IPTV’s quiet revolution

RokuPolitical revolution’s have their defining moment – a statue is toppled in a public square, a wall comes down, somebody’s head is removed. Technology revolutions are (thankfully) a different breed. The revolution is declared, nothing happens for a long time, and then the trickle of change begins. That’s been the case with IPTV. For all the hype, a lot of nothing has been going down. Maybe the ground is beginning to shift.

Saturday my Roku arrived. Roku is a Netflix-enabled set top box, capable of streaming directly from your Netflix to queue to your TV. Only a relative few Netflix DVD titles are available for streaming, but at $99, the box was worth a try. Set up took more than the three minutes the launch screen promised due to a flash update, but still easy enough. Using your existing Internet connection, the box accesses the Netflix queue. Unlike Blu-ray disks, Netflix has yet to charge additional for this functionality. (Of course Blu-ray began at no extra charge, then cost $1/mo., and now runs $4/mo. per standard account.)

Netflix did what I wanted Apple TV to do, bring IPTV to my living room. After a year and a half of Apple TV, I’ve bought less than a handful of titles and rented none. Apple TV in my house is nothing more than an expensive iPod with a nifty screen saver for my HDTV. The family already watched more titles on Roku than Apple TV. Until Apple changes the Apple TV business model, Apple TV will remain moribund.

Though initial reviews and customer testimonials have been overwhelmingly positive, it’s too early to declare victory for Roku. There are still rough patches ahead for Roku – or any potentially successful IPTV platform.

  • Pricing model Netflix will have to begin charging for the service. It’s too easy to spend the day streaming titles. Serving up scores of titles per account may become more costly than maintaining DVD stock and using the USPS to act as a governor.
  • Network performance As these services gain in popularity, large areas of the country will suffer network performance issues. I can already tell when school’s out every afternoon in my neighbor based on increased network latency. It can only get worse.
  • Cable providers will want a piece of the action Roku’s using all that bandwidth to compete against cable’s on-demand offerings. Cable is going to want a piece of the action or things might get ugly.

The larger point is that my family is already hooked on IPTV. There’s no turning back.

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