Nearly a decade ago, the telecommunications industry began watching as PCCW, the incumbent Telco in Hong Kong, started to deploy its Now TV IPTV service. From around the world, attention was focused on this operator as it attained a 30-plus percent pay TV market share in its local market.
In recent years, PCCW’s CTO, Paul Berriman, began to refer to the operator as a post-IPTV operator, in which TV was just one screen among many. Not only were they offering TV-over-broadband without a hitch, but also, were distributing it to mobile smartphones so English expats could watch Manchester vs Chelsea as they chatted over evening drinks.
PCCW also introduced a wireless tablet-like device called the Eye2. With the Eye2, users could PVR a cooking show and then take it to the kitchen and play-pause-play-pause the program while preparing the dish!
PCCW was gracious enough to host a tour of their facilities in December 2009, coinciding with the IPTV World Forum Asia event, where I was a panelist. Not only did the tour reveal a mature TV operation which serves a million subscribers over its fixed-line broadband network; it also runs two sports program studios that it operates in partnership with ESPN. Because HK is the hub of finance between the East and the West of Asia, PCCW also produces its own business programs.
So in retrospect, Friday’s announcement that PCCW has applied for a TV license, to begin operating a 24 hour free-to-air Cantonese-language channel is no big surprise. It’s only a matter of time before other major Telcos around the world begin to go beyond providing the enabling technologies of broadband video, into the world of programming itself.
Telcos must produce unique local programming if they are to continue to differentiate themselves from aggressive cable and Internet-video competitors. Differentiation is no longer a matter of providing an advanced user experience. PCCW is, again, as it was in the 2000s, ahead of the curve in this area.