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December 12, 2012
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Opening a new chapter for Connected TV

A new kind of app is emerging that could change the way Pay TV operators deliver their services via connected TV devices. Until now, the typical Pay TV connected TV app sits in the CE vendor app store, the consumer opens it, enjoys access to the Pay TV services, then closes the app and returns to the general television user interface. The app that TeliaSonera has developed with Samsung for its Nordic markets takes the telco’s customers directly to their TV experience, without having to access the app store.

The app downloads automatically when the Smart TV is connected to the TeliaSonera broadband network. It will then become the default view that a TeliaSonera TV customer sees unless they decide to navigate beyond it, launching automatically when they start up the television. If you turn off the TV and turn it on again, the app will take you to wherever you were previously – so if you were watching channel 2, the television opens again at channel 2.

This alone is an important innovation, with the Smart TV acting as if it has a set-top box attached to it. But it is only half the story. TeliaSonera and Samsung, working with Verimatrix to provide the content protection, are deploying this app to provide access to classic multicast IPTV services. TeliaSonera is not streaming OTT adaptive bit rate video into the Smart TVs. This is not an attempt to extend operator reach beyond the multicast network by going ‘off-net’ with OTT via a television app. It is a way to provide an alternative to set-top boxes for customers on the existing IPTV network footprint.

TeliaSonera is delivering traditional digital TV with fully managed Quality of Service. The service provided via the app is a complete replica of what you get via a set-top box. Standard-definition channels are running at around 4Mbps.  Homes using set-top boxes and homes using apps to access the IPTV service use the same network and the same Content Management System. There are no changes to the backend.

TeliaSonera launched its IPTV app with Samsung Smart TVs in Estonia last week with its subsidiary Elion. It will extend this new operating model to its other markets, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, early next year. What we are seeing in Estonia is one of the first, if not the first, examples of an operator connected TV app that acts like a virtual set-top box, removing the need for any STB in the home of ‘traditional’ IPTV customers. STB and non-STB homes will co-exist on the TeliaSonera network.

The Samsung SmartHub is still present on the Smart TV, of course, and offers its usual selection of content and other apps but TeliaSonera customers will not have to go to the store to access their Pay TV unless they specifically want to.  Jonas Hasselberg, Head of Consumer Products at TeliaSonera, refers to this approach as a ‘TV first’ experience, something the company has worked closely with Samsung to enable.

Neither TeliaSonera or Samsung are keen on the concept of UI (User Interface) primacy and who has it.  Instead, they believe you can offer two parallel experiences on the same TV, one giving the Pay TV subscriber easy access to their service and the other giving them alternative forms of entertainment when they want it.

“We are not changing the priority between the different UIs and there is still a very prominent Samsung UI when you go into their part of the menu system, but there is a ‘TV first’ experience when all you want to do is watch our TV,” comments Hasselberg. “We try to separate the lean-back TV experience that people are familiar with from actively looking for an apps experience, whether that is for Facebook, games or another catch-up TV player.”

Vassilis Seferidis, Director of European Business Development at Samsung Electronics adds: “People want to watch video and Pay TV operators aggregate video, and this new generation of application takes the Pay TV service closer to the user and makes it easier to use. This was the obvious next step, to give operators the opportunity to deliver their service in the easiest way possible on our Smart TVs.”

Seferidis says the ease of installation and access distinguishes this new type of app from others in the Samsung SmartHub store. There are three ways you can access the TeliaSonera service through the TV, the first one being via the app store and the second by choosing TeliaSonera from the source menu on the TV, using the remote control. This is like choosing HDMI1 as your input, except the app is really a virtual input source, presented in this way to consumers because it is easy to understand.

“The most interesting and important way to access the app is to launch it during the power-up process,” Seferidis adds. “If you were watching the IPTV service when you powered down the TV, the app presents itself once you power up the TV again.”

Steve Christian, VP of Marketing at Verimatrix, points out that video is still the killer app in a Smart TV environment. “If you can access the range of services available from the operator by powering up the TV, that is a completely natural process and is a compelling user case that works for the tech savvy youngster through to  Granny. That ease of use is an important issue when talking about the proliferation of Smart TVs and their usage.”

This important deployment, and the whole concept of the ‘Operator as an App’ on connected TV devices was the subject of a Videonet round-table this week. You can hear all the details about the new service and app model that TeliaSonera is deploying, and discussions about how Pay TV operators generally can extend their service reach using apps, on our webcast playback. Click here to register and listen free, on-demand.

Among other things you will hear:

  • TeliaSonera explaining its motivations for the new app, including a better user experience devoid of new boxes, cables and remote controls in the living room.
  • The potential to use the Samsung Smart TVs as a new channel to market for the IPTV provider and details about the joint marketing plans.
  • How Samsung views this new type of operator partnership as a way to sell more TVs.
  • How the Smart TVs recognize that a retail customer is a TeliaSonera broadband customer, ready to auto-download the IPTV app.
  • Samsung’s strategy to serve both the Pay TV and free-to-air markets through its Smart TVs.
  • How Verimatrix has implemented software upgradeable content security that harnesses a sophisticated chip on the Samsung Smart TV to give it a hardware anchor.
  • Why TeliaSonera pursued the app delivery model for its multicast IPTV network rather than exploring CI+.
  • How TeliaSonera will handle personal recordings in Estonia and its other markets, given that Smart TVs do not have hard drives.
  • The results of an audience poll on whether the most important use for Pay TV operator apps over the next three years is to extend reach to more TVs inside the home, extend reach to new homes and markets, or to reduce reliance on STBs.
  • The opportunity for Pay TV operators to target new geographic markets, including overseas, using OTT and apps on televisions.
  • Whether TeliaSonera is going to work with other TV manufacturers and its thoughts about the current Connected TV apps development environment.
  • TeliaSonera’s thoughts about using OTT delivery into a Smart TV app in future in order to extend the reach of its service beyond its IPTV multicast network (i.e. going off-net).
  • What content owners think about this new approach to content delivery.
  • Why Samsung is convinced its own managed apps environment can deliver a better user experience for operator apps than a more standardized apps arena like Android.

Register free to hear our ‘Operator as an App’ panel discussion here.