Something's happening...but what?

Something is definitely happening lately in the TV service provider market. Just look at some of the IPTV-related news from the last week: New research about TV viewing habits suggests interest in online viewing of TV content, but also much loyalty to traditional video-viewing habits; subscription to premium entertainment services remains strong despite lower consumer spending overall; telco TV players are getting high customer satisfaction marks.

Meanwhile, cable TV players may be looking to re-define their long-standing content distribution models to include more online content; what will constitute the next-generation of IPTV content remains unclear, as does how it will be distributed and where it will come from.

What you immediately get from these posts is an undercurrent of tremendous change and evolution, but also a sense that for all our concern about how things are changing and all of our fear about not being left behind, the upheaval may not be as abrupt and overt as it seems. What we mean today when we talk about IPTV is so much different than what we meant a few years ago:

Yesterday, what IPTV meant: A telco TV service, aspiring to interactive content, delivered over a dedicated, closed IP platform.

Today, what IPTV might mean: A video content service, potentially interactive, delivered either in linear or on-demand fashion, over either a dedicated, closed network or the Internet, by a telco, cable TV player, device-oriented access service, or online video aggregator, distributor or manager.

Maybe the latter doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that's exactly where we are in the evolution. Trying to make sense of recent news affecting the IPTV world might be as big a mistake as letting it flow by without a thought. What TV service providers really need right now are two things: Focus and flexibility.

Focus on what your own customers are saying and how they are behaving. Focus on testing new concepts with them, rather than debating about their validity in the board room. Focus on determining what you realistically can and can't do, and how to do it in another way if it needs to be done.

Be flexible (or, "open" may be the better word) to changing your ideas about what defines your TV/video service, what kinds of content should be included and how they should be distributed, billed for and managed. Be flexible to partnerships and economic models that challenge the concepts in which your organizations previously have believed. Be flexible to the notion that if you got into this game to retain your customers, then you need to be ready to go where they take you.

Something is happening. We may see conflicting reports about what it is and how quickly it is happening. So, just be ready to act.