IPTV is an acronym for “internet protocol television.” Interestingly, IPTV uses the same exact protocols that your web browser uses, meaning that IPTV relies on an IP address and accesses a network similar to that of the internet to bring you television programming.
Wait, what is the difference between IPTV and normal TV?
Alright, so at this point, you might be asking yourself what makes IPTV different than your normal, everyday TV.
Well, for starters, there is a difference in how the content is delivered to you. With regards to regular TV, be it cable or satellite, the content is sent out as signals, and your TV, or an attached device, receives said signals and interprets them for your viewing pleasure.
However, IPTV works differently. You see, rather than depending on light pulses transmitted through optic fibers or on radio waves being sent via a satellite, IPTV sends the content your way through data packets that are delivered through a private network.
Not only is the technology surrounding IPTV more advanced than normal TV technology, but the required network architecture is also complicated, and it includes transcoding from traditional signals to data packets that are IP-friendly. But, you don’t need to delve into any of that unless you want to understand IPTV on a technical level.
Another difference is that when it comes to regular TV, you can only watch what is being broadcast right now, and unless you have TiVo, you will always be at the mercy of your content provider, forced to watch whatever they want you to watch.
Alternatively, there are many different formats of IPTV (something we will get into shortly), and the most popular is Video on Demand, which is shortened as VOD. With VOD, you get to choose what you want to watch and when to watch it, giving you way more control over your viewing experience.
Oh, so Netflix and Hulu are considered IPTV?
Well… Not exactly.
You see, even though Netflix and Hulu do send video content via the internet, they are not strictly speaking IPTV. Rather, they are defined as OTT, which stands for “over-the-top.”
OTT and IPTV are different, and we need to be able to distinguish them from each other:
1. IPTV and OTT work in completely different ways:
To begin with, OTT, in its simplest form is about delivering media content over the internet. Ergo, not only are Netflix and Hulu prime examples, but Youtube and Vimeo also count as OTT.
At this point, you should feel that OTT and IPTV are one and the same, but herein lies the main difference:
OTT is distributed without being controlled by a certain internet service provider, otherwise known as ISP, or a multiple system operator, shortened as MSO. Put differently, no ISP gets a say in nor are they responsible for the content that gets produced and distributed via OTT transmissions.
Because of this, an ISP’s sole responsibility with regards to OTT is transferring the data packets over the internet from point A to point B, nothing more. The flip-side of this coin is that as far as the ISP is concerned, data packets for a movie are treated exactly the same as data packets for an e-mail. Due to this, the quality of the content you receive via OTT is mainly defined by your internet connection.
As for IPTV, things are a bit different. Although IPTV uses the internet protocol, the content itself is transferred over a private network provided by the ISP and dedicated to the IPTV in question, and the packets never go through the public internet. In other words, the ISP becomes responsible for what is being broadcast and can control it as they see fit.
Seeing as IPTV is transferred over a specifically dedicated infrastructure, the ISP can ensure a higher quality of video content. After all, the data packets themselves are treated differently, and IPTV is controlled by standardized metrics.
Owing to the fact that OTT and IPTV work differently, the ensuing business models and content produced are bound to differ. For instance, while OTT relies on content aggregators and user-generated content, IPTV broadcasts content that is more curated and with higher production value.
At this point, if you feel that this is confusing and your head is spinning, the only thing you need to remember is this:
OTT is content that is delivered over the public internet.
IPTV is content that is delivered over a private network but uses the same technology of the internet.
2. The equipment required is different:
Another key difference, which will come into play later, is that OTT only requires an internet connection and a laptop, whereas IPTV requires more specialized equipment. (What this specialized equipment is will be discussed later.)
3. Both OTT and IPTV share a few similarities:
Aside from being broadcast using IP technology, OTT and IPTV have plenty of similarities, the most prominent of which is that they both share the same formats: VOD, time-shifted medium, and live TV. That being said, when talking about the formats of IPTV, we will mention some OTT content providers as well to make it easier for you to understand the format we are talking about.
What are the formats of IPTV?
Generally speaking, IPTV can come in one of three flavors: Video on Demand, Time-shifted media, and Live IPTV.
• Video on Demand:
As the name suggests, Video on Demand is all about getting the content you want when you want it. One prime example of this that you are probably very familiar with is movie-streaming sites, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. (These are all OTT content providers, but you get the picture)
What’s more, so long as the content you want to watch is owned by your streaming service, you can demand to watch it, regardless of how old it is. Even though this may seem obvious, it stands in stark contrast to the next type of IPTV.
• Time-shifted media:
This type of IPTV is very similar to “catch-up TV,” where you can watch shows that you might have missed earlier. However, unlike VOD, the content won’t be available indefinitely; instead, you have a specific window of time when you can watch the content.
Once this time has elapsed, the content will be removed from the broadcaster’s selection. What this means for you is that you can’t rewatch a show that aired a couple of years ago. In short, the main difference between VOD and time-shifted media is the shelf-life of the content.
With that said, one of the best examples of this format is BBC’s iPlayer.
• Live IPTV:
This format s probably the most similar to ordinary broadcast TV. In other words, live IPTV lets you watch shows live, which is ideal if you want to enjoy a certain sports event as it is happening. In fact, if you subscribe to a live IPTV channel, you can watch the game on your phone while you’re on the go.
Aside from coming to you via the internet instead of cable or satellite, live IPTV is more or less the same as ordinary TV.
Some excellent live TV channels you can check out are Sling TV, Hulu Live Tv, FOX Sports Go, and CBS Sports HQ.
If you look through the internet, you might find more types of IPTV service, but odds are anything you’ll find will be derivative of the three types above. For instance, here are two more types you might come across:
• Near Video on Demand:
This is a pay-per-view service. The idea is that there is a specific broadcasting schedule which viewers can look at and choose to watch the content that interests them the most. This model is ideal for multiple users, all of whom would be subscribed to the same service.
However, this type of IPTV service is almost a mixture between the live TV model and video on demand.
• TV on Demand:
Rather than having to watch specific programming, you can watch a particular channel online. However, unlike ordinary TV, you can watch the channel whenever suits you at whatever point in the channel’s programming.
It’s basically VOD; even its acronym is TVOD. The only difference is in what the viewer can demand to watch.
Ok, so what is the current state of IPTV?
Even though the viewer base for IPTV is still quite small when compared to more conventional forms of media such as TV, it has been growing over the past few years, it. This growth has been fueled by the rapid expansion of content providers:
On the one hand, they produce enough new, original shows on an annual basis enough to satisfy the most diehard binge watcher out there. On the other hand, they are always looking for existing properties to buy and possibly expand on.
However, as you can tell, the most prominent type of IPTV is video on demand. But, both time-shifted media and live IPTV have yet to garner the same popularity as their more mature sibling.
That being said, time-shifted media has been getting more popular recently, especially since it is an adequate substitute for TiVo but doesn’t require as much setup. Consequently, people have been downloading the FOX, CBS, and NBC apps and watching shows they missed earlier.
As for live IPTV, there are several players that are showing up and gaining traction, including NOW TV, TVPlayer, and Epic stream. Nevertheless, they are all still far from becoming mainstream, particularly when you compare them to VOD.
Moreover, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that sports seem to be live IPTV’s most popular type of content to broadcast.
After all, for a true sports fan, nothing can replace the experience of watching their favorite team play live. As a result, several content providers offer subscription sports packages.
As for whether the rest of TV will follow and join live IPTV remains to be seen.
Before we move on, we should talk about one more interesting trend that is affecting the current landscape of IPTV: Several services are appearing that enable their users to create and produce their own VOD and live-streaming services.
So, if you feel that you have a certain talent that you’d like to share with the world, or if you feel that you are pretty knowledgeable about a certain topic, you can start your own channel and share that part of you with the rest of the world.
All you have to do is find a service provider who has the bandwidth and server capacity you need. After that, once you sign up to one of their plans, you can begin uploading your content and having it distributed through their distribution channels.
And, what does the future hold for IPTV?
Well, that question is a bit harder to answer. In fact, no one knows for sure the current number of IPTV users, let alone the future number. One factor that confounds any attempt to get a grasp on the matter is the sheer number of providers, and not all the providers use the same format.
Moreover, there is a lot of pirated content going around, which is something that we’ll talk more about when we are exploring the legality of IPTV.
That being said, here are a few rough numbers that can help us make educated guesses about the future of this technology:
• The official number of IPTV subscribers all over the globe is more than 130million.
• The end of 2015 saw the introduction of more than six million subscribers.
• China is a big player in this field. In the last quarter of 2015, China was responsible for introducing more than 3.7 million new subscribers to IPTV. What’s more, the fastest growing market is in Asia, and it is also the biggest.
• To drive the above point home, from a numbers standpoint, Europe and Asia have the largest numbers of subscribers. Nevertheless, from a service revenues standpoint, Europe and North America enjoy the lion’s share. This is because Chinese and Indian subscribers generate very little average revenue per user (ARPU for short) in comparison to countries on the western side of the globe.
So, based on the above information, you might be wondering what the experts have to say:
• For one thing, IPTV is bound to become more popular. As a matter of fact, Grand View Research issued a report where they asserted that, by 2025, the IPTV market should be worth around $117 billion. If you want to have a frame of reference, the IPTV market was around $38.21 billion in 2016.
This growth is expected to come from two sources: Firstly, increased user demand is bound to drive revenues. Secondly, better networks will make IPTV more accessible to more people.
• If you want to know what other market research firms had to say, here is a quick look.
Zion Market Research published a paper where it stated that the IPTV market should enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 18.01 percent, making the entire market worth $93.59 billion by 2021. What’s interesting to note is that when that paper was published in 2015, the IPTV market was around $34.67 billion.
Another agency by the name of Transparency Market Research predicted that global revenues from IPTV should reach $79.38 billion by 2020. Even though this number seems less optimistic when compared to the other two research firms, it still remains impressive when we take into consideration that the entire IPTV market was valued at $24.94 billion, meaning that the market would have had to experience 18.1 percent compound annual growth rate to achieve Transparency’s prediction.
What’s worth pointing out here is that despite there being some minute differences, all these research firms agreed that IPTV is bound to grow aggressively over the next few years.
• As a direct consequence of this aggressive growth, cable TV will have to cede a large portion of market share. In fact, how ordinary TV will fare in the long run in the face of the stiff competition brought on by OTT and IPTV is anyone’s guess.
• Given that IPTV allows users to create their own channels, this means that we shouldn’t only expect growth from the demand side of things, but the supply side is expected to boom as well. And, with more variety and offerings available, people won’t be limited to what broadcasters have to show them.
• The main competition IPTV is expected to face is from OTT media. Hence, it will become a matter of viewers having to weigh between two considerations: the freedom of the internet vs. the high-quality videos of ISPs. Therefore, a big determinant of how IPTV fares in the future will depend on whether communications providers will be able to provide a better user experience than what OTT has to offer.