Amy Friedlander, senior vice president of programming at SBC, the American telephone company, has dismissed speculation about any delays to their forthcoming IPTV broadband internet protocol television service.
There have been suggestions that schedules might slip, in the initiative that SBC Communications has dubbed Project Lightspeed.
“We anticipate starting our controlled launch by the end of the year, which will be fairly small and then really start to roll out to the market in Q2 of next year,” she said. “I know that there’s been a lot of talk in the press about Microsoft and not being on time. Everything is still on track to roll on the time frame that we’re set to do.”
Having been appointed to SBC in March, Amy Friedlander admitted that there were challenges ahead for the phone company in embracing the content culture. “This is definitely a big shock to the system at SBC, there’s no question about it,” she said. “They know what they know and they know what they don’t know,” added Amy, saying that the company was bringing in people from cable, satellite and the content community to make the initiative happen.
Amy is one of a number of recent appointments, including executives from satellite television operator DirectTV.
Addressing an audience of interactive television executives in Hollywood, she said: “I don’t imagine that SBC will be creating all its own interactive content, but will look to work with partners and people who are creative in thinking about how all this works in the context of what we are trying to do.”
A promotional video for the new service suggested that SBC might still need some work on the marketing messages, referring repeatedly to the unfortunate label of ‘IPTV’ and highlighting technology features rather than real consumer benefits.
“With SBC IPTV there’s a whole new level of interactivity,” ran the male voice over. “Tired of your channel change delay with digital cable? With IPTV, change channels instantly. Wish you could watch all your favourite teams at once instead of just one game at a time? In the future, with IPTV you can watch multiple games with multiple picture-in-picture and switch back and forth with real time stats, all on the same screen.”
“Watch games and other events the way you want to see them, by switching between camera angles live in real time. You can call the shots, between camera 1, camera 2, or camera 3,” continued the narration, promoting a feature that often been misguidedly presented as a unique proposition of interactive television, but which has consistently failed to engage viewers. “Expand your favourite ads,” it went on to promise, perhaps rather hopefully.
“This is a whole new world you’ve never seen – not on cable. You see, IPTV is not cable. It’s a totally different technology – a true two-way interactive experience that traditional cable doesn’t provide today. Through the power of IP all this is possible, and SBC is bringing it to you with its multi-billion dollar investment. Are you ready, ready to make technology work for you – to make TV something to get excited about again?”
Ironically, there was no mention of programmes. Amy told informitv that any channel line up would have to be competitive with cable, although no details of programming have yet been released. Precisely how this will affect the SBC reseller relationship with satellite television provider EchoStar also remains unclear.
SBC recognises a significant opportunity to take on the cable guys in converged video, voice and data communications. However, the history of interactive television has demonstrated that it is first and foremost still television, not a technology, and people ultimately care more about programmes than protocols.
Announcing half-year results, SBC reported that the company has added 864,000 broadband customers over the last six months, giving a total of nearly 6 million. SBC has 404,000 subscribers to a joint offering with the EchoStar Dish network satellite television service, adding just 10,000 in the last three months, compared to 100,000 added in the previous quarter.