End of Satellite title cardAs I walked the exhibit floors of the NAB Show this week, I asked dozens of people the same question: Is IP-based TV delivery shrinking the satellite TV market? Or will it soon? Except for a few satellite folks who ventured that it’ll probably shrink it one of these days, everyone agreed that it has, and that IP is hitting satellite even faster than had been expected.

One case in point is PBS, which announced in late March that it was in the process of switching to IP file-based delivery for its non-real-time programming. And then there’s the demonstration project from the folks at Ryerson University that you can transmit live 1080p, 30 fps HD video from New Zealand to Toronto … as long as you have internet2-quality, university-grade fat data pipes. In what must be an understatement, the Ryerson professors told me, “The television networks are very interested in this.”

The reason for the change is money. Satellites are very, very expensive. It costs millions to launch one, and if it makes it successfully into the right orbit, it’ll only last for an average of a decade or so. During that time, the only way to recoup those millions is to rent slices of transponder time, and that’s why it costs so much to use satellites to distribute programming. Anything IP-based is bound to save distributors a lot of money, as long as it works.

There are several markets for transponder time. One is for program originators such as PBS to distribute to their broadcasters. Another is for companies who send their signals to homes with dishes. (Yet another is for beaming news stories back to stations. I saw a lot of nascent IP-based alternatives promoted at the show, so that’s changing too.)

At the Akamai booth, I was chatting with Pete Condon, a senior service line manager, and I said that the unexpected speed of adoption of over-the-top TV to homes reminded me of the switch from vinyl records to CDs. Pete said this switch would go even faster. “This time,” he said, “everyone already has the player.” It took years for the CD infrastructure to become ubiquitous, but most households already have the internet.

But most is not all. Some folks don’t have any internet access at home, and even more don’t have broadband, and that’s one of the caveats here. In areas such as South America where there is little broadband penetration in homes, satellite remains an attractive option. It’s also still the best way to distribute live programming, such as sports and news, so satellite distribution probably won’t go away completely for a long time. But for now, watch as fewer signals are beamed up to the sky and more are relayed through the cloud.

“The Federal Communications Commission is going to need to make a decision, and soon, on how it will treat over-the-top services in the ‘brave new world’ of broadband video delivery (and, yes, we understand the irony in that phrase).”

Go read the rest of John Eggerton’s column about the need for new rules after the ivi injunction.

Gavel falling hardThe last show I watched on ivi.TV was Jeopardy, the episode where the two best players of all time lost to an expert system created by IBM. Sure, I checked ivi every day to make sure it was still there, but that historic occasion was the last time I sat down to watch it. And now, thanks to a US District Judge’s preliminary injunction handed down Tuesday, I’ll probably never watch Jeopardy on ivi again.

To its credit, ivi vows to appeal the ruling, and it’s limping along (for free!) with Trinity Broadcasting and a few other odd channels. But the odds of seeing distant broadcast network channels look very weak. You can lose the injunction and win the case, but that’s not the way to bet.

(Speaking of limping along, those irrepressible FilmOn folks keep on streaming their own oddball set of channels. FilmOn’s channel list includes Retro TV, Tuff TV, PBS Hawaii, Fashion TV, ion, parts(?) of WPIX and KTLA, and a few others. But none of the British channels it dangled before us at its launch. FilmOn wants $9.95/month for that motley collection, or $19.95/month for that set plus six “adult” channels. That’s all too pricy for me. but you can take a look to see what you think.)

From a free-to-air TV perspective, we’ve had a great run with the ivi broadcast channels. We had dozens of streaming channels for half a year, all for about the price of a replacement LNB. These channels never felt permanent to me; with so many deep-pocketed players against them, I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did. In the end, it seems appropriate that my last memory of the “old” ivi will be of highly skilled humans beaten by a multinational corporation.

Top of the Brooklyn BridgeTVNewsCheck reports that a Seattle judge has dismissed ivi.tv’s lawsuit there. That suit asked the court to declare that ivi does not violate US copyright law.

That dismissal clears the way for a judge in New York to consider the suit filed there by broadcasters and other interested parties sued ivi for copyright violations. This is the same court that issued an injunction against FilmOn, which argued similarly that an old paragraph in the law allowed them to retransmit over-the-air channels through the internet.

Since that injunction, FilmOn has been limping along with its odd set of international channels (though no BBCs, darn it) and a few OTA channels that weren’t part of the suit against it. What will happen to ivi, and when? Stay tuned!

Update: More details are available at Broadcasting & Cable.

Roku logoRoku, which makes a device for translating streaming internet content to your television set, made a bit of news this week when it added the cable channel WealthTV. Much more quietly, our old friend ivi.tv added Brush with Life, which is, well, I’m not sure what. Go visit their site, preferably on a wide-screen monitor, and maybe you can figure them out. If you know more about Brush with Life, tell us about it in a comment, please.

Since the handful of corporations that control most TV content have dug in their heels against a la carte pricing, maybe odd little channels like these will be the future of TV programming. If we don’t need blockbuster programming, maybe tightly focused channels could deliver the kind of narrowcasting that pundits foresaw when digital cable channels proliferated. (Instead, as stated in my First Law of Programming, formerly narrow channels change to broaden their appeal. I wrote much more about that law, a la carte and cable channels in October 2009. I’ll try to avoid restating too much of that, so you’re welcome to go catch up if you want.)

As television moves from cable and satellite delivery to the internet, this could easily open the door to true narrowcasting. One of most commonly submitted questions to FTAList has been: How can I start my own satellite TV channel? The old answer is that you need to talk with an uplink center to rent some bandwidth, figure how to get your content to that uplink center, and oh yes, find a way to generate enough TV programming to fill every hour of every day. But internet-based delivery removed the uplink from that equation; if you can get the programming to the internet, that’s most of what you need. Then the real trick is to get enough paid subscribers to make payroll.

Some channels like these are already broadcasting on sites such as TVU and Justin TV. If any of these can put together enough original content for a 24/7 run, they could provide more choices for viewers who don’t want to pay for 200 channels to get the five they really watch. It’ll be fun to see how this shakes out over the next few years.