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It's Not Your Father's TV, Part 2

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Last issue, we explored the many technological inroads being built to bridge the IP-to-TV gap for the delivery of high-quality video content. In Part Two we’ll speak with content owners, producers, and aggregators to explore how they perceive and are addressing these new opportunities to deliver their content to the TV.Read on to hear the thoughts of major players in three of the most popular types of content: TV shows, movies, and, for lack of a better term, new-media properties.

What TV Has On Its Mind
It’s safe to say that when it comes to demand for content, every platform would love to be able to deliver shows from leading networks like Fox and MTV. Yet despite both publishers’ penchants for aggressively pursuing new-media opportunities, you won’t find their content associated with most of these IP-to-TV platforms.Much of this has to do with the continued nascence of the audience found across this entire space, let alone on each individual platform. "I would say that it hasn’t really changed for us in that the game continues to be waiting for the numbers to materialize," says Nick Rockwell, CTO of MTV Networks, adding that he’s hopeful that devices such as the Slingbox may change that.That doesn’t mean these platforms aren’t on their radar. In fact, Rockwell is a strong believer in the potential of delivering IP content to the TV, and he’s had his team considering how best to jump into this space when the time is right. "In many ways we feel that we can do an even better job presenting content and advertising on these kinds of platforms due to our traditional broadband experience than we can on regular TV," he says. "Plus, the video-on-demand business model is much less complicated on these kinds of devices than it is on the cable infrastructure."

To prepare itself to play in this space, MTV has made some first steps towards playing in the IP-to-TV space through a deal with Microsoft that enables their Overdrive web-video service to be accessed directly through the Windows Media Center interface. "That was really kind of the first best opportunity for us to prototype what this is, how our content can fit into it, how we can service our viewers in this context, and how this kind of experience could work," says Rockwell. "It’s been very instructive and useful for us to do that. Having had these kinds of experiences makes us feel well-prepared." And MTV Networks’ relationship with Microsoft has continued to grow, including an announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in January about the incorporation of Nickelodeon’s Turbo Nick product within Vista.

But despite Microsoft’s hope that users will more frequently hook their Media Center PCs to TV sets, Rockwell knows that that often isn’t the case, and in many ways it’s irrelevant to the work they’ve done to date. "Are they hooking their TV up to the PC? Don’t know and don’t really care," he says.

This is a point that’s echoed by Matt Glotzer, SVP of Digital Media for Fox. "To some degree you’re dancing on the head of a pin with looking at all these things separately," he says. "When you’re talking about the PC as a receptacle, moving that to a TV just means that it happens to be on a screen in the living room. The navigational issues aside, you’re still talking about video over broadband, and I’m not sure it’s much different than some of the stuff that we think of in the past. I don’t think it’s an insignificant development that video travels to the living room, it just doesn’t reinvent the type of video that you create."

And taking that thought even further: "The challenge is about what’s the sort of product or service, what’s the consumer proposition that your content enables, and what’s the business model surrounding it, whether that happens to land on a box in the den or a box in the living room," says Glotzer. "The value of an impression, for example, is not greater or lesser on the two-foot interface than the ten-foot interface."All that being said, both networks do have these new opportunities firmly in their sights, and they’re preparing themselves to jump in with both feet when the time is right. "Anything we feel has traction with consumers is something we’re open to. We’ve never shied away from those discussions, but not every discussion has ended in a deal," says Glotzer. He goes on to cite two key elements to determining which opportunities to take advantage of: Fox’s strong desire to ensure that their content is not put at unnecessary risk, and that whatever deals they work out aren’t solely a means to someone else’s end.

"Bringing video to the TV from the internet is still something we will go toward, and we are making decent progress to it, but it’s not the only prize in this race," Glotzer continues. "There are a lot of other things, other forms of programming and levels of interactivity, that take advantage of the fact that multiple screens are running in the user’s field of vision at the same time. It’s not just people making do until it can all hit the big screen."

One last item Rockwell mentions is the impact of YouTube and video-sharing sites on diverting attention away from what had long been the goal of delivering TV over the internet. "One thing that’s kind of thrown everyone for a loop a little bit has been the success of sites like YouTube, which really kind of avoided all of the complexity of the interface and any kind of real pushing the envelope in any way on the experience or behavior level, plus the use of ultra-short-form programming," he explains. "That’s kind of caused people to take their eye off the ball in terms of creating what you’d consider TV-like experiences on the web. While we’re taking note of YouTube’s success and trying to absorb the lessons learned there, we’re also trying not to lose sight of what IPTV could be and may very well become.

Why Movies Won’t Wait
While TV shows have found comfortable new surroundings online, proving consumers’ willingness to watch longer form content on their PCs, some content just can’t be experienced in the same way when sitting at a desk versus lounging in front of the TV. Perhaps no better example of this exists than feature films, which demand high-quality video on big screens with high-fidelity audio in order to come anywhere close to replicating the experience of going to a movie theater.

So, not surprisingly, some of the key enablers of digital movie distribution are pushing hard to make inroads to the TV through IP platforms. One such enabler is Movielink, the online movie rental service formed by the major studios and charged with the task of learning the ins and outs of delivering movies over the internet. "We found that although we believe there is a market, and it’s proven that people are interested in consuming entertainment on the computer, people are more comfortable watching long-form video on the TV," says Jim Ramo, CEO of Movielink. "So we’re going to look at every avenue to the TV."

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