Setting definitions: IPTV is to IP video as CATV is to cable TV

Jim Barthold, FierceIPTVAttend any gathering of grizzled cable veterans, and CATV pops up in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge code word fashion.

Old timers, particularly among the tech crowd, seemingly can't resist calling cable TV CATV. It's likely that many don't even know that CATV isn't short hand for CAbleTV but rather stands for Community Antenna Television--the concept of erecting a big antenna to receive distant TV signals and pipe them (for a price, of course) to homes.

Cable TV hasn't been CATV since the mid-70s when satellites became the de facto way to transmit and receive TV entertainment. But the more than half-century old term persists. For what it's worth, you can argue that the term cable TV doesn't adequately describe an industry that delivers high-speed Internet, voice and sometimes wireless services along with entertainment TV.

While certainly newer and definitely more relevant, it's possible that IPTV is approaching the point where it will be about as accurate as CATV. IPTV had its origins in the use of Internet Protocol to deliver TV signals to consumer homes. Those with strict definitions of the term will point out that it was never Internet TV and not even telco TV, even though telcos were the most ardent adopters; it was (and is) Internet Protocol TV, the use of Internet standards--not necessarily the open Internet itself--to deliver television entertainment.

Today's problem is not so much the IP portion of the IPTV equation as the TV part. Just as cable is no longer--or at least shouldn't be--cable TV and certainly isn't CATV, IPTV is becoming only a fraction of what service providers are delivering across their IP networks.

Ericsson's (Nasdaq: ERIC) recent acquisition of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Mediaroom pushed the redefinition to the surface when Simon Frost, Ericsson's head of TV marketing made it clear that the vendor was planning a much broader use than just delivering TV signals but was instead "very complementary to TV Everywhere, the multiscreen TV, the mobility aspects the industry (is) moving towards," Frost told me at the time.

This week's FierceIPTV delivers more evidence that IPTV has expanded beyond delivering entertainment television to TV screens. The announcement that Google Fiber (Nasdaq: GOOG) was moving next to Austin, Texas, and that AT&T U-verse (NYSE: T) was gearing up to compete was more about broadband speeds than television entertainment, although TV entertainment will probably be the trench in which the battle is fought. In Australia, researchers are using IPTV networks to deliver targeted educational dental health and diabetes education materials and workers on oil and gas rigs located miles from civilization are getting information and entertainment via IPTV.

CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) is rolling out its Prism TV service in Omaha and surrounding environs. But Prism TV also includes voice and broadband data--especially broadband data--as parts of bundles expected to compete with incumbent cable TV providers Cox Communications and Charter Communications (Nasdaq: CHTR) and their own broadband bundles.

Calling what's traveling over the Internet today IPTV is like calling a Ferrari a car. It's accurate … but really, when you think of driving to the grocery store, do you think of firing up the Ferrari?

Shakespeare famously wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Jim Barthold can then write that broadband content delivery by any other name--IPTV, IP video, cable TV, CATV (wink-wink, nudge-nudge--would be as entertaining.--Jim

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