Globe Talk: Internet TV coming of age?

By SHIHOKO GOTO, UPI Senior Business Correspondent

WASHINGTON, April 24 (UPI) -- The jury is still out on whether Internet television is the next best thing in cyberspace or simply a buzzword that will fizzle out.

One project that has made full use of Internet Protocol TV technology was conducted on the eve of Earth Day by Chantilly, Va.-based Communication Technologies. Otherwise known as COMTek, the company claimed that it had succeeded in hosting the single biggest simultaneous application of two-way IPTV technology ever attempted.


The initiative linked up more than 16,000 high school and college students across the United States to see and chat simultaneously with nine scientific and religious experts through the Earth Day Network to discuss climate change and global warming.

"COMTek has the ideal global network consisting of our own private IP, fiber, wireless, broadband over power lines and satellite links, and the right background in managed network services to make an event possible on this unprecedented scale." said Joseph Fergus, chief executive of the company. "This will be the first, true broadcast of real scope featuring IPTV service with full interactive capability. COMTek IPTV is a revolutionary new way to communicate that holds great promise for the Internet user community. The COMTek Network Services Team brings together nationally recognized media and technology leaders who have applied their skills and talents to create our innovative and patent-pending 'PowerTV' IPTV platform, which is truly unlike any other out there today."


And discussing the science of climate change from both a political and religious perspective is certainly a topic that could benefit from the technology that allows users not only to communicate with each other by voice, but visually as well. Earth Day Network was itself founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 and now reaches more than 12,000 organizations in 174 countries, with 3,000 groups engaged with the network in the United States alone.

Taking questions live from students and being able to interact with them is a "major leap forward in our education efforts that means we will be able to reach literally hundreds of thousands of young minds at the same time -- and to get feedback from many of them as well," said Jeff Nesbit, vice president of communications at Earth Day Network.

To be sure, Internet television has the potential to engage users and make it even easier for two-way conversations than ever before in cyberspace. Indeed, business executives including former Walt Disney Group chief Michael Eisner have been putting their own money into Internet broadcasting ventures.

Earlier this week Eisner announced that his venture-capital group, the Tornante Company, would invest in a San Diego-based start-up called Veoh Networks. Founded in 2004, Veoh specializes in using the Internet as well as peer-to-peer technology as a broadcast system that is open and will allow anyone to broadcast videos directly.


"Cable and satellite fundamentally changed the way television was distributed by creating the capacity for greater choice in programming. Veoh revolutionizes television again by leveraging the Internet to expand broadcast capacity to the point that every single user, whether an individual or a media company, can create their own 'channel' and every 'channel' can be supported by its own business model," Eisner said. "In the past, distributing television programming required an enormous broadcast infrastructure. Veoh enables anyone with an Internet connection to distribute and receive programming in the highest quality," he added.

Certainly, Eisner is bullish about the prospect of the Internet television industry and Veoh in particular, as are many analysts following the technology. Indeed, some argue that unless major telecommunications carriers too join the IPTV bandwagon, they will be jeopardizing their future.

"In the mid-1990s, when (telecommunications companies) were considering TV services over their networks, the business case pivoted on the question, 'Can we afford to do this?' Ten years on, in the face of an intensely competitive broadband market, the question has changed. Now it's, 'Can we afford not to do this?'" argued John Delaney, an analyst with London-based research group Ovum.


Indeed, last month German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom announced it would tie up with Microsoft to provide television viewing on its broadband network amid a host of other European companies announcing similar initiatives to provide online TV services that will allow interactivity and other features that are currently being provided by cable and satellite networks.


Globe Talk takes a weekly look at a hot topic in the international telecommunications and technology sectors. E-mail: [email protected]

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