BT will use a content delivery system from Cisco to power its own online video delivery network, available from early 2011, branded Content Connect. It will compete with existing global content delivery networks. BT argues that it will be able to cache content closer to the consumer. BT is among those hoping to charge media providers for delivering higher quality services on platforms such as YouView.
The partners in the YouView joint venture include BT and TalkTalk, who between them have nearly 9.5 million broadband subscribers, representing more than half the homes with broadband in Britain.
BT has suggested that media providers should pay if they want their programming delivered at the highest quality. “If you just put content over broadband there’s a risk that it will get mixed up with other traffic and congested, so it may buffer or pixelate,” Sean Williams, the managing director of strategy at BT Retail told told Broadcast. “BT will try and arrange commercial contracts with content providers who want to have their content delivered to the highest possible standards.”
Implicit in this is the suggestion that those that do not pay internet service providers for delivering their media will be at a disadvantage, which raises issues of network neutrality, and interesting questions about the relationship between the wholesale and retail businesses of BT.
Anthony Rose, the chief technology officer of YouView, is quick to point out that publishers will be under no obligation to pay for delivery. “ISPs hope to offer assured deliver services, but no content provider is compelled to do a deal,” he said. “If they don’t, they’ll get the open internet service, which works well.”
So a key question is whether as partners in YouView, the BBC will pay BT to deliver its programming over broadband.
Our long-held observation is that best efforts delivery will be increasingly acceptable as broadband network access speeds rise, without any need for special quality of service provisions.
The main terrestrial broadcast networks that are participating in YouView will wish to ensure that their services are delivered to an appropriate standard, otherwise their own brands may suffer, as will the reputation of the platform through which they are provided.
However, broadband service providers like BT and TalkTalk will presumably want to promote their media on platforms like YouView in order to differentiate their services with respect to competing providers. So it may be in the interest of the broadband provider to offer the best possible online video delivery service in a highly competitive market.
If a user streams a video on a platform like YouView and the delivery is poor, they may well blame the broadband service provider. As far as the customer is concerned, they are paying for delivery through their broadband subscription. They may pay a premium for a better connection, but they may increasingly expect high quality video as part of the service.
Broadband service providers can choose to implement approaches such as multicast and caching to optimise their network distribution and so reduce their own internal costs. That is after all their business.
Media providers will have to invest in hosting infrastructure and distribution services to deliver high quality video, but is far from clear that they should be paying broadband service providers for the privilege.
Therein lies the inherent conflict of interest involved in a partnership between selected broadcasters and broadband service providers, and the potential anticompetitive issues that may arise for others.
The partners in YouView may wish to present the platform as an opportunity for others to provide programming and applications, but at the outset the user base will be small, both in absolute terms and relative to alternatives.
If programming providers — and advertisers — are prepared to pay for anything for distribution, it is to access an addressable audience, rather than for technical delivery itself.
With the worldwide broadband audience now exceeding half a billion homes, the distribution opportunity for media brands and application providers is now global.
One way or another it will be the end users that pay for delivery, directly or indirectly.