The next wave of TV is here...

My very first memory of television was the procession of John F. Kennedy's funeral on a small round-screened black-and-white cabinet model. Our household received two-and-a-half channels with a 30-foot Yagi mast on the roof via waves traveling through the air.

I never dreamed I would someday report on the complexity of the TV business, nor that within my half-life it would consist of ones and zeros zipping through strands of glass.

For more than 40 years, television was the entrenched domain of broadcasters, licensees of a Federal Communications Commission created specifically to ensure that airwaves were used in the public interest. Then some cowboys in Wyoming who couldn't receive signals with the usual antennas built towers and strung coaxial cable to their respective ponderosas. Cable television quickly spread around the country and displaced the broadcast medium.

Then some guys realized that anyone could set up an 8-foot C-band dish in the back yard and pass up the cable company altogether. There was a period of years in the early '90s when trailer-hitched C-band dishes were a fairly common site on rural byways. The dishes were eventually reduced to the size of a serving platter and the direct broadcast satellite business evolved into a 30-million subscriber threat to the U.S. cable TV industry.

Meanwhile, executives back at the telephone companies were contemplating their own moves into the TV business. Four big Bells--Bell South SBC, Ameritech and GTE created a TV venture dubbed "Americast," while Bell Atlantic, Nynex and Pacific Telesis came out with Tele-TV. Both were simply cable overbuilds that became capital sinkholes. AT&T tried to buy its way into the TV business with a $100 billion of existing cable systems, including John Malone's TCI in Denver. The move caused AT&T to implode. Comcast wound up with the TCI systems, Malone ended up with DirecTV, and telcos were left with a dwindling landline business in the face of mass cell phone adoption.

But there's always another meanwhile. This one involved a young scientist in the basement of a General Instruments facility who had not been told that it was impossible to reduce the digital payload of a television signal. So he did it. Thus, digital television was born, and from there, the compression algorithms that spawned IPTV.

Today, television is a business of multiple distribution models and egalitarian content creation. The primary challenge is keeping up with whom is doing what and how.

Even the acronym "IPTV" is growing out of itself. We take it here to refer to both physical, telcoTV architectures like Verizon's FiOS and online content streamers such as YouTube and Google Video. It all comes down to bits traveling over an Internet Protocol network.

IPTV, with its innate bandwidth efficiency, will one day be the primary distribution form for video, and that's why I took on the task of interpreting it for Fierce. I've been a student of television since analog waveforms stunned a nation in November 1963. It is one of the most profound techno-sociological phenomena of the modern era, "Age of Love" notwithstanding. I hope to continue telling the story of television as it evolves, and I'm delighted to be able to do it with the type of aggressive, cutting-edge media companies that characterize the Internet age.

My goal is to cut through the jargon and present the IPTV business in a compelling, straightforward way that anyone can comprehend. So help me out. Send feedback, notes, criticisms, thoughts and rants. Let me know what's going on and what you need to know.

I would like to thank Brian Dolan, Sue Marek and the rest of the staff at FierceMarkets for their support, even as I was nearly ejected from the Fierce office building for riding a bike, and later a mall for covering the iPhone launch, during my first week on the job. I look forward to seeing what else is in store. -D.

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