The End of the Platform Wars?

Once upon a time, the platforms were simple. Telcos offered telephone service; cable operators provided cable TV; and satellite companies brought us TV via dishes. Across the past few years, however, these simple platforms have increasingly blurred into multiplatforms: Telcos with TV service, cable companies with telephony arms, satellite providers teaming with telcos, cell phone providers launching mobile TV bids, and internet players rapidly subsuming a whole universe of traditional communications players.

Watching these developments via our cross-platform BRIDGE publications, we've spent much of the past few months asking our techie friends what they think the big trends for tomorrow will be. In virtually every case, we've gotten the same reply: The future belongs to the hybrids. Indeed, they're already sprouting like dandelions in spring. Just consider the DISH/AT&T HomeZone service ... or the new Orange/Eutelsat deal to provide satellite TV as a complement to Orange's existing DSL-based triple play ... or the U.S. cable operators incessant stutter-steps in search of a good wireless fit.

The benefits of such hybridization are easily apparent. For example, a recent report from Pike & Fischer notes that, in the U.S., RBOC video subscriptions now stand at 5.46 million, of which nearly 3.9 million (or 71 percent) come from partnerships with DIRECTV or DISH. To be sure that percentage is down from a year ago when the telcos' own video plays were mostly under wraps. But the advantages of such cross-platform services remain obvious and we expect them to become even more compelling in the years ahead.

We think this movement toward cross-technology services is best summed up in a recent report from the folks at NSR who wrote: "Players are increasingly adopting pragmatic moves across traditionally competitive platforms with the goal of keeping and expanding their subscriber base, a process where the telco-cable-satellite competitive borders disappear. In the race for the multi-service network, transport technology now takes a facilitating, gap-filling role rather than a service defining one, so terms such as "satellite TV", "CATV" or "telcoTV" might eventually fall into disuse. This is, in a nutshell, the end of the platform wars as we know it, and recently a number of visible deals have started reinforcing this notion of technology irrelevance not only from the consumer standpoint, but from the provider's "identity" side as well."