Sizing up the IPTV Experience

One quote from the IPTV World Forum in London really stood out was from Accenture’s Arjang Zadeh, stated: “quality, not content, is king.” Well, yes and no. It is not that simple, so let me explain.

Why would such a quote stand out in one’s mind? Well, it hits home for many of us because of problems we encounter with our current providers. Fortunately, one of the problems we see with digital video transmissions are the transient but eerily predictable, “timeout” errors when trying to access the on-demand service, can most likely be explained as an artifact of delivering a two-way service over a network originally designed to support one-way video. Press, On Demand again, and everything works fine. Strange.

IPTV is not immune from “strange” quirks either. In fact, ANY digital service is subject to these “quirks”. You see with an analog TV signal (really any analog signal, but we are talking IPTV here) there is graceful degradation of quality–without entirely interrupting the video program. Remember snow? Depending on the strength of the analog signal you have a really great picture or you have a less than a great picture but you have one. In a digital system, digital cable, satellite or IPTV, the degradation is less graceful. Depending on what bits are lost, the picture may still look great, there may be “macroblocking” or the picture may drop entirely. Any of these digital artifacts may occur to cable, satellite or IPTV. Our experience in the field showed us that subscribers that came directly to IPTV from an analog service (Off Air, analog cable) were more sensitive by the digital artifacts. Those that had previous “digital experience” were less sensitive to the artifacts. Makes sense, now.

IPTV Quality of Experience

Without describing in full detail all the of mechanisms available in an IPTV system to ensure Quality of Experience (QoE), suffice it to say, there are several, just at the network layer, ensuring the reliable delivery of packets to the IPTV STB. Of course, IPTV benefits from its inherent support of two-way traffic (unlike the CATV network to which two-way capability has been added).

Furthermore, QoE depends not only on the effectiveness of the network (core, transport, access) but the experience provided by the software platform. Just ask any subscriber of early stage IPTV deployments. Our early customers and their subscribers suffered through painful stages of learning–ours and the service providers–as the industry learned to deliver video over the telecom network reliably. These are the pains I and others have written about for the AT&T Uverse deployment.

However, content is an integral part of QoE and cannot be excluded from analysis. What we (my employer, Siemens Communications) have learned from our leading IPTV customer Belgacom, is that content remains king. This is where I believe I part ways with Mr. Zadeh. What Belgacom learned is if licensing premium content was king, licensing exclusive content is like being galactic emperor. Through their licensing of Belgian Premiere soccer, they attracted and more importantly retain subscribers. As you might expect from any relatively new technology, there have been QoE issues at Belgacom. However, understanding that great content is part of the overall QoE has been critical to the rapid success of BelgacomTV. A lesson for all IPTV service providers.