Sunday, 21 April 2013

NBN: Free to Air over Multicast - Is this the Killer App?

I'm wondering if the Free-to-Air (FTA) stations might combine to become the video RSP and drive the take-up of NBN services.
NBN Co's multi-cast capability would allow the RSP to sell multi-cast video for $5/mth.
Would NBN Co come to the party and sell a "video-only" plan for $5/mth wholesale as a loss-leader?

This allows Broadcasters to service niche markets, not just with content, but new technologies like 3-D and 4K, without sacrificing broadcast bandwidth.

Multi-cast will work on both DSL & Fibre NBN's, with higher-bandwidths needed for simultaneous downloads. By trading scheduled broadcast times, with time-shifted viewing for on-demand viewing, there significant technical benefits for broadcasters, RSP's and network operators.

These are some of the hidden technical benefits:
  • Multicast minimises the broadcaster and NBN switch bandwidth needed, more similar to broadcast radio/TV transmitters than current "on-demand" video using a fresh TCP/IP connection per viewer.
    • Anyone with a simple uplink can afford to broadcast a channel to unlimited numbers.
    • NBN Co reduce duplicated traffic a few thousand times, allowing consumers to do more with their subscription fees.
  • The TCP/IP "drop-dead" of a congested uplink is removed.
    • If the video feed is on a separate service, there is no contention with data. The NTD's are supplied with four service outlets.
      • This means families will never say "Who's killed the TV? Stop that!"
    • Multicast streams rely on "Forward Error Correction", unlike TCP, they don't know or care if an individual receiver has lost data. Because fibre is nearly error-free, this is a very good match.
  • Simple and effective copyright and limited use enforcement, based on encryption, can be implemented without intensive per-user computations: it's thousands/millions of times cheaper for broadcasters and more energy efficient by the same margin.
It took until the mid-1970's for 90% of Australian residences to have a telephone, I guess 75 years. Around 25 years after the introduction of the mobile phone, Australia has ~125% take-up of the whole population.

This says two things:
  • People love to talk, the business driver O.T.C. understood so well, and
  • Australians are Early Adopters: collectively we experiment & use new things, such as leading the world in Internet usage in the mid 1990's when dial-up was king.
We've only seen a few big changes in Television in this country since B&W was introduced in the 1960's: Colour in 1974 and Digital (DVB-T) in 2000's. Now, the phase out of Analogue, freeing up VHF spectrum for the voracious appetite of mobile phones. Cable TV,  to only 2.5M premises in 1994-1997, was an expensive bust here, quite unlike the Rivers of Gold it was everywhere else.

TransACT offered voice, data and video over a VDSL-FTTN: exactly the Coalition NBN's offering, but a decade earlier and an ultimate commercial failure.

The thing that really impressed me with their video offering, it included not just the few local FTA stations but others not normally available, like the BBC World Service. Not enough for me to buy it or a sign-on for FOXTEL or whatever service they sold: I don't claim to be a representative consumer.

FTA stations in the digital TV era, with multiple streams per broadcaster, are seeing a resurgence in interest and are competing effectively against Cable TV. We only have the three commercial networks because they can charge for advertising and it provides businesses a net positive benefit: its expensive but makes business sense to advertise on TV. If the business benefit reduces, we the consumer lose at least one FTA network. The economics are that simple and harsh.

The huge number of channels on Cable TV in the USA plays a major role in fostering diverse areas:
  • Entertainers, interviewers and comedians, have a way to establish themselves and be seen. The major networks know the up-and-coming stars and shows from their small, niche offerings on Cable.
  • Surprisingly, the democratic process is informed by Cable TV through the "Public Access" system: the US Government supply free access to everyone on Cable. Special interest groups just have to use it.
  • There's also a whole lot of niche material out there, including Televangelists, Shopping Networks and Adult channels and a bunch of plain rubbish answering the question, "Where do those rejected before the first cut of Talent Shows go?".
Universal Cable TV offers a valuable cultural, democratic and commercial medium, albeit with a lot of dross coming along for the ride. With NBN Co multi-cast, we can have that.

The problem I have with FTA digital TV is programming clashes: whilst the PVR I have can record 2 shows at once, often enough the five broadcasters schedule more than 2 programs I like up against one another, often without an 'encore' allowing me to catch-up later.

These clashes happen for a very simple reason: ratings.

Independent agencies make a nice living measuring what people watch, allowing FTA broadcasters to charge a premium for "eyeballs". They then publish "ratings", broken into fine detail for advertisers to consider in placing their "messages".

The world of Internet multi-cast TV offers a slew of benefits and opportunities for both sides of the equation: producers and consumers.
  • Consumers get a whole lot more choice without forced conflict.
    • There has to be a 'contra' for unlimited free content:
      • data collection for ratings agencies with selected upload via the network, answering "what got watched in full or part, when?".
      • automatic, timed deletion of first-release content.
      • locally injected advertising, including some "can't skip this".
        • Geographical and Demographic appropriate advertising serves both sides better.
        • That's the deal FTA broadcasters make with both consumers consumers and producers: If you watch Ads, we'll give you interesting viewing for free.
        • While the TV might play the advert, viewers aren't forced to watch. People are inventive and adaptable: onerous conditions will be overcome with inventive solutions, or be simply rejected by viewers.
      • targeted advertising: Google for TV. As simple as "don't need to see gender-specific ads" to "compile a specific profile on me".
      • Low repetition: I tend to skip adverts I've seen before, but take time to watch well-made, interesting adverts, especially those in a series. Also, I will back-up and watch Ads when something catches my eye. Advertising is part of the entertainment & information stream: its doesn't have to be forced down my throat against my will.
  • Whilst PVRs can record unlimited content, they aren't built to respect copyright.
    • There's no technological reason that Multicast IPTV can't include restrictions on viewing rights:
      • How long can the copyright content be held? A day, a week, a month or forever?
      • Is there a way to convert the FTA copyright to a sale? Like iTunes, can I buy some content and add it to my permanent library, to download and play when I like?
      • Can I purchase limited-play or permanent rights to a program I enjoy?
      • Can I upgrade to a high-bandwidth version of the content?
    • With the VCR, copyright owners found that anything broadcast may replace sales of recent releases and increase sales on the "long tail" as older releases get renewed interest.
    • Programs such as "Glee" are found to increase sales on iTunes, it's not all one way.
As a consumer, I'd like not to be caught in the crossfire of Ratings Season and be forced only then to choose between the best shows. The rest of the time having to cast about for something vaguely interesting to watch.

Currently I can only accept or reject the Free Broadcasters offer: Watch the Ads in return for interesting content. With an unrestricted PVR, I can change the deal: Watch the program later and you can skip the Ads. Nobody benefits from pretending the deal hasn't changed.

The Internet, with intelligent devices and a real-time backchannel, can offer much more appealing and fine-grained deals than a simple "take it or leave it", allowing consumers to trade-up or down to their price-point and producers to maximise their revenue. The Free Market does allow a win-win game, the power of real choice.

By 2021, the scheduled finish of the Fibre rollout, we could have 90% take-up of the NBN, if we cared to focus on targeted TV broadcast. From that base, what further services might evolve?

We know from the many surprising and successful services/devices that evolved since the "Dot Boom & Bust" of 2000, that the Internet fundamentally changes everything and people will continue to surprise and delight us with new ideas and offerings. New wide-spread technologies gnerate new opportunities galore.

To get to multicast IPTV requires a conscious decision by different players and their co-operation:
  • The Free to Air broadcasters need to co-operate and offer a single FTA multi-cast channel with multiple rates (SD, HD, 3-D, 4K) and some encryption for limited-use copyright material.
  • NBN Co needs to offer a video/multi-cast only entry-level service, well below AVC current rates.
    • In return for this loss-leader, NBN Co gets to minimise duplicate traffic flows and maximise the multi-cast capability of their equipment.
    • Consumers who want to simultaneously download multiple high-definition streams must upgrade access to higher rates at normal AVC rates.
  • The Ratings Agencies need to co-operate with PVR software producers on real-time data collection standards and codes of conduct.
  • PVR manufacturers and broadcasters need to co-operate on technical standards for respecting copyright and enforcing limited-use rights.
  • PVR software producers, broadcasters and Advertising Resellers, like Google, to provide targeted advertising and associated advertisement channels. PVRs can store a single copy of an Ad and insert appropriately, allowing per-market specific advertising and lower bandwidth broadcasts.
  • Paid Content Providers, like iTunes and You-tube, to co-operate with PVR software producers and broadcasters on providing permanent consumer content libraries, which allows upselling consumers with higher-quality variants of their existing content.
There will be 9M households capable of connecting to multicast IPTV in 2021. At $250-$1,000 per Intelligent PVR, that's $4.5 billion in initial sales and a $500M/yr on-going new business.

This is a multi-billion dollar industry for which Australia could serve as the global test-bed, without any Government regulation or intervention.

Will the commercial players that can make it happen, do so?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.