Verizon Takes on Cable, Needs Local Broadcast Content

Nab2005bugIvanseidenberg_keynoteIn his NAB 2005 keynote, Verizon chairman Ivan Seidenberg (left) invited broadcasters to team up with his phone company to compete with cable operators providing home TV. Verizon’s new FiOS service will eventually offer multichannel programming, plus very high speed Internet access, plus Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone service — the "triple play" of home telecom services. (See the Red Herring coverage and the Verizon press release.)

At NAB, the company announced that it would carry the NBC Universal channels over FiOS, but Seidenberg also wants to carry local channels. Like cable but unlike satellite TV, FiOS is a local service defined by the houses that touch the fiber, and there’s plenty of room for lots of local stations and for any new channels that come along.

Cable firms control which programs they select to carry, and the cable industry is always fighting over which channels regulators say that operators "must carry" in a patchwork of state and local regulations negotiated over the years. As the U.S. makes the transition to digital broadcasting by 2010, broadcasters will have more channels to offer and more fights to have over cable must-carry rules. The Verizon alternative promises to ratchet up the competition to the home.

The Web is Our Best EPG

EpgThe pitiful electronic program guides (EPGs) that come bundled with our cable and satellite systems are just not up to the task of managing the thousands of hours of multichannel content we’re paying for and, too often, missing. Printed products like TV Guide and the Sunday supplements haven’t been able to keep up with the proliferation of media content for years. The subscription services in media center PCs and PVRs give us more control, but there’s just too much live content scrolling by and too little on-screen editorial real estate to do a proper job of guiding us through our TV options.

That’s why people use the web to find out what’s on. A study released today by Yahoo! and Mediaedge:cia and reviewed in the indispensable Mediapost found that 37% of broadband users used the Web to learn about TV programs, plots and characters:

For the study, Forrester Research surveyed
3,207 U.S. adult consumers online, and researchers from HeadlightVision
conducted in-home interviews in 17 households.

The report also revealed that 34 percent of broadband users look up Web
sites mentioned on TV ads. Almost one out of five — 18 percent — take
part in online polls mentioned on television, and 11 percent go online
to learn about characters in a show.

Since the earliest examples of Star Trek sites on the Internet, the web has provided the depth for programmers, promoters and just plain viewers to read and write about their favorite shows. Games, polls and interactive features gather feedback, and desktop video tools let us clip and send pieces of TV to each other. TV by itself it OK; TV extended by the broadband web is much more fun.

NAB 2005: Digital, HD, IP and Mobile TV

Nabfloor Nab2005bugThe National Association of Broadcasters annual convention is a showcase of new TV engineering products and practice: with 95,000 visitors expected from 130 countries, 21% of attendees come from video production/post production firms, 17% from TV broadcasting companies, the rest are split meagerly across other fields like education/training (4%), entertainment (2%) and streaming media (1%). These are the production workers of the mainstream media, and although they tickle around the edges of emerging media (I spoke here about pervasive TV a few years ago), the big topics are high definition, digital broadcasting and the various pipes, wires and beams that deliver video, mainly to the home.

In its speaker line-up and sponsors, NAB — like CES last January — represents the triumph of the consumer electronics market over the business computing market. The giant Comdex computer trade show is gone, eclipsed by consumer events showcasing 64 bit CPUs, wireless networks, high definition monitors, multimedia databases and sophisticated ecommerce systems — not for the Fortune 500 technologists but for the TV couch potatoes in the rec room home theater. Heavy hitter keynotes like Hector Ruiz of AMD, Ivan Seidenberg of Verizon, John Gage of Sun and Mark Cuban of HDNet used to work the enterprise IT midway, now they’re barking products to the masses. 

There are a few things I want to see and write about here: electronic program guides and intelligent content; IPTV and the threat of phone company media; mobile video to cell phones and PDAs; media center PCs and PVRs; and the revolution of rising expectations threatening intrusive advertising. Stay tuned.

(If you’re in Vegas for the show, drop me an email and let’s talk shop.)