Internet television: ready for prime time? Are telcos-recycled-as IPTV-providers capable of providing a valuable and positively memorable user experience?
This past Sunday I have been able, for the first time, to see a live sport event in the full glory of my 15.4-inch laptop wide-screen while connected to the Internet.
Frankly I couldn't believe my eyes.
Not that I wasn't aware of the possibility to stream live content from an event, or that I hadn't attended Web-based events before that were broadcast live via video.
But this was the first time I did watch a full soccer match, without having to leave my home, and with a quality, that while not perfect, really impressed me favorably.
Why do I need to leave home to watch my favorite soccer team?
The story is that I have long trashed my TV at home, and it is a few years now that, when Sunday comes, I go over to my good friend Kathy to watch our soccer team match via the subscriber-paid, satellite-based Sky Sport network, covering the Italian Serie A.
But this weekend Kathy wasn't there. Lucky she had gone sightseeing in beautiful Bergamo in the northern part of our peninsula.
So, I set myself up to check out Rosso Alice, a new service by multinational Telecom Italia that promises to deliver live sport events and entertainment on either a flat, monthly fee or by paying just for what you want to see.
Either by using your credit card or by having Telecom Italia bill you on their phone/Internet monthly charges, in less than 90 secs you can log in to watch any of the nine live Serie A soccer matches that are played each week.
No matter where you are, either on the beach of Fregene with a wireless connection, or off to the beach of Koh Samui in Thailand (where wireless beach access is a reality since some time), I need not lose anymore the great shots from Francesco Totti, or the exhilarating ability of Vincenzo Montella to score nearly a goal per match.
The beauty of this is the quality of reception. I could fill my 15.4-inch screen completely with the live video feed without compromising the overall quality of the image.
The service from Rosso Alice utilizes Windows Media Player to deliver the content and to manage the digital rights management certificate that allows you access to this paid-for content.
There are also two options from which the user can select in terms of the quality of the video reception. The options are strictly connected with the capacity of your Internet connection, as Rosso Alice doesn't require anyone to be their customer to access this content. Whoever your provider is, as long as you have enough bandwidth to access the content effectively, you are welcome to use the service.
The "standard" quality option expects you have 640Kbps of downloading bandwidth available to you. This is what I have used. A second setting labeled "Mega", draws about 720Kbps of bandwidth while providing a bit more quality and definition.
Overall, the video experience was very good and well beyond what I would have expected to see using my home ADSL connection.
Before having discovered Rosso Alice and when traveling far away from home, I would use the Internet to listen to soccer matches via Internet radio. In the past there were a couple of Roman private radio stations (Radioincontro and Radio Radio) that, while operating on the local FM band locally, also streamed their signal to the Internet. This way they allowed their transmissions to be heard from any part of the world, even with a dial-up connection.
While all this may appear as not so incredible, let me factor in two more things:
Price: to see my 90 minute match without any advertising at all I paid EUR 2.50 (apx. USD 4)
It is in this way that the future of TV may intersect with the Internet, as the mainstream television gradually loses audience, attention and respect.
What TV does great is to report live with video and images what is happening somewhere else, where you are not. The Internet, paired with wireless, abundant bandwidth and powerful laptops with high-quality screens provide TV with a road to un-trash itself. TV can be again a direct viewing channel on what happens elsewhere and can be used for just as much as we need to see.
Imagine: in one shot we could free ourselves from TV sets and tuners, unsustainable advertising intrusion, and the homogenized political business propaganda that people in the US still call news.
Wouldn't that be nice?
N.B.: As any other service I have used from Italy's Telecom Italia, their quality of service, outside of the above listed good points, sucks.
A few examples: the Rosso Alice Web site says that if you have lost your registration password you need to call a phone number! If you do, you are placed on a waiting queue that can last as long as 20 or more minutes.
Buying access to the match for first time users is a nightmare (I am being polite on this). The first time I tried to use it, Rosso Alice told me I was already a customer and that I therefore could not register another time. Even if I was, why not allow me to create another account? Microsoft DRM burping?
When you are ready to pay-per-view a match, you need to log in twice during the process. Then, at the second gate, the system expects your password once more but this time without the punctuation that was needed during the first round. Go figure.
Once you have registered and paid you may get a message on the screen that says to wait a few minutes before accessing the event. Why? How do I know when the right time has arrived? And this happens only when you are lucky. If you are not, RossoAlice may directly tell you that you can't even buy the event.
So, my recommendation is: don't try to set this up 5 mins before the match starts, (if it is your first time) or you are going to hate the guts of Telecom Italia for a long time. Start early in the day and plan some breaks into the process. That will take you into the game with the best mood possible: victorious for having overcome one of the worst designed e-commerce access points you are ever to see online, and excited for being ready to unmediate real live content from the major TV networks.
What do you think?