Smaller SPs Gain Opportunities To Leverage OTT as Value Add

Steve McKay, CEO, Entone

Steve McKay, CEO, Entone

November 23, 2010 – New IP-based video distribution solutions are presenting Tier 2 and 3 network operators cost-effective opportunities to get on the cutting edge of the “blended service” experience ahead of some of their larger counterparts.

Many smaller telcos and cable companies have struggled to meet the triple-play mandate, and among those who have managed to enter that domain, many have been unable to move to the next level in video services where delivering on-demand in HD with escalating volumes of titles has proved too expensive and anything approaching the multi-device vision of TV Everywhere has been completely out of reach. Now, however, several vendors are packaging solutions which they say will not only fit smaller operators’ budgets; they’ll also leverage over-the-top video to deliver a level of convenience to consumers that transcends most of what’s available in today’s multi-services marketplace.

The foundation for this opportunity, of course, rests on the fact that, with or without traditional TV services, virtually all providers now deliver broadband, typically at speeds suited to accommodating reasonably good quality video. “Given the tremendous recent advances in video compression and adaptive streaming, it is now possible to deliver a high-quality TV experience over today’s broadband connections,” says Colin Dixon, senior partner at The Diffusion Group.

“We see a large, disruptive opportunity to seamlessly blend OTT video sources with legacy Pay TV services and deliver them over both managed and unmanaged broadband networks to hundreds of millions of subscribers. Our new platform enables operators to offer their subscribers more choice and a consistent Television experience.”

This, in turn, is driving demand for hybrid set-tops and gateways that can support multiple combinations of online-delivered and traditional TV content, notes Paul Erickson, senior analyst at IMS Research. “In the 2010 edition of our report, ‘The World Market for Hybrid Set-top Boxes,’ we expect hybrid pay-TV services to reach more than 380 million households worldwide by 2015,” Erickson says.

One of the suppliers seizing on these developments is Entone, which has just launched what it calls Fusion TV, a platform that leverages the company’s whole-home media hub to offer service providers a variety of approaches to offering a blend of TV and over-the-top services on broadband connections. These service models include a low-cost alternative to traditional premium services that could appeal to potential “cord cutters” who are looking to save money on service costs in tight times.

“Consumers are clearly looking for alternatives to premium subscription TV services,” notes Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates. “At the same time, there are numerous operators who have chosen not to deploy IPTV solutions but want to offer a more strategic video service than just reselling satellite services. Entone’s hybrid TV model has the potential to align these interests.”

As described by Entone CEO Steve McKay, the FusionTV platform supports a managed service that allows telco operators to offer OTT content blended with linear HDTV programming, whether that programming is offered in IPTV, cable TV, satellite or via over-the-air broadcasts. The online content side includes the large library of HD and SD movies on-demand from Vudu, recently acquired by Walmart, which has been integrated into the Entone platform along with a wide range of popular social networks and other Web sites that Vudu has formatted for TV access through its platform.

“Essentially we’re offering two version of Fusion TV,” McKay says. “The IPTV version is very straightforward, where the over 100 operators who have deployed IPTV on Entone’s media hub or others who want to launch IPTV using our technology can augment that service with Fusion TV by downloading our Web-based VOD solution to the media hub. Existing subscribers get the benefits of the value-added service without having to buy a retail device.”

For operators, it’s a clear differentiator with just a software download that helps them stave off OTT as a threat, McKay adds. “The key is to make the OTT experience so simple that it becomes what consumers expect of TV service,” he notes.

“The other scenario is meant for operators who haven’t deployed IPTV,” he continues, “Operators can deploy our media hub in their broadband subscribers’ homes and begin offering a branded OTT TV service bundled in with the broadband.” This solution applies not only to telcos but to small cable operators who may be offering a basic analog service without VOD capabilities, he adds.

“Operators are clearly under threat from the pure-play OTT services where more and more compelling content is available online and on-demand,” asserts Ameer Karim, vice president of hybrid TV for Entone. “However, the operators also understand that consumers place great value on live TV, premium content, true HDTV programming, and the ability to record their favorite shows. FusionTV unites these themes into a single user experience, whether delivered as part of a premium IPTV service or bundled with a broadband Internet service.”

Coming at the same opportunity from the cable side, ADB Group’s Vidiom Systems has reconstituted itself as a supplier of a pre-integrated platform built around the company’s management control server to simplify and lower the costs of implementing IP video over existing cable or fiber infrastructure. Here the target is Tier 2 and 3 operators worldwide, many of which have yet to go digital and even more of which have limited if any VOD capabilities.

The turnkey solution allows them to launch digital, VOD and TV Everywhere multi-device services along with higher volumes of HD options on an IP platform without stranding a lot of installed equipment, says Jeansie Wiley, senior director for Vidiom Systems. “While the benefits of delivering bundled services have been clear to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable system operators, the complexity and expense of migrating to IP video were major obstacles until now,” Wiley notes. “VOSS (Vidiom Open System Solution) has been designed to accelerate the ability of operators to deliver the flexible, IP-based services and the expanded HD content that they need to succeed in today’s competitive environment.”

VOSS, applying the open standard GEM-IPTV specification and MPEG-4 compression, has been designed to work with all GEM-compliant set-tops, including the Open Cable Applications Platform (OCAP) used in the U.S. and MHP (Multimedia Home Platform), the precursor to GEM (Global Executable MHP that’s widely used in Europe. Where the Vidiom Management Control Server previously was used to support implementation of OCAP and MHP middleware to execute advanced applications in the legacy MPEG-2 digital TV environment, the unit used with VOSS for IPTV becomes the single point of control for device and service management, combining set-top box provisioning and management, service management and application delivery with interfaces to the operator’s existing billing, conditional access, digital right management (DRM), and VOD services.

“We talked to operators in the segment we’re going after, and they shared what they need with us,” Wiley says. “We took that information, looked at the applications and products we already had and who we could partner with to create a turnkey solution to meet their needs, and VOSS is the result.”

Operating in the GEM environment means VOSS customers will be able to leverage the efforts of applications developers worldwide to bring new capabilities to their IP services, Wiley says. “We took some MHP apps from a company in Europe and, with a couple hours of work, incorporated them into our service platform,” she adds. “These are the kinds of things that will help make these operators much more competitive against satellite and other providers.”