If today's IPTV startups are any indication, the future is full of surprises. Startups from around the world are rolling out startling innovations - from TiVO-like alternatives with custom content to all-in-one systems that combine instant messaging, VoIP, video conferencing and Internet radio via IPTV.
Many startups are trying to address some of the most challenging technological innovations needed for IPTV success now and in the next 5 years. According to Gary Schultz, president and principal analyst at Multimedia Research Group, "Home networking and home installation is still a bottleneck, although that's starting to change quickly (see related story). Video Quality of Service (QoS) and QoE (Quality of Experience) systems are just starting to take off both for video and triple-play services. There is still a lot of confusion about both areas. Networked PVR and advanced networked advertising should have a good future. Also, products that allow fast provisioning of new services within a triple-play environment also should be in demand."
The following is a list of some of the most interesting and innovative startups. We included companies with the most IPTV subscribers as listed in Multimedia Research Group's Market Leader Report. Other companies are included based on innovation and/or unique offerings and their potential impact on the marketplace. This list is not all-inclusive, but should provide a good overview of some of the innovation happening in this space.
Imagine an application that combines IPTV, instant messaging, VoIP, video conferencing, desktop sharing, file transfer, and Internet radio and you get the picture for what Damaka is working on. The company also plans to roll out video on demand (VOD), subscription services, customization of video services, and video-based targeted ads. It's essentially an out-of-the-box triple play solution that allows users to perform multiple functions simultaneously. Content channels are available including BBC, ESPN, CNN, and NASA. A white label offering of the online service is available for operators and media companies.
Founded by the creators of Skype and Kazaa, Joost is destined to get big - fast. The company just signed a deal with Viacom, where MTV will provide content for launch, including popular shows both past and present. Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, Country Music Television, MTV2, VH1, Logo, Spike TV, mtvU, BET, and Gametrailers.com will also provide content. This should add "juice" to the company's prospects. The free service, based on P2P technology, includes TiVo-like capabilities and full-screen video along with features such as chat and program search. While it's currently online only, it provides a look at what IPTV may offer in the future. For more see Is IPTV Getting Joost?
Taking an approach similar to Joost, this company is international in scope. It has partnered with more than 250 international television broadcasters from over 70 countries to provide live broadcasting of their 24-hour linear feeds. Full-screen sports, news, and entertainment content is provided on a real-time basis for computers, laptops, Internet-enabled TV's, and mobile phones. The company's ethnic focus is a powerful model for how IPTV providers could diversify their offerings and set themselves apart from even mainstream cable offerings. The company is based in Canada.
In September 2006, this IPTV headend provider announced what it claims is the world's first compact (1 rack unit) MPEG-4 AVC encoding platform that can be switched between high definition (HD) and standard definition (SD) video. The platform offers more than 25 percent reduction in bit rates while enhancing video quality according to the company.
This U.K.-based company's products are targeted to cable and IPTV providers as well as media companies. Its viewtime+ offering is a television audience analysis system that provides a combination of minute-by-minute audience ratings synchronized with TV programs. The goal is to understand what makes viewers switch into or out of a program. It displays televised images of up to five channels simultaneously. Audience behavior can be analyzed and the exact start and end times of programs, program breaks, sponsorships, and promotions can be determined. The offering could give IPTV providers valuable insights into viewer behavior and what is most popular for driving IPTV usage.
Helping small and medium sized network owners become IPTV operators, SnapTV aims to make them less dependent on the big operators. Since this is a "one stop shop" type service, it eliminates the need to find and qualify suppliers of gateway technology, VOD technology, STBs, conditional access systems, middleware, EPGs, system integrators, headends, and so forth, and includes system deployment and management services. The operator chooses the content and services to offer. A monthly fee is charged. This offering will likely help new, smaller telcos and cable companies enter the marketplace.
IPTV headend provider Tut Systems recently announced a solution to convert MPEG-2 stored on-demand content to the next generation MPEG-4 AVC compression technology. Since most content today is encoded in MPEG-2, there's a need for an easier way to convert to the newer, more compressed format. The Astria CP offering can optimize content for ADSL2+ networks while maintaining high quality streams according to the company.
This IPTV content protection and digital rights management provider (DRM) is filling a need in this important area with its VZ ON technology. The offering encrypts content at the headend, and the user is sent a license by return path before it is streamed from the video server. Thus, video or audio content can only be unscrambled by the STB and its embedded smart card after the ticket is processed. This enables charging for recording and replays with reduced risk of piracy. The offering works with any IP network infrastructure, delivery protocol, video format, or STB. A cardless system is also available depending on operator needs (which can reduce costs and further reduce risk of piracy). DRM and encryption is an increasingly important part of IPTV success, and startups like this could eventually give giants like Microsoft a run for their money.
In addition to all of these offerings, wireless IPTV startups are also worth watching given the importance of wiring the connected home and the popularity of mobile devices for all uses including video. IPTV is a hotbed of innovation, and the game is just getting started.
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