IP-Prime Aims To Take Over Mobile TV Market
[Satellite News – 4-1-08] In July, SES Americom division IP-Prime launched a test of its digital video broadcast-handheld (DVB-H) mobile TV service to consumers in Las Vegas. The service, which was tested until the beginning of 2008 and is now available commercially, was “extremely successful,” said IP-Prime President Bill Squadron.
IP-Prime has signed agreements with 25 telephone companies for the service, and the company is expanding quickly. “We’re signing new deals virtually each week,” said Squadron, who spoke to Satellite News News Editor Jessica Pearce about the tests and what’s next for the company.
Satellite News: Can you give us an overview of the past nine months and how your service has been received?
Squadron: We launched commercially last July with signals reaching consumer homes in different places around the country. Since then, when we came out of the trial and beta stage and into the operational stage, it’s been a very fast-paced effort to both sign up new systems and to scale up the support and service associated with 24-7 monitoring and support that’s necessary when you’re providing a commercial full-blown television service.
Satellite News: What did you learn from your mobile TV trials?
Squadron: We had an extremely successful test in Las Vegas with Aloha Partners, under the name Hiwire, in the last part of 2007 and in the very first weeks of 2008. It was a couple-hundred-person research trial where we were delivering 24 channels of video to LG cell phones. The quality was phenomenal, which was one of the things we were testing. We also wanted to see what kind of programming people liked when they were getting the same channels they see at home now that they were able to access them on their cell phones. We did quite a bit of focus group discussions with the participants. We were able to gather data from the use of the phones by the participants in the trial. We really gained tremendous knowledge of the DVB-H standard and about the delivery of linear video to cell phones. This was the most extensive trial in terms of content, 24 channels had not been done anywhere by anyone. It definitely gave us some strong insights as to the potential of mobile video.
Satellite News: Were there any surprises that came up in the testing?
Squadron: I think that it was pretty much as we expected. When we began testing we found some things technically that we needed to tweak, and we did that. I think we expected the service to work well. We’d spent a lot of time with our engineers in development, so we thought it would work well and it did. I think I may have been a little surprised at how good the quality of the picture was. We expected it to be good. We invested in high quality encoders and other equipment. We spared no expense there. We used an encoding bit rate that is at a level that are meant to maintain highest quality. We certainly have made it a hallmark of our approach to the service to insist on the highest quality, but even with all that I was surprised by how clear both video and audio was on the phones.
In terms of consumer patterns of viewing, I don’t think I went into it with any expectation, because we were really trying to understand how consumers would want to experience the same linear programming they get at home on their phones. We didn’t learn anything shocking or surprising. We didn’t go into it with any particular preconceived notions. Because this had never been done in the quantity that we did and with the kind of focused trial that we did, we were going into with an open mind eager to learn how consumers wanted to access the programming they were used to viewing at home. I wouldn’t say anything was particular surprising.
Satellite News: What kind of viewing patterns did you notice from the tests?
Squadron: People enjoyed the programming, and in a general sense, the same programming they enjoyed watching at home. One of the interesting things was that people used phones to watch their programming in part while they were in their home. It wasn’t limited to when they were outside or on the go. It seemed to follow the desire to be in the same room with somebody but watching something different or be in a part of the house where they were doing something else but wanted to continue watching what they were watching. It was an interesting phenomenon.
Satellite News: Are you interested in partnering with other platforms?
Squadron: We’ve built this on an open platform. Our objective from the beginning was to integrate as many quality focus partners as possible and be able to process content and deliver to any platform. We really don’t have any preconceived views as to one platform. Our goal is to be able provide content to any platform where people want to experience it. We’re open to being able to deliver content from the IP-Prime broadcast center to any media platform that people want to experience their programming on.
Satellite News: Can you give us an idea of IP-Prime’s revenues?
Squadron: We don’t break that out. We do have a goal and expectation that the business we’re building can clearly grow to be a $50 million to $100 million business. We’re certainly confident that we are on that track, but we don’t break out the specific numbers right now or as we go along. We’re very pleased at how it’s going.
Satellite News: What’s next for the mobile video service?
Squadron: I think that the explosion of HD (high definition) is something that fits our service to a T. What we’re finding is that the HD4 offering that we introduced late last year is moving very rapidly into the market and we have a large number of telephone companies that need to respond to HD demand by their customers. The way we’ve architected the HD4 service, it’s very easy and very inexpensive for those telephone companies to introduce the HD service on top of their existing MPEG-2 service. I think that’s only a partial reflection of the emphasis on HD going forward over the next year.
One of great things about the IP-Prime system, because of both the switch nature of the architecture and the vast satellite capacity that SES has, is that we will be able to continue adding HD virtually in an unlimited sense, and we will be moving to 50, 75 or 100 HD channels over the course of the next six to nine months. We think that’s going to be a major driver of the business. We also think another really significant factor is going to be the quality of the picture. What we’ve found is that because of the premium quality of the video and how we process the signals, the quality of the video is striking and in the areas where the service is launched, the feedback and the word of mouth about the remarkable picture quality has been a big asset for us and a real major strength. I think that’s going to be a real factor moving forward.
The last piece, as we look down the road, is the entire media and entertainment landscape is going to continue to migrate toward IP because of the fact that it provides so much more potential. It’s more robust and more capable of providing interactivity. As that happens, whether it’s mobile or cable or another medium, there’s going to be increasing demand for IP-based services. Since we’re built a very strong and scalable third-party engine, I think what we’re going to be continuing to expand over all these different sectors. It’s a lot on our plate right now, but that’s how we’d have it. We’ve bulked up our team, building out our operations, engineering, product and sales groups. We’re expecting things to be moving very quickly over the next 12 months.