Ever-increasing broadband speeds are changing the TV landscape forever

On the one hand there is the threat of viewers being lured away to spend time on their PCs, smartphones or tablets when they were previously slumped on the sofa watching pay-TV. On the other there is the opportunity that broadband offers to existing and new entrant operators that can harness the power of broadband to deliver over-the-top services for the benefit of the consumer and the finance director.

Most major metropolitan areas, and increasingly the more far-flung regions, can now support the delivery of broadcast quality pictures over the internet to a greater or lesser extent. If you are delivering pictures to the TV screen there is no point in tying up broadband capacity with channels that can already be received, so you can use existing cable channels and blend them in to a wider offering.

There is a genuine demand from consumers for TV as a service, be it to a portable device, or the fixed one in the corner of the living room still known as the TV set. The difficulty is that viewers are not entirely sure what they want, using their PC. smartphone or tablet to catch-up on TV shows they may have missed and are often directed there by the broadcasters themselves, at least until a similar service is introduced on the TV itself. A number of consumer electronics players have seen this as an opportunity to wrest control of the television from the operators by presenting viewers with new ways to consume broadband-delivered content. By managing users’ access to broadcast and web entertainment through a single connected device the CE manufacturers are essentially setting themselves up as virtual IPTV operators and placing themselves in direct competition with the established pay-TV industry.

There is more to the Connected TV than just family photos and widgets. The combination of ongoing revenues, not to mention the possibility of speeding up the television replacement cycle, has led manufacturers to increasingly bundle in content. This has manifested itself in the availability of catch-up TV services, such as the BBC iPlayer or Sky Go. Coupled with the addition of movies on demand from the major Hollywood studios, and integrations with YouTube and Facebook, manufacturers are able to offer a strong content line-up. However, with current Connected TV technology there is significant disconnect between the traditional EPG and bundled OTT services and widgets, which makes for a disjointed user experience.

Emphasising TV’s transition into a service across a number of devices, the same technology can be incorporated into standalone products, these include the new breed of dedicated web TV devices, such as Apple TV and the next generation of Google TV, that seek to bring personalisation to the TV experience. OTT can also be incorporated as an added value feature to existing peripherals such as the DVD players or gaming consoles – a fact that has not been lost on the key players in the console market, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. There are two downsides to these solutions; once again they place another layer of complexity to the viewing experience and another box to the crowded space under the TV.

With retail analysts GfK anticipating Connected TV penetration to reach 60% by 2013, the need to ensure that your system is up to the mark cannot be lost on even the smallest of operators. Already there is evidence that DTT offers, particularly in those markets where the majority of the content is available free-to-air, can whittle away at cable customers on the lowest tiers. If the user’s Connected TV can already offer a top selection of the latest movie titles and OTT web content, there is a danger that the subscriber may lose their incentive to maintain their pay TV subscription. Operators must therefore be able to provide valued services that will meet consumer expectations and convince them that their monthly fee remains a worthwhile investment.

Ten years after it first introduced digital TV services, the 17,000- subscriber Monaco Telecom is aware of the problems. An outdated TV system without any interactivity or VOD was in serious need of updating to meet the needs of the operator’s well-heeled client base.

Supported by Netgem a hybrid set-up-box was deployed that takes the live channels from the existing HFC network and all the ondemand content from the DSL without any change to the back-up system.

This freed Monaco Telecom to only invest in the new interactive features of the TV service, rather than replicate what was already in place. This combination of the latest technologies deployed in the customer’s home, combined with the utilisation of the existing network was able to cut Capex costs by half.

Monaco Telecom launched its IPTV service in June 2010 offering subscribers a package of up to 180 linear channels, including 30 in high definition, video on demand, multilingual soundtracks, radio and Dolby Surround Sound. It has since launched a multi-screen service based on Netgem’s nCloud connected home technology.

The hybrid service was created using the combination of Netgem’s middleware and intelligent set-top box technologies that seamlessly blend broadcast and broadband content with multiplatform interactive TV services within a single branded user experience. In the case of Monaco Telecom, when the subscriber turns on their set-top box they are in a specially created environment that gives them the same look and feel, regardless of whether they are checking the primetime TV schedules or exploring the video-ondemand library.

In the medium term platform operators can turn their ability to move faster into a major competitive advantage, Monaco Telecom is able to add in new OTT content and services to meet customer demand on an ongoing basis thanks to Netgem’s open API.

Localisation remains key wherever you are, and while Monaco is far from large enough to support its own TV channel, intelligence from within the set-top box can be used to pull in relevant on demand content from the web. It also uses RSS feeds to create a virtual interactive Monaco Telecom channel that aggregates local weather, traffic, entertainment and news services. With many local newspapers running video news bulletins, operators have the chance to recreate the regional cable channels that were once a familiar part of the landscape.

Features such as this underline the importance that cable operators do not just become a dumb pipe, but instead consider themselves a part of the entertainment business. There is little that can be done to stop subscribers pulling out the lap-top and surfing the web – even if the operator themselves is supplying the connection – but there are means to create the stickiness that ensures once they are in front of the TV screen, viewers stay there.

This can be achieved by incorporating some of the most familiar web properties, YouTube or its Francophile equivalent Daily Motion; Facebook, Twitter, etc onto the TV. The jury may still be out on whether social networking sites like Facebook, really do have a place on the television display itself, whether they are optimised for this context or not. Arguably they work better on a handheld device like an iPhone, iPad or Google Android-enabled mobile phone or tablet and the same could be said for the electronic programme guide. Netgem’s integration of the Monaco Telecom EPG into a bespoke iPhone app makes it possible for one viewer to scroll through upcoming programmes, while the other continues to enjoy the show uninterrupted on the TV set. Such implementations make full use of the IPTV network and the broadband internet on which it sits.

Over-the-top has shifted the parameters for the TV industry and operators will need to work ever harder to gain or even to keep hold of subscribers as competition from new OTT entrants increases. By maintaining a firm grip on premium content and providing endusers with the unlimited IPTV data packages that make these services a viable proposition the pay TV players will be able to maintain their position at the head of the market. However, this does mean that operators need to act quickly and keep the monthly bill at a level that is acceptable to subscribers. Ironically the most efficient way to roll out new services, including multi-screen, quickly and cost-effectively is to take full advantage of OTT, the same technology that has made the market so uneasy in the first place.

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