Day Two of the IPTV World Forum began for Connected TV with a presentation from Griff Parry, director of on-demand at BSkyB, who (as Sky executives are always prone to at such events) ended his remarks by playing the audience a glossy promotional video. This showed how a typical multi-screen Sky household in 2012 might be consuming the pay-TV operator’s content.
Parry cautioned that some of the functionalities the promo displayed – which included amongst other features personalised EPGs for each family member, and the ability to pause a PVR-recorded programme in one room and pick it up from the same point in another – would not necessarily be available within a three-year time-frame, if at all.
Interesting, then, to contrast this take on the future from one of Europe’s leading TV technology innovators with a presentation to analysts at the end of the day from Franz Kurath, AT&T’s executive director of broadband content and converged services. This showed, among other things, that the ability to swap PVR content mid-play between different TV sets – a relatively distant possibility, according to the Sky presentation – was already a reality for US customers, through AT&T’s Microsoft Mediaroom-powered U-verse IPTV platform.
In addition, U-verse’s Total Home DVR allows up to 5 HD streams to be viewed simultaneously, said Kurath – two being consumed live, with three being streamed off the Total Home DVR. This box acts as the master, with standard U-verse receivers attached to other TV sets acting as ‘slaves’ – although the user experience on each TV set remains identical. The same recorded show can also be accessed, played back and controlled independently on up to 4 separate TV sets.
Such technology does not come cheap, of course. As Connected TV noted in a previous post, AT&T has twice had to scale back the U-verse project, increasing its spend on the rollout (to close to $5bn) while reducing its coverage. And though U-verse now has more than 1m subscribers enjoying its advanced features, AT&T admitted in its Q4 08 results that it now expects to reach its previously announced target of 30m homes passed, in 2011 – a year later than originally planned. Currently, it’s passing 17m.
Will the investment have been worth it? AT&T’s corporate line is vague, stating that it expects “U-verse services to become a multi-billion-dollar revenue opportunity over the next few years,” a phrase Kurath repeated almost word-for-word last night.
Certainly, the service appears to work well. Kurath noted that J.D. Power had accorded it the highest customer satisfaction levels for video service in those regions where it was available, and it has already received a number of awards – including 2009 Consumer Communications Service Product of the Year from Frost & Sullivan.
The comparison between BSkyB tomorrow and AT&T today is a little invidious, perhaps. AT&T enjoys late-mover advantage, allowing it to benefit from the latest technologies. BSkyB is much more constrained in what it is able to achieve given that it needs to address a legacy platform dating back to 1998, and not only a less mature broadband and networked home environment, but a less advanced HDTV one, too.
Another key difference, arguably, is that BSkyB is a dominant pay-TV operator. AT&T is not, competing against established digital satellite players in the form of DirecTV and Dish Network on the one hand and cable incumbents such as Comcast on the other. So as challenger AT&T needs state-of-the-art feature-sets such as those offered by the U-verse Total Home DVR to differentiate itself from the competition.
BSkyB can afford to be a little more relaxed, perhaps: neither Virgin Media’s cable platform nor BT Vision are about to offer such a rich multi-room feature-set any time soon.
(Declaration of interest: Microsoft Mediaroom sponsors the Connected TV blog)