The idea of watching the English Premier League live from one’s personal computer or laptop will see a lot of avid football fans rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation. But delivering television content through computer networks may be closer to reality than you think.
Streaming such programmes over a fibre network will make that possible and that’s what Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM) has in mind as it prepares to launch its IPTV (Internet Protocol television) by year-end. (IPTV is television content delivered interactively to the home via broadband connection. IPTV is an alternative to cable or satellite TV subscriptions TV services.)
TM has been conducting trials for its IPTV offering for awhile in Kulim involving 10,000 households. Recently, it re-launched its TV offerings – Hypp.TV and re-modelled its Blue Hyppo to include Kidz TV.
But these are mere teasers for TM’s IPTV plans.
“This is to get the consumer excited. We are now offering 30 channels on our Hypp.TV platform and the plan is to increase that to about 50 by year-end. We are targeting to launch our IPTV offering in the fourth quarter of 2009,” TM Net Sdn Bhd chief executive officer and executive vice-president of TM Consumer Jeremy Kung tells StarBizWeek in an interview.
Hypp.TV is available for subscription in some areas in the country for RM10 per month (KidsTV available for RM9.90 per month). But you must have a 1Mbps (megabits per second) broadband connection with TM Streamyx. So far, it has drawn 8,000 subscribers.
Several companies in Malaysia have indicated interest to offer IPTV but what is needed is a high speed broadband connection and the minimum bandwidth for clear and consistent streaming is a 8Mbps connection.
TM is building the high-speed broadband (HSBB) network in the country which promises minimum bandwidth of 10Mbps. The venture into IPTV is part of its diversification into offering value added services (VAS).
This is to diversify its earnings base as fixed line revenues are on the decline. The company has over 4 million fixed-line users.
Kung explains that the move into VAS will help “mitigate the loss’’ in fixed line revenue. But it will take awhile for a significant contribution from this segment.
“VAS is very small and not significant. But we hope to ramp it up,’’ he adds. In addition, cellular service is a major threat as consumers prefer mobility but for long hours of video streaming, fixed networks are still better provided there is sufficient bandwidth.
The trend world over has picked up at a furious pace.Telecommuni-cations operators like AT&T, France Telecom, PWCC and Portugal Telecom are in the forefront to expand their footprint in the global IPTV market.
Back home, even Astro has said that it wants to get into the IPTV business and is working aggressively to bring to market that offering. As at end last year the number of IPTV subscribers worldwide totalled 21.8 million, up 63% from 13.3 million recorded at the end of 2007, according to data released by Broadband Forum.
The largest number of IPTV subscribers is in Western Europe which recorded a 47% increase last year to 10.4 million subscribers.
The report said South and East Asia have 3.6 million IPTV subscribers, while the rest of the Asia Pacific has 3.1 million subscribers.
Video on demand (VOD) is also part of the offering for IPTV and with that subscribers will be able to download full length films in minutes.
“We even offer VOD as part of our Hypp.TV offering,” Kung adds.
Initially, TM plans to have the IPTV offering bundled with the broadband package. Whether or not it can be spun off into separate units however, depends very much on the response.
Getting the right content as feed for its IPTV offering will be TM’s biggest challenge to woo viewers. But Kung believes there are enough content providers that TM can work with in this respect.
“We will not be creating our own content but working with some partners. We will bring the free to air television programmes, sports, entertainment such as music, movies, and even traffic reports. We are even talking with partners to host their servers here so that the traffic does not have to leave the country,’’ he says.
Currently nearly 90% of all data traffic leaves the country to sites mainly in the United States. If the servers are hosted here, it would mean a faster and better customer experience, says Kung.
He is also fully aware that Astro, the only Pay TV operator in the country, has exclusive rights to several programmes and it would be difficult to break that “monopoly”.
Having said that, he points out that there is much content out there that has yet to be tapped which is entertaining and educational.
“We have carried out surveys. Wrestling is one big area. Beyond EPL, there are other leagues. The EPL auction is up in July ... it is something we can look at,’’ he continues. Besides EPL, TM is also in talks with content partners for programs on StarTV, HBO and National Geographic.
“There is nothing to stop us from bringing content; it is all about how we market our services,” he says.
So, how much will it cost, us, the consumers?
He’s not telling but manages to drop a hint nevertheless: “It would be a lot less (than what Astro charges). We are not in the same league,” Kung says, adding that the set-top box may be subsidised.
The set-top units is for consumers who prefer to watch IPTV over television rather than the Internet, provided TM is able to wire up fibre to the home.
The first two areas to get fibre to the home is Subang Jaya and Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
Other services to look forward to from TM would be video on demand, music, online shopping and takeaway (food). “That’s the next wave,’’ he enthuses.