Previewing TelcoTV 2009

Someone asked me recently what I thought was standing in the way of IPTV's success. I thought for a moment, and said, "Nothing. IPTV's already successful." (I only wish it had been such a concise sound bite, but that's basically what I said.)

I believe that, too, although my other footnote to the statement is that when I talked about IPTV, what I usually mean is the whole world of telco TV, IPTV included, as well as RF-based TV architectures like what Verizon Communications has (or started out with), as well as whatever alternative video-on-demand schemes other telcos might be using.

Could telco TV stand to keep growing? Certainly, and it will, though at a slower pace than previously, if third quarter results are to be believed. But, it's successful enough that telcos no longer need to be ready to distance themselves from the TV business if it doesn't work out. They can now safely integrate their TV services with the rest of their networks, services and operations. It can start to benefit from the seamless network environment telcos are trying to set up, and telcos can start moving on the initial busy work of winning over customers and start giving them something more: New programming, new DVR functionality, new home network capabilities, new personalized TV content and advertising, new flexibility to manage and access content.

All of the above will be key themes of TelcoTV 2009 in Orlando.

The new programming need will be addressed in one of the opening keynotes on Wed., Nov. 11. With apologies to opening keynoter AT&T CTO John Donovan (Update 11/8: Looks like AT&T is sending someone else instead of Donovan), I think the most interesting of this morning's keynotes could come from Ramu Potarazu, CEO of the new Avail-TVN, the wholesale programming firm formed from the merger of Avail media and TVN Entertainment (with an assist from investor and key partner the NRTC).

Avail-TVN is one of a crop of players looking to supply programming to the telco TV crowd, most specifically to the smallest telcos who can't employ their own Hollywood liaisons. At the recent Supercomm show, I happened to be at a gear vendor's booth when a call came in wondering where one of their own rural customers might start in finding a wholesale resource for its programming needs, so this could be a pretty timely speech.

Later on Wednesday, at 1 p.m., the session "Personalizing TV: Reality or Urban Legend," sounds pretty promising. Personalization is a concept the industry has been talking about for a while, without much real movement. It's time to figure out what telco TV networks might really be capable of in this regard. Could we eventually see a la carte programming packages, or will personalization have its limits?

On Thursday, Nov. 12, at 2 p.m., the "Advanced TV Advertising" session presents another timely opportunity to discuss a different angle on the personalization topic (and the angle telcos are secretly most interested in because it's also the big revenue angle). A major push toward targeted and interactive advertising in the last few years (and obviously on the TelcoTV 2008 show floor) has relaxed back to a more gradual introduction of linear ad insertion capabilities, yet it's still a segment where telcos have barely dipped their toes in the water.

Home networking should be a very hot topic on the show floor, with competing interests HomePNA and MoCA having an exhibitor presence. The evolution toward a potential unified home networking standard (though we are well aware "unified" is a loaded word) has heated up the competitive battle between the technologies that have already planted their flag on the market landscape, so visiting one group's booth immediately followed by a visit to the other's should be good sport.

Meanwhile, 3-D TV, perhaps the most unanticipated technology discussion of 2009, will have a TelcoTV session devoted to it--as will TV application widgets, perhaps the most over-anticipated (and therefore possibly underwhelming) industry discussions of 2009.

That gives you a few items to add to your to-do list at the show. On Nov. 17 (once I've had a chance to digest TelcoTV 2009 news and trends), look for FierceIPTV's TelcoTV 2009 post-show report.

Also, thanks to many readers who pitched ideas for our upcoming FierceIPTV Watch List. You'll find that in our Special Report area on our homepage next Tuesday, Nov. 10.