A New Kind of Television Dawns in the USA

July 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

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As Tracy Thompson-West explains it, Talfazat and its sister stations, TV-Desi, and Kylin TV, were born from the union of NeuLion (whose specialty is in IPTV), and JumpTV (whose specialty was Arabic programming).  Ms. West is the Chief Executive of International Business for NeuLion, Inc. The marriage has led to the birth of several discrete and independent television networks, serving discrete niche markets–the Arabic, Chinese, and Desi markets.

Like NeuLion and JumpTV, Ms. West has an impressive resume, having worked for 20 years in the US and European satellite industry–where she had a hand in building Dish’s industry leading collection of international channels.

IPTV is still a mystery to most American consumers–in fact IPTV television providers in this country are far behind their counterparts in Europe.

Even the television services that are available via IPTV are not defined as such–Netflix, AT&T’s U-verse (still with fewer than 100,000 customers), and now JumpTV and its subsidiaries–usually refer to themselves as sources of television, alternatives to satellite and cable. 

In Europe however, the largest IPTV service provider (France’s Iliad) had over 1,000,000 customers as of January of 2008.  Its nine closest competitors, none of whom are American, all have more than 100,000 customers each.

The Talfazat box is simply a set top box (STB) that plugs into the internet and your television.  It uses proprietary technology developed by NeuLion to transfer video signals through the internet to your TV, and is controlled by an ordinary remote control.

talfazat logo shadow The technology is impressive.  NeuLion provides professional business-to-business display of major sports.  The pedigree as listed by Ms. West is simply unimpeachable–NFL, NHL, AHL.  If those guys trust NeuLion, you know their product is top-of-the-line. 

The box that you install in your home speaks over the internet with NeuLion’s servers and accesses the content you want to watch.  It needs a connection, according to Ms. West, of only one Mbs, and a 2 Mbs DSL connection nowadays is pretty standard.  With upcoming improvements in the internet network in the United States, especially for Fiber optics (like Verizon FIOS, for example), speeds ten times as fast will become very standard. 

Talfazat offers about 30 Arabic channels, including as far as I can tell all of the ones offered by Dish Network–with perhaps the exception of Dubai Sports.  The news channels are all available, including Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera English, and Al-Arabiya.

control Kylin offers, according to Ms. West, about 40 channels of Chinese language content.

TV-Desi is offered in several discrete packages, each tailored to a particular language group.  Their are Hindi, Bangla, and Pakistan-focused channels.  The channel list includes some news channels however some of the major Bollywood blockbuster movie websites are still missing, although Ms. West of JumpTV indicated to me that JumpTV was working in the direction of making those channels available in the future.

Potential future pitfalls with the technology include the increasing rumors and movements of internet service providers towards limiting bandwidth.  This controversy, frowned on by major net presences like Google, businesses that benefit and in fact need people to access the internet freely, is known by the name “net neutrality” and is increasingly coming up in legislative debates at the federal level–although until now it is unclear whether the movements toward bandwidth caps by ISPs AT&T and Comcast will later be widely implemented.

Asked about this potential problem, Mr. Alyas Ali of Talfazat explained that one of his Canadian customers, whose ISP is Rogers, faced bandwidth overages (which come into effect after 60 gigabits) and was charged for them.  Yet the total maximum fee charged by Rogers for those overages, even when added to his Talfazat bill, is still less than what he would have to pay for Bell ExpressVu Arabic channels.

The Roku box may be the most similar single service.  Roku offers access to Netflix.  You pay $99 and your payments to Roku are finished forever, but you get to enjoy Netflix instant views as long as you have a subscription.

There are free online IPTV sources, but the most professional services that provide IPTV are formed as walled gardens.  Explains Alyas Ali of Talfazat, “We want to provide a clean product that people are willing to pay for.”

Similar services exist from other providers.  AT&T has launched their U-Verse plan, which offers roughly the same channels you would expect from Dish Network.  Unfortunately AT&T has done a really awful job of marketing U-Verse.  Nobody knows that it exists.  If people know about U-Verse, most of them think that it is actually AT&T’s satellite service through its partner (was Dish Network, now DirecTV). 

If you find out about U-Verse, you may not want to buy it because AT&T has priced it at the same level as Dish Network–which is already the most expensive satellite network and fast losing market share as a result.  What could they have been thinking? And on top of that AT&T is maintaining a partnership with their own competitor, DirecTV.

The wild web, however, has much to offer if you can winnow the wheat from the chaff.  Despite its many nonsense or bad-spirited or generally poor quality channels, many fun and interesting videos are available on Youtube.  Services providing free IPTV include Joost, Hulu, Justin.TV, ChannelChooser, and WWITV.  Of these, Hulu may be the most professional, although the focus of Hulu is more on mainstream American shows.  And it is possible to construct an imitation of the walled gardens but without losing the wild and free content–either by connecting a PC running Boxee (and thus indirectly also Hulu) or by hacking an AppleTV box to run Boxee (and thus Hulu).  Surely other hacks will emerge as time passes, but for now the $200 AppleTV (which you buy once and never again pay for) in connection with Boxee is the most cost effective means of accessing free IPTV content.

The price structure of Talfazat and her sisters is middle of the road–but by comparison with other services that are available it is at a fair market rate.  For $30 a month, you can have 30 Arabic channels piped into your house.  Compared to Dish Network this is pennies.  Compared to the freely available content via satellite perhaps it is a little bit expensive–but perhaps the difference in price is made up for in ease of access and professionalism of the end product.

Considering that the price for Dish Network’s foreign content is simply outrageous (on average you would have to pay about $15 for only one foreign channel on Dish), NeuLion is in a strong position to secure customers escaping from long contracts, or sometimes mediocre customer service, and perhaps will recapture some of the former pirates who have been chased away from Dish Network recently by its increasingly aggressive anti-piracy encryption.

DirecTV, Ms. West explained, has just cancelled all its Arabic channels–perhaps a concession to Dish Network, which in fact provides a very decent array of international programming.

The Indian channels available in a standard package from TV-Desi are rather minimal, only roughly four or five from each package–yet if you are from a foreign country and you have access to the four channels you used to watch at home that might be more than enough–especially when TV-Desi is poised to expand into other channels.

Another competitive point emphasized by Ms. West is the ease of installation.  The box is mailed to you, you unpack it, plug in an ethernet cord, a power cord, and turn it on, and you are in business.  Unlike a satellite or cable install, which might require you to stay home from work when “a satellite guy or a cable guy has to come into your house” and install it.

Talfazat and her sisters offer limited American channels–about 30 of the JV American channels including Fox News and Discovery, for a nominal fee.  They plan to expand their coverage in this area, as they do in their ethnic channel repertoire.

Customer service through Talfazat seems excellent.  In a brief call to explore the available service, I encountered excellent, knowledgeable and friendly customer service from an Arabic-speaking customer service representative.  This is a level of niche marketing that, even with some effort, Dish Network or your local cable company will be unlikely to find a willingness to compete with.

As far as quality of the picture, Talfazat is excellent.  Ms. West claims there is no buffering  if a customer has a pipe of 1 Mbs.  The box is HD-ready, although regional programming in HD is slim-to-none.  What looks like an S-Video jack in the back of the Talfazat box is actually a plug for a dongle that can accept HD-ready HDMI or component plugs to connect to your television. 

NeuLion did not discuss the potential impact of the higher quality picture on bandwidth, but presumably that will push them beyond their current 1Mbs. 

Presumably NeuLion are experts at providing HD content, since their expertise has been developed through years of servicing the sports leagues which thrive in large part based on their HD filming.

But the brilliance of the NeuLion team is not only in the quality and availability of their product, it is also in their clever marketing to an available niche, at a marketable price, through friendly customer service.

Note:  Talfazat is a valued advertiser in this newspaper.

11-29

Neda

June 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS

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A screen grab captured from the popular social-networking site YouTube shows the final moments of Neda Agha-Soltan, as she lies dying from a bullet shot through her heart by Iranian government forces. 

She stepped out of the car for just a moment to catch her breath.  And in the blink of an eye she was shot dead by government forces in the middle of an Iranian street.  The lone bullet hit Neda Agha-Soltan right in the chest. The 26-year-old university student began bleeding from her nose and mouth as her eyes rolled back into her head and her body became still. The woman whom friends have described as a loving friend and engaging companion was buried the next day.  Her family was not even allowed to hold a memorial service or hang a black banner on the front  door  because the government feared it would only further incense protestors and cause more havoc on the Iranian streets.

Neda’s death was captured on a cell phone video camera and uploaded to the Internet before her body was even removed from the street. Millions of Internet users have viewed the footage of Neda’s final moments online and her death has served as a catalyst for the continuation of protests against perceived voting irregularities, which resulted in the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

For thousands of Iranians, Neda has become the symbol of the fight against the oppressive Iranian regime. She was an innocent victim who was targeted simply because she attended a public protest against the government.  There have been many innocent victims of the Iranian government’s crackdown on so-called unlawful protests. Both men and women alike have been beaten by merciless government forces, with many losing their lives in the battle.

Neda’s death has, specifically, reached out to the hearts and minds of Iranian women who have been emboldened to let their voices be heard. Some women walk down the streets adorned with the Islamic headscarf while holding placards skyward. Others throw stones and chant anti-government slogans. While others yet have used themselves as human shields to protect the injured from further atrocities or helped the wounded get off the streets and away from government forces.

The current protests in Iran have been likened to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, however there has been a drastic change that runs along gender lines. The revolution that took place 30 years ago was comprised almost exclusively of male protestors whereas today female protestors are clearly outnumbering the men on the Iranian streets. It has taken years for Iranian women to find their voices. Their coming of age can be seen in screen grabs from cable news program and in video footage uploaded to the Internet.

No matter what the outcome of the current protests turns out to be or how many innocents are beaten and battered. There is one thread of truth that runs through it all and makes Neda’s assassination anything but in vain. And that truth is that the Iranian women are the new pioneers for change in their country. With every step that they take or stone that they hurl, Iranian women are fighting the good fight for change, democracy and freedom in their country.

11-27

TM Launches IP Node To Position Malaysia As Internet Hub

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Samantha Tan Chiew Tieng, Bernama (Malaysian National News Agency)

SINGAPORE, June 16–The newly-launched Internet Protocol (IP) node called Platinum IP Transit will position Malaysia as an Internet hub for the Asia Pacific region, according to Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM).

The IP node was jointly launched Tuesday by TM and US-based Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications Inc.

“The IP node will enable TM to offer high-end network services at competitive price, which will enhance its ability to offer high-quality IP-based services to local service providers and hence companies with operations in Malaysia,” TM group chief executive officer Datuk Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa told reporters at CommunicAsia 2009 here today.

CommunicAsia 2009 is a regional information and communications technology (ICT) exhibition and a global platform set to address current and emerging issues in the ICT and digital convergence landscape.

The IP node launch came just four months after TM and Verizon signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop the Internet hub in Cyberjaya.

Among the benefits cited for the hub are faster connections among local ISPs (Internet service providers), lower broadband costs, and more reliable international connections.

“The IP node will support the delivery of advanced data services to Malaysian-headquartered companies as well as multinational companies with operations in Malaysia and throughout the region,” said Zamzamzairani.

He said that customers will gain cost savings on international connectivity, as Internet queries and traffic needed to go outside the region and then back again.
“The Platinum IP Transit service is a product poised to benefit Asian ISPs, cellular broadband providers, content and application providers as well as enterprises,” he added.

Zamzamzairani said the collaboration will benefit customers with multinational operations, enabling them to gain seamless access to Verizon Business’ expansive global network and solutions.

“Verizon customers with operations in the Malaysian market will likewise be able to benefit from our extensive local market expertise,” he said.

“This collaboration will provide an impetus for Malaysia to become a regional transit hub for global Internet service providers’ routing traffic,” he added.

Besides cost savings for businesses, end-users will also benefit from the new IP node as Web surfers can expect faster connections and quicker page loads as part of the Internet traffic is now routed within the country, TM said.

– BERNAMA

11-26

The ‘Block’ That Wasn’t

September 25, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

 

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It has got to be the shortest decree in the history of Kuwait and, if not, it’s sure gotta be close. This past Tuesday news broke that the Ministry of Communication issued a memo to all ISP servers in the State of Kuwait to block the world famous YouTube social networking and video-sharing website. The reason being that several videos were uncovered recently that were derogatory to the Prophet Muhammad (s) and which made a mockery of the Holy Qur`an. However, less than 24 hours after the decree was made, it was rescinded. Most likely, the Minister noticed that he could ‘flag’ a video deemed to be inappropriate and YouTube would remove it. As expected, the videos in question have already been removed.

YouTube is huge in Kuwait, with more than 59,000 videos from both citizens and expatriates in the tiny Gulf nation being available on the site. Immediately after the news about the block hit, not surprisingly it was leaked from a worker at one of the primary ISP’s in Kuwait to a local blogger, a frenzy of blog activity followed suit. One blogger had this to say, “If they block YouTube they might as well just go all the way and block the Internet completely.”

Kuwait boasts one of the most open freedom-of-speech stances for local media in the entire Gulf region. However, the latest political elections saw more religious-minded MP’s maintain a firm grip on parliament. Censorship in Kuwait is set to push the boundaries of what residents have seen in the past with the primary TV stations coming under scrutiny recently for not showing enough Islamic programming and favoring a bonanza of Western comedies and dramas instead.

28541-skype_blocked This is not the first time that the government has censored the Internet. The popular website Skype is no longer accessible for residents of Kuwait. However, the reason for the block was not religious but rather economics. Skype users in Kuwait were able to make cheap International phone calls, which took a huge piece of the ‘pie’ away from the Ministry of Communications. However, while the Skype website is blocked the service is still operational. Computing wizards in Kuwait discovered early on that the Skype installation program could be emailed to them and then downloaded right to their PC. Completely blocking Skype is impossible given that it runs on encrypted tunnels.

Other countries in the Gulf have exercised their right to block Internet content that is questionable or forbidden in Islam. All the Gulf States block pornography in every way, shape or form. Some have even gone as far as to block both dating and matrimonial websites. However, some countries have blocked internet content for the sake of their own reputations. In 2006, the Dubai government blocked YouTube because two Armenians filmed a documentary about the human trafficking of Armenian women and girls to Dubai. The duo used hidden cameras to shed light on an underground prostitution ring that thrives in Dubai. Like Kuwait, Dubai eventually rescinded the ban and YouTube was once again available.

The Internet is growing by leaps and bounds with unprecedented amounts of information, whether good or bad, at the tips of most everyone’s fingertips. The challenge for governments to filter that information grows increasingly hard, as the internet has given anyone who wants their voices to be heard a boundless audience.

10-40

MMN Internet

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

We plan to establish Internet Media (streaming web-broadcasts) to cover breaking news–MMN Internet will focus on community, national and international news. MMNS will be the main provider of content for the MMN Internet division.