IPTV subscribers up 63%

That was an increase of 63% compared with the end of 2007. And it represents an increase of 12% over the total for the third quarter of 2008.

The figures are based on a continuous research programme by broadband analysts Point Topic. The research is largely based on published subscriber figures, with estimates where necessary.

During 2008, IPTV operators showed that TV over IP could be deployed on a large scale. And that has been the case especially in the USA, where the perception is that the large carriers have been playing IPTV catch-up with Western Europe and Asia.

During 2008, North American IPTV did a lot of catching up. For AT&T, a significant milestone was passed in the fourth quarter of 2008. The US operator passed the 1 million mark for IPTV subscribers, joining Verizon.

This increase helped to give North America the largest percentage growth over the quarter, an increase of 19%. In North America, the rollout of fibre has been crucial to the deployment of IPTV.

Although the build-out of fibre took time to reach significant subscriber numbers, it has now reached a position where it provides a large number of homes with an alternative to cable offerings. And in the near future, innovative services could appear that will really differentiate IPTV from cable or satellite TV, such as targeted advertising or location-dependent information like weather and traffic reports for your postal or ZIP code area.

In Asia Pacific, the regulatory regime finally allowed full IPTV services in South Korea, carrying not just on-demand content, but also ‘live’ programming from the major channels.

This has led to an expansion in IPTV numbers, as viewers who had previously only been using catch-up services or Web-TV services can now watch full-IPTV. Korea Telecom also offers IPTV via the Sony PlayStation 3 gaming console, although this is only used by a small minority of viewers.

SK Broadband (formerly Hanaro), Korea Telecom and LG Dacom’s myLGtv service had a total of around 1.6 million subscribers at the end of 2008.

Japan has been relatively slow to see IPTV subscriber growth. This situation partly reflects a cautious regulatory approach for TV.

But potentially there is great scope for development. NTT is installing fibre with a target of 30 million FTTH subscribers by 2010.

NTT’s Plala ISP, servicing Fibre customers, says that it provides IPTV to ‘hundreds of thousands’ of homes. It’s Hikari (meaning ‘light’) TV service is the first major IPTV deployment to use IPv6. This is important for the future because it gets round the problem of a diminishing supply of addresses available in IPv4.

A significant development in the South and East Asia region has been the rollout of IPTV to Indian homes, following on from trial deployments. Although the number of Indian IPTV subscribers served by operators like MTNL remains small, there is considerable scope for growth, with over 5 million broadband subscribers.

Western Europe remains the largest single region for IPTV, and France is by far the largest market, representing over half of Western Europe’s 10.2 million subscribers. This is largely due to the competitive carrier Free’s policy of providing CPE which includes an IPTV set-top box to all of its subscribers. All those served by an unbundled line can access some TV services without an extra charge, with on-demand services available for extra fees.

There have been a couple of IPTV service closures. Volny IPTV in the Czech Republic and Tiscali IPTV in Italy have both closed TV operations recently. Both failed to grow in the face of strong competition in their respective markets. But these examples are very much exceptions to an overall picture of steady growth in most markets.

IPTV has established itself strongly in many markets, with strong growth potential looking ahead. Take Hong Kong, a place tailor-made for IPTV with short distances between exchanges and homes, and around a quarter of broadband subscribers already on fibre.

There, we estimate around 58% of DSL and fibre broadband subscribers had some sort of IPTV subscription at the end of 2008. Most other markets are nowhere near that, but the potential is there. For example, Belgacom has around a quarter of its broadband subscribers with IPTV.

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IPTV subscribers up 63%