Different is good, but will being different be enough for the telcos that are planning on deploying video services over IP? Differentiating video services from cable and satellite providers was a recurring theme last week at the TelcoTV Conference and Expo. IPTV is manna from heaven for the telcos that are planning their video deployments. "IPTV is the best revolution in television," said Aamir Hussain, Qwest’s director of engineering, during one of the sessions at TelcoTV. "It will allow for a true integration of voice, video and data. We’re not there yet, but IPTV will help bridge the gap. You have to go into it (IPTV) with differentiated products. Customers will have a lot of choices, but they’ll look at who has the best price, best service and best features." Video can’t be "me too service" Other speakers at TelcoTV pointed to cable’s poor customer service record or the delay between changing channels on a satellite video service as areas where telcos can chip away at current video offerings. Hussain said telco video can’t be a "me too service," so planning needs to be in place from the beginning to make sure a telco’s offering is different than what is currently available. Telcos can focus on offering local content and build networks that are compatible with time shifting elements such as DVRs. While those features certainly aren’t new in the cable world, some of the show’s speakers felt IPTV would allow them to deliver those features as video services are rolled out. "With 300 to 400 middleware skins, it will be easy to enhance the customer experience," Hussain said. "The key is simplicity for consumers—differentiated but simple. Consumers expect telcos to be reliable because their phones always work. Video is not a simple road, but for consumers it has to be simple." Integrate video with voice, data offerings Lee Friedman, BellsSouth’s rich media services director, said telcos should maximize their voice and data features with their video offerings; one method would be adding email and voice mail mailboxes to electronic program guides, as well as weather updates. "We have to differentiate our services so we don’t look like our father’s cable service," Friedman said. "Look at cell phone interfaces with all of the different rings and interfaces. People care about them because they can personalize them. It’s about getting what I want when I want." Friedman said customers should be allowed to personalize their EPGs like they would a portal on Yahoo or Google since they’re already familiar with personalizing their portals. Video gets personal Martin Cullum, Bell Canada’s general manager of video networks and technology development, said other ways of differentiating video services included parental control, better search guides or viewer controlled camera angles during sporting events. Paul White, SBC’s executive director of video network planning, said having the same program guide and VOD library in each room of the house would help enhance the user experience. "We need to build customer loyalty with superior products and services," Cullum said. "Bandwidth alone won’t drive customers to loyalty because there are different expectations with video. Video is the key component to the bundle, and IPTV will enable a personalized medium." The SCTE will take a closer look at IPTV during its next Live Learning Series tomorrow. Details and registration for the session are available at http://www.scte.org. Click on the Education section of the site. – Mike Robuck

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