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Content Providers, Carriers Row The Same Boat

CHICAGO -- What's the head of a major media company doing at a telecom show? Call it the proof that convergence is, indeed, here.

Bob Wright, vice chairman and executive officer of General Electric, which owns and operates NBC Universal, took the stage at NXTcomm to discuss how his company is working with carriers to both distribute and protect content.

"I'm surrounded by executives from telecom and technology, and I'm the only voice speaking on behalf of the media and entertainment industry," Wright told the audience. "We are becoming partners with AT&T and Verizon and Motorola for triple play."

It's a stark change from the way things used to be. Wright noted that 21 years ago, the only significant distribution mechanism for NBC was its own network affiliates.

"The only connection between us and telecom was that we made phone calls and telecom executives watched TV," Wright said. "We're in the same boat; we're all in the video business."

It's the business of aggregating audiences and delivering them to advertising. The mission for both carriers and media is to get the largest audience possible.

Wright referred to the current environment as the golden age of media where consumers have access to all types of content on every imaginable platform.

Yet there are challenges in this golden age. There are evolving new advertising models that can take advantage of the all the different platforms, and there is the development of technology standards that allow for national scale.

"NBC Universal is committed to a new era of digital possibilities," Wright said. As a case in point, he showed a video promoting NBC's coverage of the 2008 Olympics, an event that NBC has billed as the first ever broadband Olympics. NBC is planning for a whopping 2,400 hours of coverage that will be available across the width and breadth of the NBC TV and online channel portfolio.

A key to keeping this golden age of media rolling, according to Wright, is the fight against piracy. It's a fight he said is one in which content owners and the carrier networks have historically not been in the same boat.

"Many service providers were on shore watching us sink," Wright said. He then alleged that illegal movie downloads have been a significant driver for broadband adoption.

Times have changed, and with the content providers now working with the carriers to sell content, both groups are now firmly in the same boat.

To that end, Wright announced there is now a program in place with six of the eight largest ISPs to help stop piracy. Under the program, the ISPs notify customers that are downloading illegally and issue a warning that can then escalate to service termination.

Wright noted that the initiative is about educating and not punishing.

"We want to create more legitimate consumers," Wright said. "I applaud the ISPs that have adopted the approach. There is little if any resistance left to this emerging industry consensus.

"NBC Universal is eager to be your partner in fighting the scourge of counterfeits and piracy," Wright told the NXTcomm audience. "When it comes to this issue we are, indeed, in the same boat now."