Almost exactly a year ago in my final year at Ravensbourne, I was getting ready to hand in my dissertation entitled ‘Will the Internet as a distribution medium lead to the end of traditional broadcasting and transmission as experienced today?’. I covered current and expanding technologies, infrastructure requirements, users, business models etc and am reminded of it a year down the line by many of my friends in the year below me having just submitted their papers.
A year down the line and much of what I wrote in my original text has changed dramatically and its been interesting to go through and attempt to summarise what has proved to be a year of quite some growth in the area.
- Peer to Peer in general; When I wrote my dissertation, figures were put out that P2P was responsible for 60% of global internet traffic by Cachelogic, unfortunately the research notes citing this which were freely available at the time are no longer so and as statistics on this differ it would be difficult to reference here a comparable current figure. I think it would be accurate to say that it has increased significantly, Andrew Parker (Cachelogic CTO) made a point that still holds true when he said that “P2P is driving consumer broadband uptake…and broadband is driving P2P uptake”. When I originally wrote my paper, media companies were starting to explore P2P as a delivery medium, the BBC and others mentioned below have indeed started to make significant moves in this area which will push its impact in the legal arena. However, despite the best efforts of the MPAA and others, the piratebay and other torrent search engines appear to be catering for an ever increasing user base, whilst DRM (discussed below) and maintaining copyright is important the method it is employed makes the consumer feel like a criminal and will in my view only prolong the use of illegal torrents.
- BBC iPlayer; The BBC iPlayer which at the time was in a limited user test period with little information besides screenshots and projections of what the service could offer has now moved into a public consultation phase but in my view its appeal and potential impact has been damaged significantly by the proposed limits passed on in recent findings by the industry regulator Ofcom. Ashley Highfield (BBC Director of New Media and Technology) said in 2005 that “when switch-over begins, I want internet television to be a viable alternative to satellite, Freeview and cable”. This it still has the potential to be but if the programs capacity is limited ‘in the public interest’ then it may not be so promising.
- Apple TV; Now this is probably going to be quite popular to say the least among the mac community, Apple’s success with the iTunes business model is likely to work the same way with the video world as it has with the music world when Apple TV launches. Naturally its Quicktime based, will have DRM etc and as with the current iTunes/iPod business model offers a fantastic vendor lock-in solution where the system works perfectly if you have entirely Apple hardware but requires iTunes to work with Apple TV and is probably not going to work with anything else!
- Sky Anytime; When I wrote a year ago there was very little information available about what this was going to be and Sky declined to comment when I enquired, saying that they were ‘still developing an offering’. A year down the line and Sky Anytime is looking to be quite a good service, via PC, Phone or Television offering a wide range of content from the Sky channel line-up including shows such as Lost and 24 as well as films and sports.
- 4od; The Channel 4 on demand service allows you to download a wide selection of content both for rental and to keep although as can be expected with all the more well known companies there is the expected dose of DRM in there so you can’t take the content onto your laptop from a desktop to watch on the train or onto a portable player like the video iPod or the Creative Vision W.
- TIOTI; Tape it Off the Internet was at the beginning of last year just a subject of blog posts with little real information known, the service has now opened up in beta although I must say I was unfortunately disappointed with a service which didn’t help me find content and instead got in my way and added another link in the chain. TIOTI is very much designed as a social experience but is in some ways quite difficult to describe, it allows you to track the shows you watch along with what your friends watch, it gives you links to torrent downloads of the shows. I’ve mentioned this before so I won’t delve into it too much again but I do believe it would have worked much better as a desktop client including a media player such as VLC and a bittorrent client alongside its social offerings, the Democracy player fulfills two of these angles immediatly. As it is at the moment, having to mark the show as watched on TIOTI after I’ve watched the show is not a very streamlined approach should just be an automatic gesture by the system.
- The Venice Project/Joost; Last year the Venice Project didn’t exist at the time of writing, in the last year this has grown from a simple and quite nondescript website into Joost beta which markets itself as ‘infinite choice, and TV that is truly interactive. TV anywhere, anytime…’. While the interactive side appears to be limited, the brainchild of the people behind both Kazaa and Skype seems to be heading off to a good start and when it launches (?) should hopefully flourish as an online provider. To be honest I prefer the idea of a company who is not already a media giant (BBC, Sky etc) ruling the roost for IPTV offerings and hope it goes this way. Time will tell but Joost seems to be one to watch in both senses of the word! Wired magazine have a good if a little lengthy article on this but it has some informative diagrams as well.
- Youtube is so widely discussed and such a figurehead of online video that there is not much point in mentioning its continued growth over the last year as well as Google’s expensive aquisition of it, suffice to say it has been a significant mover!
- Sopcast and Rawflow; The main difference between the two of these is that Sopcast is currently a free offering where as Rawflow is pushing itself more at larger broadcasters/content providers. Both services use P2P for transmission and support live content although I haven’t had the opportunity to experience this yet. Rawflow supports Windows Media, Real Player, Shoutcast and AAC based streaming media and the DRM capabilities of these formats. As the Sopcast system employs a similar approach although information is limited it would seem it offers the same potential.
The biggest problem in my opinion facing the large scale adoption of both download and streaming television services is that everyone is offering their own solutions, instead of flicking the TV channel to see something different you end up closing down and then starting up another proprietary application or browsing to another webpage to view content from that one provider which seems from a user perspective a most unworkable and undesirable solution. The BBC, Sky and Channel 4 systems differ slightly in how they offer material to the viewer and its availability to them, they cost differing amounts (in reality the BBC iPlayer service costs money as it is meant for the use of license fee payers) but for the most part they are doing the same thing, while it would be impossible in reality for three groups such as this to agree on enough common ground to do such a thing it would be nice if they had produced one package encorporating the content of all three.
As many consumers are finding, the onslaught of DRM protected media is exactly what is making me reluctant to pay for services like this, if I pay for content then like a DVD I should be able to use it where I wish. In reality if I download a program which I then later want to watch on the move I would have to either download it again on a laptop or download it from a torrent link. Sadly like the idea of a group effort on the software front, the idea of DRM free media is unlikely to catch on despite consumer desires. DRM has been discussed on the BBC Backstage mailing list sparodically for some time now mainly relating to the iPlayer, among the comments include mentions of the fact that its better that the BBC are releasing something than nothing, very true and I believe that in a lot of ways this sums up what the industry is doing as a whole, they’re all doing something IPTV ish but its a long long way from the ideal for the consumer point of view.
The subject of regulation has also come up again recently and is something which I discussed a year ago, BBC News is reporting on an EU bid to regulate internet broadcasters, this has been attacked by government figures within the UK as it is felt it would risk “damaging the new media industry”. This is very similar to what Ofcom said a year ago, but aside from protecting the economy of online broadcasters it is difficult to see how any meaningful controls could be imposed. The content uploaded by users of YouTube and others is constantly creating new limits of what is permissible and the terms of service are certainly more relaxed than Ofcom regulation for example, the service up to a point regulates itself but has no requirement other than maintaining public image.. The then Ofcom chairman said in 2005 that as traditional broadcasters require permission to use the airwaves they are easily regulated, internet video providers are not hanging from the same rope and while the geographical location of the company servers could act as a hinge pin there are many countries who would not employ the same ethics and morals often applied here. Despite EU efforts to apply some bureaucracy to the process I think that what Ian Forrester said when I spoke to him a year ago still holds true;
“if you want to get something youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be able to get it…but there will be trusted gatekeepers [BBC, ITV etc]“
…and a year down the line I still can’t see this changing. To be fair to the EU proposal it does mention the need for substantial deregulation of existing audio-visual rules but it will be interesting to see what it ends up as once different countries have had their stab at it.
By no means an update on my entire text which would be a mammoth task and make for a rather extensive post and there are so many more companies/orgs making their various marks online, Narrowstep, blip.tv and Democracy player are just a selection of them.
InformITV wrote a guide to the current state of IPTV which is available on their website and is a useful read in a lot of places regarding the movements of the mainstream companies within the IPTV world.