The IPTV World Forum (which began yesterday at London's Olympia and will finish on Friday) had a buzz about it that was absent last year. It wasn't just that the first day was busy, people seemed more purposeful.
On the face of it, there's not that much to shout about. The Broadband Forum announced the latest IPTV statistics, prepared by Point Topic, which revealed that global IPTV subscriber total has reached 21.7 million.
Although this is an increase of 63% on the end of 2007 figures, it's still a drop in the bucket: Point Topic's broadband figures for 2008, also released yesterday, show that 62.6 million broadband lines were added last year, to make a global total of 410.9 million lines.
IPTV grew by 45% in Western Europe throughout 2008. The stats showed France as the largest IPTV market in this region, with over half of Europe's 10.2 million subscribers and almost a quarter of the global total.
The reason France has been so successful is the incumbent, France Telecom/Orange, has put IPTV as at the heart of its strategy and made the offer ubiquitous, providing the service by satellite where there's no fixed broadband. The level of commitment gave IPTV in general legitimacy in France and brought it into the mainstream.
IPTV subscribers per region
So lots of people have the necessary infrastructure and lots of operators are keen to make money from IPTV, the big question is how to drive take-up and usage‾ The consensus in the industry is through social networking and recommendation.
Sefy Ariely, VP sales and marketing, Orca Interactive, says; "One of the problems with take-up has been the lack of dedicated marketing. Content generally is not the differentiator: France Telecom/Orange and some of the cable companies create their own content, but generally IPTV content is 90% the same as goes through other channels. Sometimes one outlet has exclusivity on some content, but not for long - no-one can afford it."
He adds, "So it's getting the maximum you can out of the content you've got, but it doesn't sell itself, as was originally assumed. People are only buying 1.2 movies a month. Why‾ We believe it is because people struggle to find stuff they want to watch - electronic programme guides and viewer catalogues are ineffective - which is why we are offering IPTV operators Compass."
Ariely stresses the company hasn't restricted itself to one area of recommendation with Compass, for instance, like you might get from Amazon or another e-commerce site. Rather by partnering the social networking site, TrustedOpinion, viewers can see recommendations by their friends on the site - although those friends might not have the same IPTV service - and the recommendations and ratings of people unknown to them.
Recommendations for content not available from the provider are filtered out to avoid frustration and disappointment. This can also give operators a lot of feedback about important gaps in their portfolios.
There are also feeds from most popular listings and so on - whatever the operator chooses. Viewers can themselves rate and recommend programmes, so the system learns what they like, also taking into account reminders customers set and what they record.
He says, "The blend of sources is the important thing. We are not trying to write a single perfect algorithm. What people want to watch at different times varies, depending on context and mood, and recommendations from friends carry more clout than those from the service provider."
Does it work‾ Has it delivered uplift in consumption‾ Ariely explains Compass has just finished beta testing by one European operator and another is about to start trials.
He says, in what must be the quotation of the week, "It all makes sense, we just don't have the data to back it up, yet."