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IPTV or Not IPTV?

Is Internet protocol the salvation or ruination of broadcast TV?

The double-edged sword of IP video will swing over this week’s National Association of Broadcasters’ annual convention in Las Vegas. If IPTV — including over-the-top video — is a threat to broadcast as well as to cable TV, then NAB is again attracting a lot of that competition into its arena.

At the same time, if IP distribution continues to provide cost-effective delivery for production, postproduction and transport of content (including multiscreen material) among producers, networks and group owners — and to other broadband-service providers — then it deserves the larger role it has on the NAB agenda.

CONVERGING INTERESTS

The NAB show long ago ceased to be a broadcasters-only convention, as it exposed TV networks and local licensees of one-way, one-channel ad-supported television to a vast array of digital products and services.

Hollywood and cable techies have been on hand for more than a decade, observing and making deals in the converging media ecosystem.

IP has escalated the interchange. At press time, the halls figured to be dotted with IPTV set-top boxes, and conference sessions expected to dwell on cloud distribution and Internet-fueled two-screen experiences.

“It’s like what cable did to broadcast TV, but exponentially larger,” said Marty Lafferty, CEO of the Distributed Computing Industry Association, which is running a two-day Cloud Computing Conference during the NAB Show. He was expecting a larger audience at the DCIA event than last year’s 440 attendees.

IPTV is also on the agenda at other NAB events, including the “Disruptive Media Conference,” a one-day affair that will cover TV Everywhere, on-demand video and over-the-top services, as well as competitive content-related issues, such as program discovery and recommendations, and content curation across distribution channels. Boxee CEO and co-founder Avner Ronen will be among the speakers.

Policy issues associated with IPTV, highlighted by last week’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling about Aereo’s IP distribution of local TV channels, will be examined — including, perhaps, during Wednesday’s swan song appearance by Federal Communciations Commission chairman Julius Genachowski. He will be interviewed by NAB joint board chair Paul Karpowicz, president of Meredith’s Local Media Group.

Elsewhere around the Las Vegas Convention Center and hotel suites, IP and IPTV will play out in myriad ways.

Mainstay broadcast-technology companies will show off devices and services that can be used throughout the digital distribution environment.

TVU Networks is unveiling its TVU Grid, an IP-based video distribution, routing and switching platform that directs live video streams among multiple remote locations.

Virtz will unveil its Viz Engine real-time 3D compositing system, which now features simultaneous IP-streaming of multiple formats.

Accelerated Media will focus on its “Companion Ad Network,” which stitches together second-screen, companion apps and connected TV widgets from programmers, networks and advertisers. The company will also privately show a new IPTV set-top box optimized for cable and broadband service providers. Although details have not been disclosed, the company is believed to be in advanced negotiations with large MSOs and some smaller cable organizations to customize the IPTV boxes for video-on-demand, Skype and home-security services.

INTEGRATION WELCOME

Steve Hawley, principal analyst at TV Strategies, a Seattle-area consulting firm that focuses on the IP ecosystem, expects “strong interest from operators and content providers” who want higher efficiency to enable them “to distribute more streams to more devices using the same available bandwidth.”

The IP-focused attendees at the NAB convention will be particularly interested in providers that can integrate the variety of formats for the multiplatform environment, Hawley said.

“The only companies who are in a position to create a common experience” are the carriers, Hawley said, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and other cable operators as well as Verizon and AT&T.

Both AT&T and Verizon are exhibiting their services on the NAB Show floor.