As we reported earlier this year, The Diffusion Group (TDG) made a bold prediction that by 2020, half of all viewing in U.S. broadband homes with Pay TV would be away from set-top boxes, and so could be classed as multiscreen viewing. The company expects a similar pattern to emerge in other markets worldwide. Is that figure realistic? Yes, according to one expert, Michael Lantz, CEO at Accedo, which is a world leader in developing and maintaining multiscreen apps for platform operators and content owners. He points to the blurring of lines between what used to be ‘big screen’ and ‘small screen’ viewing, with the competition in the bedroom between tablets and portable TVs as one example.
There are two obvious questions facing media companies in the multiscreen space: How much viewing will go multiscreen, and if it does reach such high penetration as the 50/50 predicted by TDG, how will it impact service provider and content owner strategies? Lantz says a 50/50 outcome would put pressure on media companies to reach more devices but they do not need to develop apps for the long-tail of devices in the way that the BBC and Netflix have done.
“When you hear the 500 or 700 device figures for apps availability, that is more of a marketing figure,” he points out. “It includes all the different models from Samsung and LG, for example. If you want to cover 90% of the market there are about 15 platforms you need to cover, or 30-35 if you count the different generations. It is not that bad [the fragmentation challenge], to be honest.”
There could be a natural consolidation around the leading platforms anyway, making the long-term task of reaching the bulk of the population easier. Lantz lists iOS, Android, Windows, LG and Sony among the 15 key platforms (the figure that excludes the different generations) and he predicts: “Most of the majors will go for these platforms looking ahead. It is going to become very difficult for smaller providers of devices like OTT set-top boxes to be ‘productized’ by service providers.”
Each of these major platforms contains multiple devices but the reason Lantz is confident that device reach is not a barrier for media companies is the way it is becoming easier to develop apps and then manage their lifecycle. “The key thing is that if you have an LG deployment, one app deals with all the LG devices. And given that you still have 30-35 platforms, it is important that when you add new features, like a recommendation engine, you do not have to integrate it 35 times but you can perform one integration and deploy that 35 times.”
This is what the Accedo Cross Platform Development Kit is designed to accomplish – the rationalization of apps development and management around a common code base. After every app upgrade you still have to perform 35 sets of testing and deployment but the use of a framework like this reduces ongoing software development work significantly, Lantz explains.
Deploying apps for 15 platforms in their different generations is still a big job if you are starting from scratch, although perfectly ‘do-able,’ Lantz emphasizes. He estimates that it takes approximately ten ‘man months’ of development time to get a new service provider or content owner onto the core platforms, including the necessary integrations with their back office and subscriber management systems, etc. If you put five people on the task then the deployment would only take two months. These figures are a middle-ground estimate, so somewhere between the extremes of a standardized deployment (at the easier end) and a very complex one.
Accedo has also developed a way to independently manage the features within apps for each platform, so that media companies can differentiate services using runtime control of the app without having to change the software code. This solution, Accedo AppGrid, is an administrative tool that allows you to dynamically change the user experience. In a real-world example, this product was used to introduce live television streaming within an app that until then was focused on on-demand content, but this feature was only made available for one CE manufacturer as part of an exclusive three month agreement, and not made available in the other eight apps the company supported. You could turn the feature on or off again with the switch of a button within the AppGrid web user interface.
AppGrid also means you can define and configure application assets like images, skins and logos, and metadata such as key-value pairs, localization and menu configurations, to allow dynamic app behaviour. Users can also enable dynamic configuration of promotions, menu layout, themes and other app-centric functionality.
“You can control apps dynamically without branching of the software code, which would mean you then had to support separate versions of the app,” Lantz notes. “If you did that then you would create maintenance difficulties. This is another example of how you can reduce apps complexity over time.”
With this approach, you do need to plan ahead, which means knowing the kind of features that should be made available as an option and building them into the original development work. They can then be activated when, and where, needed. Lantz thinks this approach will become more important moving forwards.
Accedo’s CEO points out that we are still in the early stages of multiscreen deployment on a world scale. His company estimates a global market of 500 service providers and 2,000 media companies for its services and it believes that 80% of them have not started their multiscreen initiatives seriously, with Latin America and Africa among the obvious markets where there are still big opportunities. “Most companies in that 80% are looking at this need [for multiscreen deployments] right now,” he adds.