Nxtcomm draws 20,000 to discuss future of telco industry

By Ken Kerschbaumer

More than 20,000 industry professionals interested in the future of the telco industry descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place this week to discuss a future that promises to be a complex mixture of wireless and wire-line services that deliver video, data and voice to an ever-growing number of devices and customers. And it was an event filled with interesting product launches and panels (not the least of which was SVG’s own panel on Mobile Sports Video that
will be available for streaming next week on the SVG Web site).

Topping the list was NBC Universal Executive Officer Bob Wright announcement that Olympics coverage will be available via broadband in a big way. “New for the Olympics is 2,400 hours of live coverage which includes more than 1,000 hours of live streaming media [covering 24 separate sports] over 17 days,” NBC Universal Executive Officer Bob Wright told the audience yesterday for his keynote at NXTComm in a preview of the network’s coverage of the 2008 games in China. Plans also include delivering content to mobile devices as well as PCs.

Topping the list of interesting headlines was Motorola CEO Ed Zandar’s announcement of a new feature for the RAZR 2 phone to ship later this summer. Dubbed “See what I see” the camera will be capable of real-time video transmission in the middle of a voice call.

“Imagine talking to your friend, you see something, you point your phone at it and shoot video of it and share it with him, all while you continue the conversation,” said Zandar. “It’s a new concept in videoconferencing.”

AT&T, meanwhile, announced that its Homezone service, which includes AT&T Yahoo! DSL and Dish Network video, will be HD capable. Expect 30 national HD channels and local HD content to be included free for one year to customers buying the SD package and $20 per month after the introductory year.

IPTV was also front and center off the show floor, with panels discussing the future of the technology that will allow for everything from SD to HD to be transmitted via Internet Protocol. Combined with a switched network consumers will be able to tap into a virtually limitless pool of content.

Dom Statsi, TVN Entertainment CTO, says TVN currently delivers 28,035,000 pieces of content each month as VOD content transitions to shorter clips like music videos. Toss in four elements to include the essence, metadata, promotional tag and a JPEG of the promotional poster and the number of elements scale tremendously.

All of those elements are also vulnerable to theft and piracy. Ironically, Statsi pointed to a study from the University of Pennsylvania that found that 70% of piracy begins with an internal employee either knowingly or unwittingly distribution a file or DVD prior to release. “A very small amount of piracy happens near the DVD release date because by then it’s already been stolen,” he adds.

Glenn Morten, Widevine, EVP and CTO, says that IPTV is changing the focus of digital rights management. “DRM is not about the historical model of restrictions but rather about making money” he explains. “It needs to be tailored to the business model.”

Free TV, for example, needs to protect future syndication revenues and also the brand. “You don’t want someone stripping out the ads and posting a video on YouTube with a new voiceover,” says Morten.

Morten adds there are four things on his “New Media Must” list for DRM. First, it must grow with new devices. It also needs to overlay on existing infrastructure. It needs to be highly renewable. And, finally, it needs to interoperate with industry standards.

In fact, content owners should not be worried about IPTV theft. “The algorithms used for IPTV are more advanced than those in traditional cable and satellite deployments,” he says. “It’s up to 20 times more secure than traditional solutions.”

Bill Squadron, SES Americom president, IP Prime Division, says a big shift facing everyone, however, is finding a rational balance that keeps the interests of the content holders, the rights holders, the consumers and the business operators all important.

“There has been wild fluctuations with desperately built walled gardens to protect content,” he says. “And lawsuits against individual consumers is not the kind of thing you see in a sane world.”

The new IP Prime service he oversees was several years in the making and offers the kind of end-to-end turnkey IP system that could become popular among telcos, particularly smaller ones.

“We’re pleased to boldly come out of the trial phase and offer a robust turnkey IP system with a facility that can send out hundreds of MPEG4 channels and bring in video from any source and distribute it to any destination,” he adds. “We encrypt in MPEG4, encapsulate the content, and send it back up with air-tight security.”

MPEG4, IPTV, HD, and wireless are all in play for telcos. For sports content providers and networks the question is will consumers buy into the concept of a single provider delivering all services?