free to access to the customer but has advertising wrapped around.

NH: Where will you get your money?

MW: We think that there is premium content that people will pay for. Sports, premium movies and adult content.

NH: Griff, is Sky worried about this?

GP: We tend to see this as suped up Freeview. We think the world is an interesting place right now. We’re moving from a world as far as television is concerned from a single platform to a multi-platform world. We tend to lean towards a world that follows customers. We expect linear channels to be a big part of the world, and we expect broadcast to be a big part of that world. I’ll start with Sky Plus. IPTV is often synonymous with on-demand. But we have SkyPlus and Sky on demand mobile.

Mobile is a different case, was launched as and conceived as pay-for service.

NH: Impact of DVR?

GP: I think the impact of DVR is over-stated. People still respond to ads.

People understand IPTV to mean on-demand.

NH: What is Channel 4 doing?

MI: We’re doing Freeview, BT, advertising paid for catch up and paid for catch. I think that Apple TV will be really big.

AP: Convergence is not can I watch TV on my PC but convergence of linear and on demand content. On demand is the ideal medium for niche content. Moving from a world where there were few terrestrial channels to gradually eroding. People can open window on a host of other content.

The main issues seemed to be whether subscription or advertising would support programming. What is the best model for on demand? Is scheduled programming dead? How are content producers going to be reimbursed? Will these new distribution channels support the production of content? I’ve heard these issues before.

Moving from channels to shops and to social networks, Anthony Lilley said. The business models have to converge, not necessarily the technology. One of the major challenges for industry and regulator (OFCOM) that you can’t simply slowly progress in this world. You have to have access to better material, more well tagged material. You can’t think the watershed will continue to work. The watershed is the time after which content deemed not fit for children can be broadcast in the UK. More than 25% of children know their parents’ PIN number to unlock age-restricted content, OFCOM has found.

Question from advertising agency about impact of Apple TV?

AP: They may be trying to do the same thing they did with iPods. Pay for razor, but give razor blades away for free. Most iPods only have paid content equivalent to one CD. Most of the rest of the content is ripped from CDs.

Jo Twist, recently returned to the BBC, asked about closed versus open systems. Closed systems have failed. Mobile systems haven’t shown as much innovation because of the closed nature of the platforms. She asked about how to tie in social networking such as possibly using Alcatel’s Amigo.

Jo, Jemima Kiss, Suw and I have talked about the divide here. Jo is getting upset as the Sky guy just called Sky an aggregator. Corporations are using the language, but that is only the first step in cultural change. They are still trying to dress up old business models, sometimes merely with new buzzwords (like micro-chunking) without adapting to new business realities.

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