Further details have emerged on plans by BT for its proposed broadband television service, now aiming to launch next summer, promising the ability to catch up with television programmes from the previous week.
BT will offer a hybrid broadband and broadcast system, combining a digital terrestrial television receiver with an Ethernet network connection.
Industry reports suggest that it will include an electronic programme guide featuring programmes for fourteen days in advance and seven days previous.
Digital terrestrial transmissions currently carry details of programmes for the next week, in fact up to 8 days ahead, although schedules are published for two weeks in advance.
The ability to go back in time by up to a week is seen as the killer application, using a network based video-on-demand system.
Video Networks, which operates the HomeChoice service in the London area, already offers the ability to ‘catch-up’ on particular programmes. Cable operator Telewest is planning a similar service that it calls Teleport Replay.
This autumn the BBC will run a public trial of its IMP web-based peer-to-peer media player, which will offer a similar seven day window to view programmes after they are first broadcast. This is seen by some as proof of concept to establish a new rights model with rights holders and talent unions.
Apparently BT says it has a licence to cover all BBC programmes for up to seven days, while negotiations are ongoing with other channels.
Whether a blanket arrangement can be negotiated remains to be seen. This would represent a significant breakthrough, as primary rights holders have previously regarded on demand and streaming services as distinct rights.
Microsoft recently announced that BT intended to use their Microsoft TV IPTV Edition platform and plans to trial television over broadband services in early 2006, with delivery expected to begin in the summer of 2006. The language appears deliberately tentative, and interestingly BT has not published a corresponding press release.
The hybrid broadband and broadcast approach proposed by BT differs from that in other deployments of the Microsoft software, although other operators are following a similar model. BT is aiming to create a seamless interface between the services, which could represent a technical integration challenge.
BT is also reportedly planning to offer a set-top box personal video recorder, with around 80Gb of local storage, enough for around 40 hours of programming as transmitted.
The proposed price point for the box would be subsidised down to around £70, which would compete very aggressively with retail devices.
The combination of broadband and a Freeview box could prove compelling to many consumers, further accelerating take-up of the free-to-view platform and increasing the pressure on satellite and cable.