IFA, IBC & Hybrid Solutions

By Bob Raikes
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IFA and IBC are very different. While IFA has a clear focus on sets and products for consumers and channels, IBC is really for broadcasters, content providers and their support and supply chains. This includes STB makers and their support includes chip makers, so it is a great chance for us to catch up.

It always surprises me how few in the press room, or on the show floor actually attend both. However, as we and the TV maker clients for Meko’s market research division have been dragged into thinking about more than just ‘a dumb TV’, it is essential that we get the point of view of the content owners and infrastructure developers.

As the world moves towards hybrid solutions, combining the tradtional broadcast channels with internet, it looks as though, for the next five to ten years, at least, hybrid solutions will be the most important area of development in Europe. The economic difficulties in Europe are going to slow down the development of fibre to the home (FTTH) which is seen by many as the ‘end game’ for TV and internet. Without FTTH, there simply will not be enough bandwidth to do everything that consumers want to do and that content providers (and that includes ‘apps’ as well as video on demand and other TV services) would like to supply. Even if there was a great FTTH infrastructure, I’m not sure that the ‘backbones’ would be big enough (although I’m happy to admit that I’m on the edge of my knowledge at that point!).

It seems to me that the situation between internet TV and traditional broadcast channels has some similarities to the situation of copper-bound telcos and wireless network operators. The wireless companies would love to simply replace the cost and hassle of copper with wireless broadband everywhere, but that simply uses too much bandwidth. Meanwhile those that own the copper have found ways using xDSL technologies to gradually increase what they can provide through their wires. So, for the next few years at least, bits will get into the home through copper (and fibre) as well as through wireless.

In the same way, it seems crazy for those wishing to provide a full TV service to viewers using the internet not to take advantage of the traditional broadcast infrastructure. Why spend ‘loads of money’ on IP infrastructure to deliver linear broadcast content when there are perfectly good and efficient content delivery methods such as digital terrestrial TV (DTT) or satellite (direct to home – DTH). One of the more interesting boxes that I saw at either of the shows was the STB from Vodafone in Germany that allows the user to connect to the free satellite or cable services in Germany and then add VOD or other add-on services. That is much more economically efficient than trying to send everything via the internet and in the world of European broadcasting, so heavily dominated by free and public service broadcasting, economic efficiency is critical.

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