Streaming versus Broadcasting: Verizon makes it no contest

Verizon is planning to deliver pay TV services over its high speed  4G LTE mobile network. The line is disappearing between what is streaming and broadcasting.

Traditionally, broadcasting is applied to the transmission of information over radio and television frequencies. Streaming, maybe not as well defined, seems to be the notion that you transmit that same data, typically audio or video, over an IP connection.

According to Verizon, over 70% of the data transmitted over its 4G LTE network is video. Verizon is making a bet that in the next five years, television broadcasting is going to look a whole lot different than it does now. Today, we have decreasing broadcasting through the airwaves, more cable, satellite, and increasing telco distribution.

Once the spectrum and distribution moves towards wireless, streaming and broadcasting become indistinguishable.

There’s good news and there’s bad news.

If you are a multi-multi-billion telco, satellite TV, cable, or media company, you are going to be looking at a great opportunity to sew up distribution to all devices from the home television to the mobile phone. You can re-configure broadband spectrums to effectively control the delivery of pay TV across all devices and win 100s of billions of dollars in the process.

Kind of sucks for the consumer, but maybe not because, it is nice to think that your cable company, and your telco, and some other entity can fight for your pay TV subscription without you having to worry about who owns the pipe into your home. 

There are going to be a lot of ways to reach you and they will probably all start with streaming services in combination with Internet access.

The bad news is that throttling is going to become acceptable. And, you are never going to see another Aereo again. Throttling is going to happen because it is a matter of technical efficiency. Let’s say Verizon is delivering pay TV services over its mobile networks to you. They are going to have to determine how that bandwidth gets spliced up for the most efficient delivery of services.

It may be, just may be, that Verizon can deliver video-on-demand (VOD) better and with as much choice as Netflix or Hulu thereby making it easier for the company to argue that it should give preference to customers who pay for Verizon FIOS, for example, over Netflix subscribers. Or, putting aside conspiracy theories, it could be just an acceptance that pay TV takes precedence over other streaming media services were the bandwidth dictates optimization and consumers may be fine with that because, they won’t notice.

Consumers will get all of the content that they need, on demand or not, broadcast TV or not, wherever and on whatever device they want.

When broadcast and streaming services are just two sides of the same coin, it is impossible for a start like Aereo to come along and tap into that data stream and use it to build its own services around.

Streaming media applications will be effectively limited to user generated services like YouTube, or applications like Netflix. Would you even need HBO Go? Probably not.

What does this mean for Amazon with Amazon Prime, and Yahoo and Google who are making their own content deals? What does this mean for Xbox with its content deals? Who knows at this stage. The more bandwidth gets allocated to pay TV services and the more the providers of those services enable their ubiquity on all devices, as Verizon is suggesting here, the more difficult it is going to be for pure Internet content providers to develop their proprietary content strategies.

It might just be YouTube that is left standing.

One other possible downside is that anything that may result in constricted bandwidth for streaming content on any device will have a huge impact on what may be the next great streaming media opportunity: livecasting. The ability to broadcast video live has evolved to the point where it is a viable distribution model, albeit with a relatively small audience today. However, livecasting could turn any of us into a broadcaster of our own live channels.

The foundation of livecasting is videoconferencing, which has been very effective in enabling live broadcasting of video to every increasing audiences. Witness WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, and now Google Hangouts On Air (HOA). But, clearly, YouTube Live has a potentially huge role to play, too. The writing is on the wall for livecasting.

Whatever happens in the broadcasting/streaming world, we need to acknowledge that there is no difference between what is a broadcast signal and what is a stream. It’s kind of a meaningless technical discussion because distribution mechanisms and client devices are all lumped together these days. Does your TV really need to be treated as a separate market to your tablet or mobile when it comes to your viewing habits? I don’t think so.

Unless you have a few billion dollars lying around, your impact on the distribution mechanisms is limited to op-eds on social media. The real opportunity is in figuring out how to be a player in provisioning content and services in a world where you can be your own television or radio station, broadcasting live 24/7.