Telco TV needs group dynamic

The traditional telco industry certainly has no shortage of trade groups and standards bodies looking to help the industry push forward on various technology and market fronts. There are even sometimes too many different groups whose missions either become entangled or end up standing opposed to one another. It is surprising then to look at the TV service provider sector and see a distinct lack of such groups with telcos as either members or end users.

This is not to say that standards groups or trade groups from the traditional telco end of the market are under-addressing TV issues. The International Telecommunications Union, the IMS NGN Forum and the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions are just a few of the several groups working on such issues. Also, the telco TV folks have events like TelcoTV and the IPTV Forum North America (the latter coming up in New York City in two weeks) at which members of the ecosystem can confer and share information and experiences.

But, there is not a sense of a real group dynamic among telco TV providers, no concerted effort to move forward as a group. This is not the case in the cable TV sector. The cable TV companies still have a common industry research and development consortium in the form of CableLabs. The R&D consortium concept in the telco sector was abandoned many years ago when Bellcore was privatized (it later became Telcordia). The cable guys also have Canoe Ventures, a common industry effort to pursue advanced advertising platforms, and now TV Everywhere, which may be a more commercial venture driven by the broadcast industry but is specifically aligning itself with cable TV operators. In addition, the cable TV firms are fond of multi-provider memorandums of understanding, like the one in which the six largest cable TV companies set goals for adoption of Tru2way.

Telco TV players lack that sort of group dynamic. Either that, or it is very unapparent. Perhaps part of the reason is that the telcos, unlike the cable TV companies, compete against one another on other service fronts. The evolution of telco-on-telco competition is one of the factors that made Bellcore less appealing and led to the increase of in-house R&D efforts at several telcos. Still, when it comes to a new market environment in which telcos remain the underdogs, cultivating a better group dynamic might help all concerned, particularly in areas such as targeted advertising, online TV efforts, DVR service issues and content industry relations. These are just a few areas in which telco TV providers have tended to wait and watch what other providers, including cable TV companies, were doing before making their own decisions and moves. Why not move together and more confidently as a group?

That doesn't mean everyone will or needs to launch the same services at the same time, but pursuing the group dynamic can add a sense of clarity about common platform or service model elements, while also presenting the content industry, the consumer electronics industry and other important partner sectors with a unified front that will suggest that dealing with telcos will not be like dealing with fiefdoms that have their own laws and currencies.

The telco TV group dynamic does not have to occur at a global level. The market continues to be fragmented largely on a regional and international basis and sometimes on a country by country basis, and there are too many differences between the maturity levels of various international markets and the regulatory guidelines governing those markets for a worldwide group dynamic to be effective. But, there is no reason it can't work on a somewhat smaller scale. IPTV operators in Italy may now be giving us a glimpse of how the group dynamic can work through an association they started to deal with the digital TV transition in Italy. In that case, the group dynamic involves just three companies, but that's still better than going it alone.

-Dan

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