Mixed Signals

Video Distribution and Mobile Apps: Telecom Trends and Changes

8/27/2010 10:55 AM

“Mixed Signals” has recently completed extensive trips to Denver and Los Angeles, with several meetings focused on the familiar topic of “future trends in telecom.”

These trends include 1) the future of video distribution, and 2) the future of various applications in (and into) the mobile services world.

Video Distribution
Because a lot of money rides on the choices, many business people, and many technically-oriented business people, are asking one of the few really important telecom questions going forward: Which distribution systems — whether satellite, mobile, or fiber, or something else — are going to carry which forms and how much of tomorrow’s content? This is a critical determinant, both on the consumer side and on the business-to-business (e.g., backhaul) side.

Interestingly and inevitably — although they have a remarkable 16-year record of progress, and have maintained remarkable staying power — the companies that deliver video signals directly to consumers by satellite are confronted by one huge obstacle as they look toward the future: What can they do to compete with the bundled services offered by mobile, cable, and telco challengers?

That is one reason why companies like Dish Network are buying up and trying to configure swaths across the nation of 700 Megahertz mobile spectrum for future deployment. In this vein, brilliant satellite and telecom engineers and professors, such as George Mason University’s D.K. Sachdev, note that: “Interactivity is becoming a must in practically every media. And while DBS systems are excellent for what they do today, they can compete more effectively in the future with some kind of return path. Thus, in the longer run, the distinction between DBS and broadband systems may narrow.”

What also is particularly fascinating in this arena are the plans by various cable, and telco, and related companies to deploy wires that deliver their own improved versions of direct-to-consumer and business-to-business content. Comcast is one version of that recent scenario.

What’s also interesting in this context is the competition between closed vs. open/over-the-top business models. Thus, for the average Netflix subscriber, she/he can consume on a variety of devices and platforms (assuming she/he has open Internet connectivity). Netflix doesn’t care who the customer buys her/his Internet access from. Yet, for the Comcast customer, she/he can only buy VOD services from Comcast.

And all this becomes extremely topical considering the latest rounds of net neutrality debates, especially those spurred on by the Google/Verizon announcement earlier this month.

Put shortly, because almost every American consumes so much content daily, and as more and more of that becomes video-based, more and more stakeholders will be determining how to improve, how to cash in on, and how to react to, that (r)evolution.

Mobile Apps (and More)
As the recent announcement by Netflix further indicates, it was just a matter of time before movies made a much more significant entre into the arena of hand-held mobile devices.

But, don’t expect it to stop there.

For example, maps and geography have traditionally shown themselves to be remarkably helpful and intriguing additions to searches for information. Notes Jack Dangermond, the president of prominent geographic software developer, ESRI, “If one picture is worth a thousand words, then one map is worth a million words.” (See, http://www.esri.com/about-esri/index.html).

The important thing in the context of “Mixed Signals” is that those maps and the geographical locations they represent will inevitably find their way into a collaboration with users and their video programming.

You can take that to the bank.

Indeed, currently some young, restless, and creative software applications developer is honing in now on an application that will jump start the actual alliance between video content and what I will, for today and this column, call Enhanced Mobile Entertainment. EME is an actual hybrid of the two somewhat similar terms, Locations Based Services and Geographical Information Systems, both of which deal with this rather complex and arcane industry subsector involving informational mapping. The term and acronym “EME” is the brainchild of Starz Encore senior vice president David Charmatz.

Another important example of EME and its future potential is what PBS is undertaking today with its service called “Dinosaur Train”, involving something PBS calls “geocaching”. This service further emphasizes the value of EME, specifically, to programmers. Many more programmers in the future are expected to introduce their customers to, and to build their businesses around, this new enhanced programming track.

Summary
By a long shot, never — repeat, never — before, have there been so many fascinating ways in which entertainment TV will develop.

And there have never before been such a plethora of new technical developments that will enhance the quality and volume of data and entertainment that future generations of consumers will consume.

Yet what is even more compelling, and even more worth banking on, is the idea that however good it is today, it will be quantums better over time. Again, I challenge anyone to dampen my enthusiasm for these results.

Look for more thoughts on video distribution and video-meets-(more)-data trends in the coming months. More specifically, expect a report on video-in-mobile-mapping and the EME sector in the weeks ahead.


Jimmy Schaeffler is chairman and CSO of the Carmel-by-the-Sea-based consultancy, The Carmel Group.