Just when you thought IPTV was dead, here’s a doozie: Indiantelevision.com reports that Sahara India is planning to roll out IPTV services. The report is remarkably short on details, and frankly, we find it hard to believe that anybody would even consider launching IPTV services in India. Maybe this expression of interest is on the basis of a recent TRAI recommendation for allowing 100% FDI In DTH, HITS, IPTV, Mobile TV, Cable Networks, which, incidentally, is yet to be accepted by the government.

As of today, very few IPTV services exist: Bharti Airtel has an IPTV service that it never talks about – apart from we-provide-IPTV kind of statements in its quarterly report – and the last time we spoke with them about it (in April 2009), they were looking at it more as a premium service for a select set of customers, and shifting focus to DTH. Reliance Communications launched IPTV pilots, but that never moved beyond the pilot stage. We haven’t heard of Aksh Optifibre’s IPTV service for MTNL for a while now, Time Broadband has shut down, and IOL Netcom, a BSE listed company that ran a pilot service for MTNL, barely appears to be functioning. As per an RTI we’d filed a couple of years ago, MTNL Delhi had 5910 IPTV connections, paying Rs 298.69 per paid connection.

IPTV was supposed to be the savior of wireline broadband: telecom operators were looking to use IPTV to increase broadband penetration, and cross-sell both broadband and TV services. The problems? Firstly, the cost of content. Unlike in case of cable or DTH, where broadcasters pay for being carried, in IPTV, the word is that channels charged IPTV service providers for carrying their content. Secondly, the cost of the right of way access – to provide wireline broadband to home – was far too expensive, and telecom operators did not want to go through the permissions required; in cases. The last mile in India is not unbundled, so MTNL and BSNL, which account for most of the wireline connections in the country, have a virtual monopoly. This, compounded by the complete lack of marketing support, have led to the failure of IPTV in India.

Frankly, even if there was broadband connectivity, easy right of way, and unbundling of the last mile, IPTV by itself makes no sense as of now. The Internet allows you to provide the same content and more, which is where services like Box TV, Spuul or BigFlix might become viable alternatives to cable in 4-5 years, with better connectivity and smart TVs, but IPTV won’t. What’s more, you need a license to provide IPTV services.

Sahara would be better off with Internet streaming than an IPTV service.