2012: A year of big stories and bigger trends

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There is something intrinsically futile about choosing a year's top stories. What seems like major news might be nothing but a blip on history's screen.

After all, the Hindenburg's flaming end at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in 1937 was certainly a top story. But what did it mean in the overall scheme of history? And, despite the seemingly endless fascination with it, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was a tragedy and a big story but of real little import in the overall history of travel.

To me a top story is something that affects not only the year in which it occurred but more importantly offers a glimpse of things to come. When Southern gentlemen lobbed ordnance into Fort Sumter in 1861 it was big news; it also sparked a bloody war between states that continues to affect U.S. history today. When the men in gray suits jumped out of Wall Street office windows in 1929 it was headline news; it was also the start of a Great Depression that led, some believe, indirectly to the most devastating war in history and a generation of nervous, jaded individuals. Those stories had tails longer than their tales.

Thus, when asked to come up with 2012's top stories in the IPTV space, I stepped back and took a longer look at what it all meant. It helped that no story in 2012 demanded attention; many were just part of ongoing trends that will evolve over time.

For instance, there's the No. 1 story, over-the-top (OTT) content moving in-the-middle (ITM) of IPTV offerings. There are some who might believe it was inevitable that the IPTV space would incorporate IP-based content into traditional video offerings. Those would be the same folks who really don't understand how entrenched and self-satisfied much of the linear TV delivery business is.

Only after outsiders threatened that lucrative business with non-linear offerings delivered to gaming devices and tablets and smartphones did traditional TV providers start to move. And only when it became evident that the IPTV subscribers who were paying the monthly bills were the ones using their IP networks to migrate to these services did the threat create a drive to incorporate OTT content into an ITM business model. It's this year's top story and a trend to watch in coming years.

When AT&T (NYSE: T) said it would spend $14 billion on its wireline infrastructure, it was big news. When it said it would bolster its U-verse business as part of that investment over the next three years, it became both a trend and the year's second most important story. If nothing else, it differentiated AT&T from Verizon (NYSE: VZ) which, in 2012, reiterated that it would not be expanding its FiOS footprint.

The year's third biggest story--in my estimation--was the growing realization by smaller telcos that they must add IPTV to their service offerings in their battle against an increasingly aggressive cable industry, OTT and the always-annoying satellite space.

The fourth biggest story of the year was the emergence of a new group of players migrating into the IPTV space. Public demand for connected devices fed by IP home networks led non-IPTV players in cable to rethink how they use IP in their video delivery. The advantage IPTV players have in their IP-to-the-home capabilities started eroding as cable moved to IP, even if it's not called IPTV. Next year and those beyond will see more stories about the second screen applications over IP networks that aren't technically IPTV but are IP video competition.

Finally, the fifth biggest story was one that was impossible to miss. The United States might have invented television and it certainly took it to the ultimate highs of quality such as HBO's The Wire and the depths of any number of low-brow sitcoms. But when it comes to IPTV, the United States doesn't lead; it follows. The rest of the world, with more limited pay TV infrastructure, is ahead of the IPTV technology and deployment curve. It's unlikely this is a trend that will end in 2013, so it made the list.

There were, of course, other stories in 2012 that demanded attention. It's tough to keep Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) off the list, what with Google Fiber and, more importantly, the company's ongoing, almost irrational desire to shed its Motorola Home Business Unit, the granddaddy of all MVPD vendors. There was the on-again-off-again entry of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) TV into the IPTV space. And there was the shark-like presence of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), swimming quietly and relentlessly in the TV pool with both gaming devices and Mediaroom middleware. All were big stories in 2012; all promise to continue to be newsworthy in 2013.

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I am not nearly self-important enough to believe that this is an all-encompassing list of top stories and trends. For that reason, I invite you to take some time over the upcoming holiday lull--FierceIPTV is on hiatus until Jan. 8--and send me some of your suggestions of top stories and trends. If you do, you'll give me fodder for the first Editor's Corner of 2013.

In the meantime, enjoy the break from my incessant meanderings. Catch you in the new year when FierceIPTV returns on Jan. 8. -Jim

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