Vincent Dureau, the head of television technology at Google, is clearly a big believer in the potential of online video. He was previously chief technology officer of OpenTV and a pioneer of interactive television delivered to the set-top box. Speaking at the IPTV World Forum in London, he argued that internet protocol television is already with us on the web.

“IPTV is already deployed on a very large scale,” claimed Vincent Dureau. “It may not necessarily take the form that we consider IPTV sensu stricto but it’s definitely there.” By which he was referring to online video delivered over broadband.

“The most important thing about this is that with the deployment of broadband it is actually becoming viable to distribute television point to point as opposed to broadcast,” he said. Whereas the broadcast world is limited by spectrum, we now have infinite shelf space.

Although people may think we have enough television channels already, Vincent Dureau believes that there is a virtually indefinite appetite for television.

By way of an example of the millions of short clips now available on YouTube, which is now owned by Google, he suggested that the long tail could be very long indeed.

In fact, he argued that the largest IPTV deployment in the world was BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file sharing system often used to download illicit copies of movies and television shows.

He also suggested that NetFlix, the online video rental library with 90,000 titles in its catalogue and 8 million members, is the largest legal IPTV deployment. Although the majority of its business consists of sending DVDs through the mail, it also has an online library of 7,000 titles, larger than any currently offered on cable.

“It’s also very clear that within the past six months we’ve seen this huge shift of mainstream broadcasters making their content available on the PC,” he said, referring to the BBC iPlayer and the NBC Hulu initiatives. “There is a clear recognition among the premium broadcasters that there is an underserved population that is watching TV on their PC right now and they want to address them.”

Although much of this activity is currently concentrated on the personal computer, he pointed to the large number of retail devices that are connecting the television to broadband networks, an example being the Apple TV box. Over 50% of Xbox or PS3 games consoles are also connected to broadband networks and the next generation of BluRay players are all going to come with an Ethernet port.

“I think it’s important to start looking at those devices as distribution channels for television content to the home,” he said. “The studios have figured out that maybe they don’t need the middleman. They should be able to distribute movies directly to the television.”

“There’s an infinite amount of entertainment content that’s coming to television. The next assumption that I have is that viewers will not just watch the premium movies and premium channels but that they will also be watching the long tail.”

In the United States there are over 300 digital television channels available on a typical platform. Of those, only 40 are actually measured because the Nielsen panel of about 10,000 households can only measure with any degree of accuracy the channels that have more than 0.5% of the audience.

Google has been collecting viewing data from several millions of set-top boxes for the past 10 months.

“The thing that we found out is that actually 40% of the audience is actually watching those channels that weren’t even measured,” he said. “So we believe that the long tail matters. We believe the long tail is even longer.”

Google is optimistic that it will be able to do a better job of targeting advertising so that it is more relevant to viewers and that advertisers will be prepared to pay a premium for this.

“We’re going to see now an infinite number of operators of television through quality of service networks and over the top,” he said. “We think that through targeted advertising we’re actually going to see a new source of funding for quality programming.”

The head of television technology at Google concluded with a call to “embrace the web and understand that IPTV is not ahead of us — it is already behind us”.