It is 20 years since informitv launched at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, offering research and consultancy in what was then called interactive television and went on to become internet television. A lot has changed in that time, but it seems that the more television changes the more it stays the same.

The creation of informitv came from a conviction in the inevitable convergence of the internet with television and video services. That convergence is continuing and accelerating but is still far from complete.

The founder of informitv, Dr William Cooper, was the former Head of New Media Operations at the BBC, where he managed the successful launch and delivery of online and interactive services, from the BBC web site to digital television applications.

After starting his career as a broadcast journalist, he gained a doctorate for his thesis in what he termed video literacy. He joined the BBC from the Press Association national news agency, where he had led the development of Ananova, the world’s first virtual newscaster, an early attempt to combine television and the web.

At the time there was great industry excitement about the promise of enhanced and interactive television. The main effort was around making programmes and even advertisements interactive through the remote control.

Yet even as that enthusiasm cooled it seemed evident that the medium of television and video distribution would become interactive, with programming available on demand. Interactivity would come from viewers choosing what to watch rather than interacting with programmes.

Video-on-demand was in its infancy, initially only available on cable television services. However, services were beginning to develop that used internet protocols over telephone lines. The first of these in the United Kingdom were launched with Kingston Interactive Television in Hull and just down the road from the BBC with HomeChoice from Video Networks.

At the time, fast internet access was not widely available and was barely capable of sustaining a television service. However, Ashley Highfield, who joined the BBC as Director of New Media and Technology from the cable television sector, championed the potential of broadband and interactive television.

The potential had already been spotted by companies like Microsoft, that saw an opportunity to combine the technologies of the web with television, but despite billions of dollars in investment never entirely managed to succeed in its vision.

A landmark report published by informitv at IBC in September 2005, IPTV: Broadband Meets Broadcast – the network television revolution explored the potential of using internet protocols to deliver television and video services.

“New players will exploit the disruptive power of the internet and change the form and function of television forever,” predicted Dr Cooper. “Broadband television will ultimately adopt the attributes of the web, providing access to an almost limitless selection of programmes.”

“The ‘pull’ of broadband network television will replace the ‘push’ of traditional broadcast television,” explained co-author Graham Lovelace, “In this new and massively fragmented environment, control will flow from the supplier to the consumer, as viewers construct their personalised schedules from a vast array of international providers and watch programmes whenever and wherever they want.”

The first attempt by the BBC to deliver a video on demand service eventually emerged in late 2005 with a limited trial of what was then called iMP or integrated Media Player. It used a peer-to-peer distribution system with digital rights management and took about half an hour to download a half-hour programme.

Yet the launch of the YouTube video sharing platform earlier that year was by then attracting over two million viewers a day. The following year it was delivering over a 100 million views a day and was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion in stock. It was already clear that the internet would massively disrupt television and video as much as other media.

Netflix introduced its online video service at the start of 2007, although it continued to send DVDs out my mail. A plan to develop a digital media player device was shelved and went on to become Roku.

The BBC iPlayer was not formally launched until Christmas Day 2007, originally as a radio and television ‘catch-up’ service with programmes available for 7 days after transmission.

For informitv, the transition to online television and video produced numerous consulting engagements. Many were with small start-up companies with innovative technology solutions. There were also as many involving venture capital companies looking to invest and global consultancies looking for expertise. The founders of several clients became personally wealthy through transactions facilitated by informitv.

Over the course of two decades, the founder of informitv has produced, chaired, moderated, or presented at over a hundred international conferences, delivering many papers at IBC and NAB. He has served as a judge for countless annual awards. He has written literally millions of words about the transition to online television and video, with thousands of regular readers of his Connected Vision online newsletter.

20 years after starting informitv, with little expectation that it would be such a long-running initiative, it is instructive to see what was worked. There have been relatively few fundamental technology breakthroughs. It has been more a matter of incremental improvements. Invariably progress has been slower than many people anticipated.

Some wrongly assumed that online delivery would simply replace traditional broadcasting. For some people it has already, but in general it has supplemented and displaced rather than replaced traditional broadcasting. The growth of online viewing of broadcast programmes has not compensated for the long-term decline in the viewing of scheduled channels.

After getting on for 20 years since its inception, despite relentless promotion, the BBC iPlayer still only accounts for less than 20% of all BBC viewing and it has not compensated for the overall loss of BBC viewing over that period.

There is a risk of confusing the medium with the mode of delivery, or the programming with the technology. The internet is just another means of distribution, but it much more open for others to compete. There is still a real role for television, but there is a vastly greater choice of viewing vying for our attention. Broadcasters face competition from YouTube as much as other online video services.

When there were relatively few alternatives, it seemed easy to find something to watch. Now, with virtually limitless choice, it seems harder than ever.

In the preface to their report in 2005, the authors imagined a time when television would offer “the usual choice of tens of thousands of live streams, hundreds of thousands of on-demand programmes, and virtually every movie ever made”. It seems that time has come.

What has not fully emerged is the intelligent Guide that they also imagined that would make sense of all this for the viewer. We are still working on that.