Departing FCC chairman Michael Powell says “This year promises advances in long-awaited interactive television services, giving the public more control over their viewing experiences.”

The comment comes in the introduction to the Federal Communications Commission’s report to Congress providing the annual assessment of the status of competition in the market for the delivery of video programming.

In the statement, Michael Powell notes that the past decade has brought great change to the video distribution marketplace, saying “We stand at a remarkable time in the development of the video marketplace. A time at which we can say with great confidence that the monopolies of the past have given way to the most competitive video marketplace at any point in history.”

Notably, while multichannel subscribers were almost exclusively served by cable television a decade ago, direct broadcast satellite television now serves one in four television subscribers in the US. The share of satellite services rose to 25.1% in June 2004, compared to 22.7% the previous year, while cable customers remained static.

The digital migration in the video distribution market is also bringing new players into the market. Incumbent local exchange carriers have announced plans to offer internet protocol video service over new fibre distribution networks.

Continuing advances in broadband speeds and compression technologies are allowing thousands of channels to emerge on the internet, offering streaming video to millions of personal computers at both home and work.

Powell also notes that individuals are now able to use video and the internet to distribute their own material, and points to the development of video blogs.

However, anyone looking within the report for an in-depth analysis of this transforming market is likely to be disappointed. The full report provides an excellent survey of the territory with a wealth of detailed, if somewhat unreadable, data on the distribution of television in the US, but it is difficult to see the wood for the trees in the forest of footnotes.

Amid coverage of DVR, VOD, HDTV and IPTV, readers will have to search hard to find a brief paragraph on interactive television. The report simply remarks that “Cable operators, DBS operators, application developers, and technology manufacturers continue to explore a variety of ITV services in order to increase revenue and subscribership, and to reduce churn.”

Slightly more space is devoted to the OpenCable Applications Platform, which received ANSI standardisation in 2004, and the formation of a joint venture development initiative between Comcast and Time Warner.

With a cursory look at foreign markets, including the UK, “the most highly penetrated digital television market in the world”, the report is primarily concerned with the uncritical reporting rather than comment or analysis.

Remarkably, the report concludes with an appendix that carries a criticism from the commissioners that “this year’s competition report continues to serve mainly as a recitation of the record rather than providing an in-depth analysis of the status of competition,” adding “In sum, the report seldom delves beneath the surface.”