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August 2007 | Volume 10 / Nuber 8
For the Record

Discontent with Content

The telecom and communications industry is one which seems geared towards constant change — it always seeks and embraces the newest architecture, operational methods, and revenue ideas. This state of continual flux takes on an even greater dynamic of change given the prevailing competitive landscape, market conditions, and regulatory environs — which, in and of itself can create change within the other two factors.

After years as an industry participant, I have seen many issues surface and get resolved within these constantly changing conditions — or become forgotten about altogether, often as a result of the nature of the changes themselves. And yet, at a recent panel discussion in the streaming media space, the issues of the day reflected constancy rather than change: charging, settlement with content partners, optimizing revenue, advertising, analytics, customer experience and loyalty. Apparently, the old adage “Content is King” still applies, but it also can create a “Pandora’s Box” of sorts for all service providers or MSOs that provide multimedia services.

Along with the operational headaches and unknowns that go along with such things as controlling QoS and allowing for sufficient and efficient capacity for IP content, there are further areas that need to be monitored and distributed by IP set-top boxes (STBs) that will become a requirement for any IP-based media offering. These areas include metrics for monitoring use, ad hoc programming, VoD, content value — such as the inclusion of a ratings component, the possibility for voting applications, charging, recorded content — and almost any of the new functions that need not be monitored from a standard flat-rated, set-top television and media viewer. But with this growing complexity of increased content with a variety of more specific uses, comes a new revenue opportunity as well.

As an example of this new revenue model, one of the hottest tickets in content over the Internet for the last two years has been user-generated content. User-generated content has evolved from the complexity of cats falling off couches to local fishing and hunting tips and home recording techniques. User-generated content is not just for entertainment, but also for instruction and education of all kinds — “infotainment” specific to the needs and desires of the consumer. This new type of narrow-casting means one word for advertisers: “focused”.

With this tightly “focused” content, advertisers can take advantage of reaching a very interested subset of viewers who are paying attention, engaged, and spend money on the activities specifically related to the content. This not only targets a customer demographic of those most likely to spend money, but also allows the service provider a higher CPM rate for that very specific content. Monitoring that type of specific, focused content and providing for customer feedback to the content provider allows a feedback loop for data that could prove powerful in negotiations, along with the “labeling” of higher-value programming for specific pricing and gold-tier packaging.

These types of metrics have yet to be defined. Several industry bodies have adopted specifications for the defining and capturing of data that can be used for multiple applications within the operational realm of providing multimedia services. This data is also support with standard Java-based APIs such as the CableLabs OCAP 1.1 specification that allows for the streaming of data from the set-top box into any third-party device. These specifications basically allow for the definition and use of any data element captured by IPTV services through the set-top box to be used for any purpose associated with charging, traffic, QoS, user behavior, content rating, potentially even voting functions (yes, there are two-way data flow capabilities).

With current standards supporting essentially any kind of analytical calculation on data received from the STB, what is left to implement these metrics? With the capabilities in place, as vendors and providers begin to test the OCAP specifications, and their imminent adoption into the industry, there still remains a gap between the data that is captured, the operational processes to manage and look at the data, and the introduction of this idea into the licensing agreements and advertising models that are needed to make this new capability a revenue driver in the future. The “tipping point” of an industry that is able to take advantage of these capabilities will be at a time when these gaps are reconciled into a clear, cohesive plan that can be implemented with the clarity and duplication required to make service creation and management an understandable and documented process that can be depended on — regardless of consumer changes, new content frontiers, and technological advancement.

At the present, this “tipping point” seems far away, indeed. The work needed to make this vision operational will require expanded industry collaboration that extends to the content owners, management vendors, advertisers, and operators. Much work remains to be done in the cable and telecom industries in this regard, but expanding the existing telecom and cable operational tools such as usage models, architectures, and service maps to include the new “communications” players will be crucial to getting services operational and agreements repeatable.

Change is inevitable — and often necessary, but without the support of the industry players, as well as advertisers and content owners, the dream of making IPTV and multimedia services into a viable profit center may be yet another chapter in the long history of the communication industry’s “changes that never were.” IT

Kelly Anderson is President and COO of, a collaborative industry consortium focused on developing and driving the adoption of next-gen service usage exchange standards worldwide.

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