TWC and its Apple iPad app, Netflix are prime examples of where IPTV needs to go

jim
Gwen Verdon made the song Whatever Lola Wants in the 1955 musical play, Damn Yankees a Broadway hit, because, after all, the next line said it all: Lola gets. Fast forward 55 years and let's update that with some new lyrics from one of the newer stars on the street, in this case, Wall Street, Netflix (Nasdaq:NFLX): "What ever Netflix wants, Netflix gets."

Last week's news that the media distributor successfully bid for, and acquired, 26 episodes of the yet-to-be-produced political drama House of Cards, said a lot about how far the company has come--as well as how far it appears to be willing to go--to cement its position as a streaming media destination. The $100 million it's rumored to have cost the company didn't seem to make it bat an eyelash.

It's been popular sport to bet against Netflix over the past couple of years, despite its run up in the stock market, the 20 million-plus subscribers it's managed to put together and its relentless drive to dominance in the streaming media space.

Critics, like Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, have consistently hovered over the company making grim predictions that Netflix would get its comeuppance whenever (fill in the blank) contract for (fill in the blank) came up for renewal, chanting that Netflix's time was nigh to pay big bucks.

In the meantime, Netflix signed content deals with CBS and Disney and went out and got access to earlier movie releases, and more catalog content. And, now it has original content.

When Amazon launched a streaming add-on service to Amazon Prime, and Facebook began a trial distribution deal with Warner Bros., pundits began writing Netflix's obit, predicting its stock would nosedive, that new competition would chew away at its margins, that content costs would erode profits and that customers would look elsewhere for content. Yet, the company pushes on and subscribers continue to flock to the service (estimates put it north of 22 million). And, despite content that isn't (yet) as compelling as HBO or Starz, or as current at Hulu, subscribers love it. They love it because it's easy and it's everywhere.

At IP&TV World Forum 2011 in London today, Giles Wilson, Ericsson TV's head of technology, said companies that want to make a big play in the IPTV space are going to be the ones that can bring the most content to the most screens in the home, and do so seamlessly.

"If content providers want to take advantage of portable devices, they need to break out of the verticals and deliver the same service to all devices," Wilson said. "The operators that can rise to that challenge will be the ones that win overall."

So far, operators have talked a great game about getting content to their subscribers where and when those subscribers want it. But no one-not a single operator-has delivered. Which is not to say they haven't tried.

Most recently, Time Warner Cable discovered just how much subscribers want their TV everywhere when it rolled out its new app that sent 32 channels of live TV to Apple iPads, albeit only to TWC subscribers with both hi-speed Internet subscriptions and cable subscriptions, and only within the confines of their homes. The response, nonetheless, was huge. According to the company it overwhelmed TWC's servers. TWC said it was forced to trim its offering to some 15 channels from the original 32 it has originally put up because of the strain the demand put on its infrastructure. Of course the rumor was that the cable company folded 17 of those channels because of potential lawsuits from the content providers, a rumor that TWC tepidly denied.

What the popularity of TWC's Apple iPad app experiment and of Netflix's streaming business has shown, very quickly, is that the idea consumers won't bite on TV Everywhere or won't accept or want to watch content on screens other than those in their living rooms, is wrong. For IPTV operators and the IPTV industry to flourish, they're going to have to get content owners on-board, and they're going to have to be creative in the way they do it. After all, whatever consumers want, consumers get... somehow.-Jim

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