Where is SBC going?

One thing I’ve wondered about with IPTV is will it be the domain of big corporations setting the viewing agenda for customers, or will (like the Internet itself) empower users to seek out content of interest and need. In other words, I could see SBC limiting content choices to the offerings available only from other big corporations.

The following graph from this Fortune article doesn’t completely answer the question, but it does offer a glimpse of how IPTV will work … search as a content drive, which I take to me access to ALL media content on the Net, including stuff you and I might make … death of the channel/content is king:

Enabling users to mix and match video and data to suit their needs is where SBC partner Yahoo comes in. The pair are developing a special onscreen guide that directs users to TV programs, movies, and select online content such as photos and music. As viewing options proliferate, Yahoo will have a key role in helping consumers manage their IPTV experience. “I’m not so sure that in a world of unlimited channels we’ll actually sit there with a clicker,” says Yahoo CEO Terry Semel. “How does Yahoo help? It’s called search.”

If SBC means to only try to recreate what cable offers now, just using broadband to deliver programing, then SBC really has nothing and it will fail. However, if they can offer user empowerment in a manner that even goes beyond what a cable/dvr marriage offers now, it could be a hit, especially if the goal isn’t to convince people to switch from cable/satellite to IPTV, but to use Internet-powered set top boxes to supplement existing options. Supplement, not supplant.

Then, when I read stuff like this, I think maybe SBC doesn’t get it … doesn’t get the incredible business advantage it can gain by smart use of the broadband technology it can deliver to consumers:

Third, the technology for IPTV has already been proven to work and is in use in Hong Kong, Canada, and even some small pockets of the U.S. In Hong Kong, where PCCW launched IPTV more than a year ago, about 400,000 homes have signed up for the service, which offers 12 channels — all other programming is sold a la carte. However, it hasn’t been without its glitches, and one of the demonstrations in SBC’s suite at the electronics show seemed a bit slow, as if too many software programs were running at once. Certainly SBC, which doesn’t even have a customer trial running yet (the first is planned for this summer), can ill afford the kinds of mistakes that plagued its early rollout of DSL.

Now comes the hard part. It’s not regulation or technology that worries Wall Street; it’s the need to fill the new system with shows that people want to watch. “You can always get the service to work,” says Rich Nespola, CEO of the Management Network Group, a telecom consultancy. “The question is whether any telco can negotiate successfully with the entertainment industry.”

Is SBC seriously thinking that it needs to be the one delivering the content, a content provider, like an old-fashioned channel? As far as I’m concerned, the only thing SBC needs to do is deliver the box and open the channel. The Net will take care of the content.

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