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 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…