We all know about ‘Over the Top,’ where an online video provider circumvents or disintermediates a pay TV operator (while using the operator’s own network to deliver said video). Then there’s ‘TV Everywhere,’ in which pay TV content providers require users to associate themselves with their pay TV subscriptions or, no play.
Through the Middle
A third online video service model is where a pay TV operator enters into a relationship with an OTT provider or online aggregator and exposes the online service within its pay TV experience. In other words, not OTT or TVE, but “through the middle,” or “TTM.”
At first, it sounds like a gimmick – some kind of desperation move by the pay TV provider to give frustrated subscribers one more reason not to cut the cord. But let’s look a little further…
TTM: A little background
In March 2014, the Danish broadband provider Waoo! introduced Netflix from within its pay TV user interface, through the middle. Here’s a demo video (in Danish).
This is enabled through the integration of software from Netflix, Nordija and Airties, which are Waoo!’s TV middleware and set-top box suppliers, respectively.
DISH embraced TTM too
In December 2014, DISH Network introduced Netflix integration as well. DISH’s implementation is different from Waoo!’s. While Waoo! dedicated a button to Netflix in its main menu, DISH placed Netflix within the electronic program guide, which made Netflix “just another channel.”
So now, I can access Netflix using the same method of access as DISH uses for video on demand.
TTM’s not a gimmick
Again, I thought “it’s a gimmick.” Until I decided to try it. If you own a streaming video player, you’ve probably been through a drill that goes something like this:
- Turn on the TV set (using either the pay TV STB remote or the TV set’s own remote)
- Locate the streaming video player’s remote, press the button to activate it
- Locate your TV set’s remote, and change the input from your pay TV set-top box, to the streaming video player
- Navigate the video player’s menus to the Netflix application, and activate the app
- Navigate the Netflix thumbnails, using up/down/right/left on the streaming player’s remote, or locate the search field and use the text search character matrix.
- Watch videos on Netflix
- Grab the TV’s remote and switch the input back to your pay TV set-top box
- (…At which point, we’ve used at least two different user interfaces – that of your streaming player and Netflix.’ Plus, perhaps, the TV set’s own UI – and as many as three different remote controls)
- (…At which point, my wife asks me to call someone for technical support – but who?)
Compare this classic early-adopter experience with DISH’s TTM experience
- Turn on the TV, using the DISH remote
- Bring up the EPG and navigate to Channel 370
- Press the center button to enter Netflix.
- The Netflix user experience takes over (DISH can’t be held responsible for Netflix’ unusable search and recommendation capabilities)
- Hit Cancel, Cancel, Cancel… to back out of Netflix and return to DISH
- (…at which point we used one remote control and two UIs: that of DISH and that of Netflix)
The first time you access Netflix via the DISH EPG, you must enter your Netflix ID and passcode. Any subsequent use of Netflix goes right from the EPG to Netflix, with no login needed.
Has someone already decided that TTM is too good to be true?
I was initially motivated to write this article because Zatz Not Funny published a report that the YouTube and Amazon apps were being removed from the TiVo Series 2 and Series 3 DVRs, as of April 15. Sure enough, TiVo confirms this. Because the apps reside on the TiVo box, this is really another version of Through the Middle.
I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Amazon and YouTube were starting to get choosy about their distribution channels – and that TTM might just be a fleeting phenomenon as different content providers contend against one another to be the one on top. Or as my wife’s dad used to say: “If it’s any good, they’ll stop making it!”
As it turns out, the moves by Amazon and YouTube are simply because the TiVo 2- and 3-Series are old, and the app developers made the choice not to support them anymore. In fact, video apps from Amazon, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu (and others) are all key selling points for TiVo’s current Roamio DVR, and surely these video providers must appreciate having access to TiVo’s subscribers.
Not long ago, an industry friend of mine told me that Netflix had been in a pay TV operator’s EPG, but had pulled out. But the reason that Netflix and the pay TV provider went their separate ways was because Netflix wanted more control over the user experience.
So, these weren’t cases of competitive wrangling or channel conflict at all. One was about discontinuing support for old devices, and the other was about a content provider trying to maintain its look and feel across any device environment.
TTM is BoBW
Pay TV operators that integrate their services with TiVo can choose whether or not to expose TiVo’s OTT apps through the middle, but that’s also another story. In those cases, the pay TV operator is calling the shots, which brings us full circle back to the debate as to whether OTT is a threat or an opportunity for operators.
In the end, I view ‘Through the Middle’ is BoBW (the Best of Both Worlds) as a consumer retention tool for pay TV. But I think it’s more because of the added convenience, and it’s a tacit admission by pay TV operators that OTT can be a friend and isn’t a threat.
[ Side note: This topic takes us into a whole 'nother discussion about where the pay TV provider's user experience leaves off, and where the OTT (TTM) provider's UEx takes over. I promise an article about this soon. ]
The Tizen software platform has been flying slightly below the radar for a couple of years now, but its time has come. Tizen has a common core, plus four profiles: Tizen Mobile, Tizen TV, Tizen IVI (in-vehicle infotainment), and Tizen Wearable. Tizen also has some very significant board members and partners. Tizen’s lineage includes Samsung’s Linux platform and the LiMo (Linux Mobile) operating system.
Watchers of the mobile and connected TV device categories might remember MeeGo, an open-source operating system that was a merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin platforms. MeeGo was used by IPTV set-top maker Amino Communications in its Intel Atom-based set-tops in 2010, though they later abandoned it. In 2012 Intel changed its focus and joined Samsung in Tizen, which in effect, made Tizen MeeGo’s successor.
Samsung raised some eyebrows with Tizen at the 2014 Mobile World Congress in February, positioning it as a potential replacement for Android in Samsung smart phones and wearable devices. At the 2014 Tizen Developer Conference, which happened to coincide with Apple’s WWDC in San Francisco last week, Samsung demonstrated that its own Tizen transformation was well underway.
Last week, Samsung also introduced the Samsung Z, its first Tizen-based smartphone; and Galaxy Gear 2, a Tizen-based wearable. Tizen was even on TV: the Tizen Developer Conference had several Tizen TV sessions, and a cloud-based content repository for mobile users called Tizen Cloudbox, was being demonstrated on a Samsung smart TV. And also last week, Multichannel News reported that the TV browser and middleware provider Espial was collaborating with Samsung on an RDK-based solution (although the article said nothing about Tizen).
Is Tizen good or bad for the TV technology space? It depends on what the definition of “TV” is: a set-top box with a TV attached, versus a connected smart TV that has no set-top box. Presumably, Samsung’s existing smart TV app development platform, which supports HTML5, CSS3 and adaptive streaming standards, will be under Tizen. On the pay TV side, now that Liberty Global has joined Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the RDK venture, a Tizen-based STB wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility (assuming that the RDK were to be ported to Tizen). Liberty Global’s Horizon set-top uses Samsung hardware. But a Samsung Tizen STB is only a matter of speculation.
Another interesting direction for Tizen is in the Connected Car, where it could stand to challenge iOS, Android and Microsoft – just as it is doing in smartphones. Tizen is available through the GENIVI alliance, which provides a Linux-based environment for automotive IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) systems.
All of this begs two questions. First, is there room for “yet another” TV software platform? I think, yes. It certainly won’t hurt the TV software space: there are tens of middleware providers, and these days, large operators are tending more toward custom-built set-top software environments using components from multiple suppliers, rather than monolithic single-vendor stacks.
Just today (June 9), Accedo, which provides an application platform for pay TV, connected TVs and the Microsoft Xbox, announced that it was joining the Tizen Association program. Clearly, Accedo sees a market opportunity – the question is whether it’s for Accedo in Samsung smart TVs, Samsung smartphones and tablets, or in pay TV set-top boxes (where Accedo has numerous customers). Accedo positions itself as a provider of “…HTML based video and music streaming applications for connected devices.” So perhaps it’s all of the above. Actually, given what Accedo does, they must also recognize that they can ride Tizen’s coat tails into two new categories, wearables and cars.
The other, broader, question: “Is Tizen good for the industry overall?” Again, I think yes. It could have a huge and positive impact anywhere Android is sold. Unlike Microsoft Windows Phone and Nokia, which have near negligible mobile device share today, Samsung is the largest provider of Android devices. So an across-the-Samsung-board switch to Tizen will displace a significant percentage of Google’s Android base. Assuming that Google cares, this potential for disruption could force Google to make Android better. (I’m skeptical, since Google’s history is to abandon every iteration of its products and platforms as soon as a replacement becomes available. Ask Logitech about Google TV).
There’s one caveat: any effort by Samsung to force-replace Android with Tizen in devices already in the field may be met with some resistance. While Apple’s fiercely loyal iDevice users squaked about the changes made by iOS 7, the underlying Apple ecosystem did not change. By contrast, the act by Samsung to replace the entire Android ecosystem with one of its own is a much bigger move. Ask yourself as an Android user: what would you do if you turned on your device one morning and found Tizen there? Or as a Mac user, what if MacOS X suddenly disappeared and were replaced by Windows?
If successful, can it mean that Samsung is more powerful than Google? Perhaps Tizen means that Samsung has finally decided that its product is not a product at all: it’s a relationship, and not just the next device. Google has to decide the same thing: if Google only cares about ad sales, at the expense of a trustworthy experience with the Android brand, then it will be a matter of time before Google’s Android OEMs go looking for alternatives. Samsung may be only the first to do so. I’m encouraged: despite Tizen’s Samsung ties, device competitors Huawei and LG are on Tizen’s board while ZTE and Panasonic are members of the Tizen community.
The report provides a thorough examination and analysis of the TV Service Delivery Platform (TV SDP) category, and of the SDP offerings available to pay-TV operators from 17 different suppliers. It provides a comprehensive resource for operators that are evaluating new TV service platforms, as well as for those seeking to understand the latest capabilities through which they can enhance their existing offerings or take them multiscreen.
This week, Ericsson announced that it will be acquiring the Microsoft Mediaroom software platform, confirming a rumor that had been reverberating in the business press for a week prior. The transaction will add to Ericsson’s TV infrastructure portfolio, which already consists of video compression and distribution infrastructure, video asset management, video-related professional services and a video partner ecosystem. A Microsoft official said it would enable Microsoft to “commit 100 percent of its focus on (its) consumer TV strategy with Xbox.”
(Note: A longer, more analytical, and less opinionated version of this post is at Telecompetitor)
There’s no delicate way to say it: Mediaroom has been an increasingly big boulder in the IPTV stream, and all the operators adopting it have already had to row around it for some years. That boulder will recede into the background as the operators move downstream to implement multiscreen and other new features. The biggest thing that will keep Mediaroom alive is the operators’ sunk investment in STBs. Unless someone at Cisco (and other Mediaroom set-top suppliers) invents a clever way to flash new operating systems onto these boxes in the field via remote management.
I think Mediaroom and its ecosystem of proprietary parts will be around for many years, just like Motorola DCT2000 set-tops were in the US cable industry. Someday, the rest of the major content providers will have relented and allowed multiscreen/cloud distribution in-home and out-of-home without the need for set-tops. Already the Tier-1 pay operators offer online on-demand programming, and allowing 75-90 live channels over in-home IP distribution to tablets, so it’s really just a matter of time. Which makes Mediaroom all the less relevant. A lot of time and money was put into Mediaroom and operators will build around it until it’s all amortized and then finally decommission it. There won’t be any hurry, in my opinion.
Myrio Corporation’s once market-leading IPTV middleware platform had a history of hard luck through a decade of acquisitions and mergers. Even though its current iteration is virtually invisible in the United States today, it has been given another new lease on life by Accenture. Let’s look at where they are now, and how they got there…
Here is the second of two articles about IBC 2012. At IBC this year, I was on the lookout at the intersection of TV software – which has always been my focus – and multi-screen delivery. Two product categories enable multi-screen services: service delivery platforms and video gateways. Some suppliers have entries in both. This article looks at offerings from Viaccess-Orca, Cisco (with NDS), Nagra, and Motorola.
The new tvstrategies report TV Software 2012: Choosing TV Middleware and Applications During a Time of Dramatic Industry Change, by Steven Hawley, is now available.
273 pages. $3,995.00. This report classifies TV software into four categories and compares the offerings of more than 25 suppliers across more than 100 individual feature criteria. It also contains three detailed TV service provider case studies. The report compares the TV service models of pay TV, ‘OTT’ video, connected consumer electronics (CE) devices and device-ecosystems. It details the consumer drivers, feature-enabling technologies and trends relevant to operators launching services in this new age of multi-screen, multi-device, Internet-enabled TV services. It also provides conclusions and recommendations designed to help operators see the greater context within which they are making their software acquisition decisions.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are that electronic games are not your focus – and they aren’t mine either. So you may have missed what could turn out to be the latest iteration of Microsoft TV unless you happened to be paying attention to Microsoft’s SmartGlass announcement at the E3 game conference last week…