Bell IPTV: Not Ready, But an Important Stepping Stone

Michael broadband video 14 Comments

[Ed Note: this article was published in 2009, when Bell FIBE was in its infancy. It is now one of the best TV systems out there. But I’m leaving the article because I stand by many of the points made about the challenges in launching large cable/telco offerings]

I’ve had Bell’s fledgling IPTV service – http://entertainment.bell.ca – for 6 months now, and believe me when I say that I’m sad to report that it’s not ready for prime-time.

Full disclosure – I was one of the first people hired on the Bell IPTV team back in 2003 and I still feel an affinity for the group, but mostly for the overall effort to bring more interactive television to my living room.

Bell IPTV become Bell Fibe in 2010

Bell IPTV became Bell Fibe in September of 2010

I don’t want to belabour this article with a lot of details on how the service is lacking. Nor should I, since one individual’s experience can’t be taken as indicative of the entire user base. However, my suffering exposes the fact that this is a very complex system, with enough potential points of failure to make it extremely difficult to launch successfully.

In short, I have had hardware issues (replaced STB, wifi gated to 10mbps), network issues (spent an entire month trying to figure out why my TV would pixelate and studder, until the problem mysteriously went away) and account issues (secondary STB removed from account, EPG occasionally blank etc).

I kept copious notes on each and every failure to try and help out the Bell service team. And I should say that they pulled out all the stops to resolve my issues (reason enough to be an early adopter because you get the best techs in the business coming to your aid).

But this list isn’t the reason that IPTV is in serious trouble. I believe that they will work out the kinks and eventually deliver a great service. In fact, there are several reasons IPTV won’t succeed in the near-term, but the primary one is that when your TV goes black, you have to reboot a router.

Now, if cable failed more often, people might welcome the fact that they have something they can do at their end to solve the problem. But the kinks were worked out of cable long ago, and people are used to getting nearly flawless service. Most TV users don’t even know what a router is, let alone how to reboot it. At a minimum, IPTV has to reach cable’s service level before it can be an effective challenger.

If you’re familiar with interactive television and all the possibilities, it’s easy to ignore the primary goal of delivering high-quality video. The Bell execs know this and have been working to build a solid service.  Alas, with all its promise, IPTV in its current state is at best a me-too offering (because it adds VOD, where satellite has only near-VOD). And while whole-home PVR is very cool, it’s a retention, not acquisition play.

Here’s where it all comes down to product management/marketing.

Because IPTV is true, two-way TV , it DOES have the ability to differentiate from broadcast cable. The problem here is two-fold: the Bell team has to a) correctly pinpoint the thing that users will latch on to and b) market it in a way that resonates and won’t cannibalize their existing satellite business.  The problem is that these are competing needs, i.e. if you nail the thing that attracts new customers, you’ll also attract satellite subscribers. Double acquisition costs make this a losing proposal.

Unfortunately Bell has got their fingers into enough stuff to make it difficult to make the right product decisions. But this is less about Bell and more about how disruptive ideas rarely come from within large enterprises.  Over the next few years, broadcast TV’s inadequacy will drive more and more people to the Internet as the de facto delivery mechanism for all forms of video, because it provides ultimate control over how and when content is consumed.  And the Internet is a harshly competitive, level playing field where only the truly innovative will thrive.

And then, ironically, the Bells/Rogers of the world will pour the necessary capital into their plants to match what’s going on online, and put their massive brand marketing budgets in gear to win consumers back to truly interactive TV.

Other challenges / observations:

  • Satellite converts will have had the ability to record their PPV, but once on IPTV, they’ll suddenly find that they can’t record VOD on their PVR’s. You try and be the lucky marketer that has to explain studio windows to consumers (for ex, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_release)
  • How do you market DSL and TV together? Access and programming amount to ~$150/month. Like One-Bill, it seemed like a good idea to give subscribers all the info on one bill, until they saw that they were giving the lion’s share of their monthly entertainment wallet to ONE company.
  • As an Internet-aholic, the biggest reason I’m still on IPTV is that I get 21mbps downstream  (when the TV’s are off) and around 7mbps up. That’s incredible and it makes my work life a lot easier. Ironically, it also leads me away from the TV, to stream the shows my PVR missed, over the Internet.
MichaelBell IPTV: Not Ready, But an Important Stepping Stone

Comments 14

  1. Pingback: With IPTV and fibre to the home, Bell is finally becoming a serious telecom company - TechnoCité

  2. Pingback: With IPTV and fibre to the home, Bell is finally becoming a serious telecom company - Canada.com Technology

  3. Michael Coulson

    An addendum to the bell IPTV saga. While I stand by all my predictions about slow and difficult growth from above, I am happy to say that the bell entertainment service hasn't given me a single problem in months. Seems that once we got the network bugs ironed out, the service works great.

    And, if we're talking retention, I think there will be a lot of very disappointed people out there if they decide to shelve this. The whole-home PVR and the Microsoft EPG make it “WAY better TV” than cable's scientific atlanta box.

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  5. Alex Sirota

    Michael,

    Awesome article — can't believe I haven't found it yet. We've started a Canadian IPTV community over at http://bellent.currentinternet.com

    There are almost 50 Bell Entertainment Service subscribers there (well ok a few are just lurking to see how it works out). The discussion continues at a steady pace and a few weak links have been identified including the above mentioned Alcatel Lucent Cellpipe router — it well, umm, sucks.

    Feel free to check it out and join — your opinion and advice would be highly valued! Thanks for bringing some light to this exciting new way to watch and record TV.

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  7. DjLevel9

    Steve here In Toronto I have the Fibe 25 Internet Still Waiting For Our launch May 30th 2010 For Cell Pipe to carry it over our VDSL 2 Lines Keep are fingers Crossed I wan't to get rid of the Bell Satilite so bad lol hate when it rains loose signal same with the snow .
    Right now I'm getting a 41 Meg Down Load and 10Meg up with out the IPTV on the line there talking about rasing up to 50meg In Une then 100 meg at the end Of this year so yea it's about time was paying over $200.00 a month for ADSL Extra Direct line to the CO and they wouldn't even give more then an 800 up load the DL load was supposto be 16.319 down load they said my line was always maxed i said To the Montreal off and The DSl Speed test People your Crazy I have the same software Lantern And WebCare to do the dest and My Line from the Demarcation point was 47 not 100% as they kept saying I CO Cental Office said I 47 as well it was excellent so told Jean.Hanna.bell.ca they can stick there service not getting ripped off any more lol yea it worked got turned on in 2 days Full number released and changed I wouldn't trade this connection for anything lol so amasied How All five computer 1 desk top have the same speed and doesn't srop and the Line is perfect helps with my software to test the lines to lol:) so yea id this FIBE 25 is avalible In Canada and your cities Tell Rogers to stick it they can't even compaire and Proved it lolol nice Big Shots yea won't get the speeds from the CRTC they have rulled that one out this and it all gos to BELL lol

  8. DjLevel9

    I hope the Launch is still ready to go for May 30th 2010 but they have to fix the line inbalence first could the team that handles the FIBE 25 Techs miss that that they where haveing Gliches in the system if it wasn't for me making a report into the Test Board in Hamilton they would let this problem go on I guess the when the Techs for Fib 25 are Disspatched they need to checking for Line Load In Balance and not sign off the ticket saying the Lines test clear I found the problem once the Ajustments are made on The Jarvis Street Line tomorrow where ready to go here and they can give our building the service I see no reason why they can't if the Bell Entertament Office gives another excuse why they Can't there gonna hear from My Office.

  9. DjLevel9

    I was Prommised over a year ago to the Bata tester and have the system on in out Building I still have the e-mails as an Envited Guest to try out the new System as a Beta Tester ,
    It never happend or Maybe I know more about they service then the Techs do cause I study up and took the Course that was Offered and still see the main issue that would solve a lot of the Gliches in the Download and up Load Speeds FIBE 25 techs if your reading this Go out and talk to supervisors and check each Termimal at the Stingers for Lione Load In Balance then make the nessarly ajustments and your problems would be solved how could you s have miised after use 3 systems with bell direct lines to the CO saying our Lines where maxed out when they where not it was on the bell side in the central office all the time the Provisioning of the Lines and Mapping the 877 Cisco routers are an encential that should never been over loked let this be a lession learned no wonder why your customers res & Bus where ticked off Bell hired this new team do I need to come and re trained them how to program and restart the systems and re Program the software for the New Cell Pipe 7130's for the IPTV it's really not Rocket Science Guy's just the right software and an a good back up system to over see the Gliches on line with Human Interactive Direction as well.to make sure it's running Smoothly.

  10. DjLevel9

    Now techs Move your A** and get the Jobs done the Test Board office send the right informations to you guy's Girls why arn't you's folling the directions given to if you call the central dispatch have them Check the Test Board office in Hamilton they can tell you thes ame thing I'm telling and trying to explaine here.

  11. Ben Lucier

    Hi Michael,

    I've been a customer for almost a year and overall have been happy with the Bell Entertainment Service, despite that it's currently in beta. Even though the service hasn't been rolled out officially, I'm not sure I echo your concerns. Overall, everything has been great. Perhaps Bell has problem in certain areas… I don't know.

  12. Michael Coulson

    Hi Ben – yes, I must say, now that the kinks appear to have been worked out, I love it. It makes me very happy to see that Bell is finally getting behind it because the interactive possibilities are endless. And while I think the open Internet will ultimately steal a large proportion of user traffic, we as consumers need big brands to organize and package information for us, and to spend money on things like QOS.

  13. DjLevel9

    The Serverice was Launched Officiialy June 14th My Birthday I was supposto get it installed Monday between 8:30 Am And 12:PM
    Dommic Grossi from BELL IPTV Made the arangements On May 31 when the launch was supposto happem and bell Entertaiment Services July 6 2010 will be handling all calls now for IPTV and Bell ExpressVU Sky DISH.

    The IPTV Boxes 25 and UP I Installed In My Utility Room in my Building Back in March this Year I was Under Special Products through DOMMINIC GROSSI from Bell IPTV 1-888-855-0000 EXT 6701 I was supposto get a Phone call back from his office 48 hours later there trying to Tell my Department in Bell did Not Install The 25 Meg & UP 2 Boxes for IPTV Services ONLY Not FIBE/25 eaither Ive gone one step to Launch a Fourmal complate agaist Bell and the People who been writing notes on there web sites about the new services where the New services was never even Installed untill you actullly go and Install please don't say you have when its not there accourding to your Postal Code. Ben I'm just tired of gettinga run around and I work for BELL CANADA I had it out with there VIP occice today and gave all the web sites stating about the Services Beta Testers Trials where not supposto blabber it telling people they have the service it will be thouse who will loose there service and all internet five 25 will be cut down to 7 meg Only for your internet well you runn your TV at the same now its work paying the 70 dollars for internet plus the cost of the IPTV. I'm going Live on TV In The Morning and show all Documents that where handed out to the beta customers I had enough

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