Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement last week, leading to two immediate questions: “What happens next?” and “Who will succeed him?” In answer to the first question, the company would do well to quickly re-evaluate and re-rationalize its entire product strategy and portfolio. Microsoft has the ingredients for greatness but execution hasn’t been great in recent years. As for who should succeed him, Microsoft needs someone with the mind of a Jeff Bezos or a Ralph de la Vega, not a Meg Whitman or a John Sculley.
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.
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…
For us “industry folks,” the annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas marks the final jolt back to reality after the holiday season. As everything has become connected, as telecommunications carriers and pay TV service providers have become mainstream exhibitors – and especially because the multi-screen world of anything anytime to any device is now a reality – CES has become a must-attend event. Both to see what’s new, and to meet with associates, clients and friends.
I was fortunate to receive an invitation to today’s AT&T 2012 Developer Summit, where AT&T made a number of significant announcements:
- Cloud Architect, a cloud-based Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering for developers to host the operation of their apps.
- An AT&T API Platform that opens up AT&T’s service platform to HTML5 mobile apps and provides tools to develop multi-screen apps
- AT&T AppCenter, which provides a consumer-facing go-to-market merchandizing resource for HTML5 and Android apps.
- AT&T Application Resource Optimizer (ARO), a diagnostic tool that helps developers reduce device battery drain from inefficient use of device memory and processing resources, and to bundle requests from apps to the AT&T network.
The event was keynoted by an all-star cast, including Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets; Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (who ended with his trademark cry of ‘Developers Developers Developers!’); and Nokia president Stephen Elop (who is positioning Nokia’s upcoming Windows Phone-based Lumia as Nokia’s re-entry into the U.S. market). My personal favorite moment was toward the end of HTC CEO Peter Chou’s presentation, when he trailed off into “This is my personal device. It’s really really good!” while showing off HTC’s new Titan II LTE model. Senior executives of Sony, Samsung, and Pantech each introduced a variety of new smartphones and tablets that run in AT&T’s LTE mobile network; some of which established new form-factors.
Toward the end of each presenter’s pitch, it was mentioned that “oh yes, we have an SDK.” It left me wondering what the “Uber-SDK” might be for all of this, given that each vendor’s environment has proprietary elements, and surely no developer wants to enter into ten or more separate parallel developer streams (which is really the situation today). AT&T’s announcements represent one step in the evolution toward “One Ring to rule them all,” where, in this case, the AT&T network is the common denominator.
Although the event was predominantly oriented toward mobile, lo and behold, there is also an AT&T U-verse Enabled SDK! This was what convinced me to stay beyond the keynote session for the breakout sessions, and I can report that the SDK is a good first step. Like the rest of the solutions at this event, the U-verse Enabled SDK was oriented toward mobile application developers, so functionality was somewhat limited. Developers can create mobile second-screen apps that associate devices and apps with individual U-verse receivers (set-top boxes), issue commands (such as channel-change), detect state-changes (such as acknowledgements that the command was executed).
The ability to develop or modify the TV UI itself was out of scope, as that is the domain of Microsoft Mediaroom. Left unsaid was the notion that separating the U-verse Enabled SDK from Mediaroom provides AT&T with the flexibility to use it for other TV middleware platforms. (Apple was also absent from this event; AT&T directs Mediaroom and iOS developers to their respective vendors’ own programs).
Having been around IPTV since its infancy, I still have to pinch myself when I see all the advances. In October of 2011, AT&T introduced four new social TV apps for its U-verse IPTV service:
- Miso, which enables U-verse TV users to follow what one another are watching, and leveraging U-verse TV metadata so the user doesn’t have to type in the name of a show with the remote control
- Buddy TV, a U-verse remote control replicated on a second-screen device
- Splat Interactive’s TV Foundry, an app that uses program metadata of the show you’re watching to retrieve related content from the Web, such as trailers, previews and reviews; and share them with friends via Twitter and Facebook
- Wayin, which presents polls, games, and trivia that is associated with a program that you’re watching, so you can opt-in and play
These apps were built by independent developers in collaboration with the AT&T Foundry, a network of development centers in the US and Israel that’s currently hosting more than 100 active projects with third-party developers. After today’s event, more developers are likely to join in. It will be interesting to see what these projects produce as they come to market, especially as it further enriches the IPTV and multiscreen experience.