SBC, others see new breed of TV

SBC sees TVs, PCs and mobile phones all playing in future personalized services.

SBC Communications on Tuesday gave a few glimpses of what it may do with the ability to deliver IP (Internet Protocol) services across several devices and networks.

The carrier, one of the largest U.S. service providers and majority owner of mobile operator Cingular Wireless, envisions offering personalized bundles of services that span video, voice, broadband data and wireless communications, said Lea Anne Champion, senior executive vice president for IP operations and services. At the Telecom '05 show in Las Vegas, she stood in for Chairman and chief executive officer Edward Whitacre Jr., who had been scheduled to give a keynote address, but appeared briefly by video instead.

SBC has just finished a field trial of an IPTV service and is preparing for a controlled market offering of it late this year or early next year, Champion said. But its IP services picture is bigger than that: Last week the company committed to working with Lucent Technologies to implement an IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), a framework for providing a variety of services with centralized control.

"Integration will change everything for our consumers," Champion said.

Possible cross-platform services could include the following, she said:

-- a family could view a library of all its digital photos on PCs, TVs and mobile phones;

-- a TV viewer could interact with a home DVR (digital video recorder) from a mobile phone while on the road, to set up recordings;

-- a parent could change TV parental-control settings in real time from a mobile phone to keep children from watching a show;

-- a user could maintain one list of phone numbers and e-mail addresses and use it on both a PC and a mobile phone;

-- a subscriber could have a personalized account for delivery of certain types of stock prices, sports scores and weather information, accessible with a single click on a PC, TV and mobile phone.

Tuesday morning's long keynote session at the U.S. Telecom Association show was more about TV than about phone calls, a sign of the times as U.S. carriers add video to their offerings. Executives from Cox Communications, Starz Entertainment Group, Disney Enterprises unit Buena Vista Television, local TV station owner Hearst-Argyle Television and News Corp.'s Fox Cable Networks talked optimistically about new opportunities emerging with telecommunications carriers entering the video business.

IPTV could create as big a change as TV itself did when it first appeared in a world dominated by radio, said Robert Clasen, president and chief executive officer of Starz, which delivers TV channels and video-on-demand via cable operators and the Internet. For example, there is no need to fit shows into one-hour and half-hour program blocks if users are downloading them, he said. A show could last a day, and viewers could stop it and pick up later where they left off, or a 30-second cartoon could appear between programs and also be offered on cell phones, he said. An operator could sell a customer just one channel or just news channels, he added.

"It will be critical to understand that you are not just recreating cable or satellite. ... Your goal should be to create an entirely new form of communication," Clasen said.

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