The iTV Doctor Is In! Can ivi TV Accelerate Interactive Television?
Dear iTV Doctor:
It seems like the world of over-the-top (OTT) television has now gone WAAAAY over-the-top! I've been reading about a new player in the space called ivi TV. And they've created a firestorm of controversy by including local feeds of network broadcast affiliates in their programming package. What I want to know is, is ivi TV an opportunity, or is it poison?
Sumac in Sanibel
I've read all those stories about ivi TV and re-transmission, copyright, FCC regs and more. And frankly, I'm as confused as anybody. But I really wanted to know what the ivi TV product looks like, and how it works and what it means for interactive television. So the first thing I did was subscribe to the service (something I don't think any other columnist or reporter has bothered to do), and found myself enjoying Fiat commercials in their original Italian on Sport Italia, as well as Robert Culp and a VERY young Bill Cosby in classic episodes of "I Spy" on Retro-TV out of Seattle. And then, of course, I watched the "NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams" from WNBC in New York, with an interesting 90-second delay compared to my local NBC broadcast affiliate. The video quality is surprisingly good. They have an on-screen grid-type program guide that works now, but will be overwhelmed when they add new channels.
This morning I reached out to ivi TV's embattled founder and CEO, Todd Weaver, who has managed to talk himself hoarse in the last couple days. He was thrilled that I had questions about interactive television and NOT about copyright. Here's our conversation:
iTV Doctor: How can ivi TV help all of the interactive television geeks in the country expand our reach? We need eyeballs!
Todd Weaver: All the way back to the early days of TV, when somebody would stick an antenna in the ground, it was a broadcast model, so that the cost for distribution was astronomically low. It was the same for one viewer as for a million viewers. Cable comes along, and once the infrastructure is built, it ends up being the same costing model. Same with satellite.
The Internet comes along, which is a fully transactional model. So the conundrum is: How do you convert the Internet into a broadcasting model yet retain the transactional internet? What we have is a downloadable app that does peer sharing so you always have a continuous TV viewing experience, which is the broadcast model, but we retain every aspect of the transactional Internet.
For us to add all the wonderful things about interactivity--in-program purchase, features, voting and social networking--we can add that as a window to the ivi TV viewing area. You can easily and seamlessly do the interactivity while you watch. And with our built-in DVR feature (available for an additional fee), you can simply pause the program while you play with the application, and then restart it. The interactivity can be synched to the clock, or to a specific frame in the program.
iTV Doctor: Right now, it looks like you are only picking up domestic broadcast stations in Seattle and New York. Can we assume you might provide additional distribution to the cable networks?
Todd Weaver: We're talking to everybody, and at the end of the day we simply need to provide enough potential eyeballs for them to sign on. We're absolutely secure, and we provide detailed metrics. We have a table full of distribution agreements that we're reviewing now.
iTV Doctor: So what's with that 90-second delay between the WNBC feed and my local broadcast station?
Todd Weaver: The reason you can get continuous television is that we are constantly building the file to deliver the best-quality picture, and the time to do that is variable. We could 'dial down' the delay, but viewers with slow Internet connections wouldn't like it. Clearly we're not a candidate for real-time betting on horse races, and football fans might get a text message about a touchdown before our subscribers see it. But in today's multiplatform/DVR/mobile/tablet/Internet/TV we think that 'burst delay' means less and less to the viewer, and it's an absolutely acceptable trade-off for a better-quality viewing experience.
iTV Doctor: Doesn't that delay hurt your chances for interactive voting applications, or for real-time shopping when the retailer has limited product available?
Todd Weaver: We can actually manage the timing of a voting application to anticipate the delay. By synching the voting to the frame, we would actually cut off voting 'early' (in our feed) in order to catch up with the live broadcast. And I think most shopping applications, particularly those that operate on multiple platforms, have already accommodated slow responses from mobile phones which can take a LOT longer than 90 seconds.
iTV Doctor: Any last comments?
Todd Weaver: ivi TV is simply a part of the new television ecosystem. And because our subscribers watch us on their broadband devices (PC's, tablets, smartphones), we offer the best consumer experience: great quality live television and proven interactivity. And you can always check the Web site: www.ivt.tv
iTV Doctor's Final Note: While ivi TV is clearly a disruptive business model that may generate heated negotiations and possibly court action, it does solve a nagging problem: it is difficult and expensive for broadcasters to go interactive--they would need equipment at each and every local STATION to insert an EBIF trigger for their local cable systems. And as an engineering associate explained, "That ain't cheap!"
Some operators are working on a solution that involves "late binding" of the EBIF trigger (essentially inserting the trigger at the headend). However, a broadcast signal carried over the Internet would be able to use the network's existing Web content to enhance the local broadcast signal, and a distributor like ivi TV could simply use the ivi TV program guide to identify what program was being watched, and provide their own sidebar trigger to let the viewer access Web-based interactive content.
The iTV Doctor is *Rick Howe*, who provides interactive television consulting services to programmers and advertisers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was nominated to Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms. Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org