ABS-CBN, a major player on the Philippine’s media landscape, hopes to stay connected with the estimated 8 million Filipinos living abroad by making entertainment and news broadcasts from its 35 television stations available as video streams over the Internet. Relying on the Internet is an attractive alternative to satellite distribution, which the broadcaster sought to phase out, because of the economic savings doing so offers, according to Jonathan Speaker, COO of StreamGuys, the content delivery network helping ABS-CBN put its plan into action.
IPTV Update spoke with Speaker to learn more about the ABS-CBN project, as well as to get his perspective on where Internet television is headed.
IPTV Update: Please describe your involvement with ABS-CBN, as well as what they want to accomplish via IPTV and Internet TV distribution plans.
Jonathan Speaker: We’ve been working with ABS-CBN for almost four years. The relationship began with them wanting to distribute their content over the Internet through the Web browser.
That consisted of dealing with live channels as well as on-demand channels. We became their content delivery service for that. About two years ago, they decided they wanted to start phasing out the satellite delivery platform they were using to distribute their content internationally to the Diaspora Filipino out-of-country citizens.
As part of that phase out, they moved into the idea of IPTV distribution. What we do is act as the back-end content delivery for the front of their IPTV platform, which is a NeuLion platform delivery system.
ABS-CBN brought us into the mix because we were already delivering their service at a price point that was very much affordable and likable to them. What they wanted to do was instead of employing a full, custom turnkey solution, they wanted to piece together their own solution. So they brought us to the table and used NeuLion’s box as kind of the hybrid system instead of using NeuLion for A to Z.
IPTV Update: Just to clarify, this content distribution for ABS-CBN is being done over the public Internet, not via a “walled garden” telco IPTV network.
Jonathan Speaker: Correct. This project is twofold. It is intended to phase out satellite delivery in certain parts of the world so that it is more affordable for them, and using the open Internet to deliver the IPTV. So, instead of a walled service, it is an open Internet service that we are providing.
But I want to be clear that we are the delivery system for them. We aren’t the ones who have developed the set-top box. We work to integrate our systems with the set-top box deliverer.
IPTV Update: What sort of format and bit rate are you delivering?
Jonathan Speaker: We are supporting the aH.264 format for the IPTV delivery.
The data rate is anywhere from 400kb/s to 600kb/s, and I believe there are a few programs done at 800kb/s. ABS-CBN handles the encoding process on their end and hand us packets and say, “Get these packets to our customers.”
One thing I would like to emphasize is that a number of these set-top box players may not have core competency in IPTV delivery. They may be jumping onto a Level 3 or an Akamai back end. We fit in nicely because a lot of these set-top box players are not content delivery networks. Their specialty is the set-top boxes and the middleware that goes on them.
IPTV Update: Beyond the ABS-CBN project, what are your thoughts about the future of public Internet-based Web TV versus the “walled garden” telco controlled IPTV?
Jonathan Speaker: I think the future is going to be a combination of walled garden and open Internet. I think if you create a hybrid solution that utilizes the strengths of both of those, then you will have a great product.
I don’t think the open Internet is ever going to go away. When you have a closed garden, of course, you are excluding parties to get involved. When you have an open Internet, people can distribute content and you can branch out of that. I would add we have been experimenting with the potential of using P2P. That’s something I would say as I look down the road is something that I could see happening in a walled garden approach as well as the open Internet.
IPTV Update: What strengths of peer-to-peer are you identifying for these sorts of applications?
Jonathan Speaker: Of course, you are talking about bandwidth savings. If you have the closed garden approach, you already have a captured customer base that’s turning on your box, and you are delivering download and upload to that box.
If done properly, you’ve got the right base, which is somebody who will download the application because it would be part of the set-top box. People now on the open Internet have a hard time downloading peer-to-peer players. It’s another player you have to install on your computer, it might be on all of the time, and you may not want that.
But when you have a closed wall, you have the captured client base that is OK with leaving the set-top box on or leaving that connection on so that it can be used for peer-to-peer delivery. Ultimately, a blended hybrid solution of open Internet and closed is where this is going.
IPTV Update: Netflix recently announced it would make its movies available via the Internet to STBs connected to living room TVs. This week, Amazon said it would begin selling movies and TV shows that it will stream to consumers. Where do you think Internet TV is headed? Can this sort of thing be sustained given bandwidth demands if millions of people begin streaming or downloading these huge content files?
Jonathan Speaker: I think there will be an initial rush, and then there is going to be a tipping point. Once that saturation or tipping point happens, there are going to be other solutions that will emerge to accomplish what is needed to be accomplished. That’s where I go back to the concept that peer-to-peer might play a part in that. When I look down the road, I see that as a means of making it more affordable and the ability to deliver to that tipping point.
As you just saw with the iPhone that happened, Pandora got on there, and all of a sudden, 3 million streams are happening. You’ve got certain tipping points, and we are getting real close to IPTV being a real solution for a lot of people, not just the small niche of 60,000 to 200,000 users. When you get into the millions and ultimately the hundreds of millions, I think peer-to-peer will play some role in enabling that to happen.
IPTV Update: How long will telcos with competing IPTV services and cable operators with competitive offerings allow this to go on?
Jonathan Speaker: I think a lot of fortunes were lost in laying dark fiber back in the late ‘90s, and that dark fiber is now just beginning to be utilized, so I think we have a way to go until we reach saturation point, but I definitely know IT people are looking at that and the traffic and beginning to identify that traffic so they can make game plans. I would say that within the next two years, you will probably see enough IPTV traffic that there will be announcements going on.
If they were smart, they would be looking at how to deliver this traffic instead of charging for it. How do they make money by allowing their customers to access this IPTV content.
IPTV Update: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Jonathan Speaker: What I see happening is a mad rush, and a lot of players becoming involved in the IPTV space. It’s very fragmented right now, and I would keep my eye on Cisco because I know they are up to something big.