How do you define over-the-top?


If there were a Webster's Dictionary for the IPTV world, one of the entries undoubtedly would be for OTT, or over-the-top delivery.

It likely would mention that it's a potentially disruptive technology, delivering video content over an unmanaged network.

That's the definition that Kurt Hoppe, LG Electronics' director of smart TV innovation and alliances, gave during a panel on BroadbandTV that I moderated at OTTCon in Santa Clara, Calif., last week.

(We spent some time discussing whether BBTV was a better acronym than OTT to describe the technology, but mostly just to rile Greg Fawcett, the event's organizer, who had listened to ex-Fox exec Jon Cody during the morning's keynote suggest BBTVCon as a more descriptive name for the nascent technology. Fawcett actually went out and bought the BBTVCon domain, just in case.)

What Webster's IPTV Dictionary might not mention is the popularity that OTT/BBTV is seeing among service providers, especially smaller ones looking to extent their IPTV plays without making major capex outlays and without having to invest heavily in fiber.

Anthony Wood, the founder of OTT set-top box company Roku, during his keynote at OTTCon said he believes the Internet is creating a flood of opportunity for content owners, tech companies in the space and for service providers.

And, it's creating a lot of risk as well.

Service providers, large and small, he said, have to be cognizant of what OTT has to offer. Wood, in fact, said he believes it'll just be a matter of time, perhaps as early as later this year, before an operator launches a service over the Internet.

"It hasn't happened yet, but there's a good chance it'll happen this year," he said. "There's a little bit of hesitation among service providers to be the first one to go."

If one does launch, you can bet a company like Elemental Technologies, which has been handling a ton of encoding for Comcast's Xfinity service, will be at the core.

CEO Sam Blackman points out that Elemental will be handling the encoding of the Summer Olympics in London this year, and ehe xpects its work to reach some 600 million viewers over the course of the games. NBC,which has global rights to the games, expects to broadcast 4,000 hours of live coverage to about 4 billion viewers.

Elemental is taking a pretty big bite of a huge pie...and delivering it over-the-top.

The risk of OTT adoption, of course, is that operators become "dumb pipes."

"That's not something we like to think about," said Andres Jordan, VP of innovation and business development at Deutsche Telekom North America, who also was on the panel I moderated. "Being thought of as a dumb pipe, well, we have more to offer than that."

Nonetheless, Jordan agreed that OTT was an opportunity for service providers. "But it has to be part of a service, not all of it," he said.

Panelists Mark Langford, VP of product management at Avail-TVN, and Andrew Morton, VP of broadband TV at Entone, agreed; both saw a hybrid model of OTT and IPTV as a likely scenario for service provider success.

Also on the panel, was Joe Bingochea, VP of antenna manufacturer ChannelMasters, which is having a banner sales year. For the record, he was not the only panel member who raised his hand when I asked who had cut the cord to their pay-TV service and was relying on OTT or other delivery methods for their entertainment at home.

He did, however, have the biggest smile.--Jim