Investing in IPTV

Brian Hicks

Updated January 31, 2007

In the world of technology today, the big news is Vista, Vista, and Vista, Microsoft’s newest operating system. And as part of the marketing blitz that is accompanying the new product, Bill Gates and LeBron James have teamed up in an unlikely pairing to push the installation of the new software on more than 100 million PCs worldwide.

The "wow" they say is here.

But as big as this news is for the software giant, it was Gates’s trip to Switzerland last week that really had the world buzzing.

Speaking before a group of business leaders and politicians at the World Economic Forum, Gates announced to the world that the Internet is set to revolutionize television as we know it within the next five years.

"I’m stunned how people aren’t seeing that with TV, five years from now people will laugh at what we had," said Gates to his audience in Davos.

"Certain things like elections or the Olympics really point out how terrible TV is," he said. "You have to wait for the guy to talk about the thing that you care about or you miss the event and you want to go back and see it."

"Internet presentation of these things," Gates said, "is vastly superior."

Or at least that’s what he and so many other companies strongly believe, since the push to finally get IPTV in the hands of consumers is gathering steam.

A Look At IPTV

Like its voice-related cousin, VOIP, IPTV is essentially a system in which a digital video stream is delivered by Internet protocol over a network infrastructure using high speed broadband connections.

And like digital voice, it promises to alter the way in which we will view TV in the future.

That’s because the long awaited rise of IPTV is the final piece of what the industry calls the triple play-video, voice, and data, all available on a single line. In short, it is the mother of all connections.

It’s part of what the industry often refers to as convergence or the meeting of all your digital needs over many different devices, including your TV. And it’s the part of the puzzle that will allow your phone company to compete with your cable provider for all of these services.

In this converged world, programs can be watched in any of three ways. They can be delivered directly to your set through its own Internet connection or they can be viewed on your computer monitor. Additionally, some consumers will be able to send these videos wirelessly to their TV sets from their computer via a set-top box.

While all of that may sound rather mundane, the reality of this triple play is going to be remarkable. When the differences between your computer and your TV are removed, it opens up new avenues altogether. For instance, imagine watching the Super Bowl and being able to carry on a group conversation using instant messaging at the same time. With IPTV it will all be possible.

Or better yet, imagine what this means to video on demand. Connecting your TV to the Internet gives a whole new meaning to the idea of surfing the web. In the future, downloading TV programs will be about as complicated as downloading songs to your iPod.

If those newfangled concepts aren’t enough to convince you that IPTV is the wave of the future, consider these numbers. Industry analysts predict that by 2010 there will be more than 65 million IPTV users, up from the 5.3 million in 2006. Microsoft is even more optimistic, predicting some 70 million users by 2009.

Investing in IPTV: A Battle for Market Share

The race to conquer this growing market, however, promises to long and hard. Joining Microsoft (MSFT: NASDAQ) in the battle for market share in this growing business model are both Apple (AAPL: NASDAQ) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ: NYSE), among others. Apple unveiled its IPTV offering, AppleTV, a few weeks ago at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Of course, those are not the only battle lines to be drawn. Content providers of every size and sort will be battling it out to get their programs onto the slate offered by their carriers. And advertisers are racing to grab their slice of this new market as traditional TV viewers look more and more to the web for their entertainment.

But regardless of how this growing industry shakes out over the course of the next five years, one thing is certain-the move to IPTV is well underway. Vista may be the big news today, but IPTV is going to be much bigger news in the future. After all, it’s not just Bill Gates that believes this, it’s Steve Jobs too.

And between the two of them they ought to know.

Wishing you happiness, health and wealth,


Steve Christ, Editor

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