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April 23, 2012
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Toshiba expects all Pay TV to be delivered via apps

Pay TV operators have nothing to fear from connected TV platforms and should harness them as a way to dispense with set-top boxes and DVRs, removing this cost from their balance sheet and delivering their content via apps. That is the view of Thomas Teckentrup, General Manager, Software & Services Division at Toshiba EMEA, who accepts that his argument points towards a world where all Pay TV content is delivered over-the-top using adaptive bit rate streaming. The migration will take time and the pace of change will vary market by market, depending on broadband penetration and speeds, and the attitude of each Pay TV platform. But he is confident this is the eventual model for television services.

“In the long-term, Pay TV can get rid of the STB and use our connected TV platform to reach customers,” Teckentrup continues. “Most connected TV providers are open to collaborate with Pay TV as partners. Assuming that Pay TV operators differentiate through the quality of their content portfolio, rather than by controlling the point of access to the customer, and they have the content that people want and they are the only ones who have it, then there is no reason why they should not move to an apps approach. There is no risk to taking that step.”

The content and services portal available via Toshiba Smart TVs is called Toshiba Places and it is designed to give consumers access to content on other screens as well, including laptops and tablets. In the UK, content apps include BBC iPlayer (broadcaster catch-up) and Acetrax (Video on Demand), as well as YouTube. Teckentrup says the ambition at Toshiba is to offer consumers a much wider choice of content than they can find through a Pay TV operator, but this does not conflict with what the Pay TV platforms want to achieve. People will use both routes to the content they want. “We do not see ourselves in competition with those companies; they are more likely to see themselves in competition with us.”

Toshiba is confident that the Pay TV industry will come to understand that its Smart TV platform is not a threat to them but a new way of presenting the different content offers that are available to consumers in one place. If they have what consumers want, viewers will still gravitate towards them, via the Pay TV apps. “We really want to provide choice and give people as much access to television as they want,” Teckentrup adds. “Pay TV operators are not being excluded from that.”

He acknowledges the potential benefits to Pay TV providers of using a connected TV as an IP client on a DVR whole home network that uses a server/client architecture. This is what DIRECTV is doing with Samsung in the U.S., using Remote User Interface (RUI).  But he views this as an interim approach while DVRs and STBs slowly disappear altogether. In his opinion, the DIRECTV/Samsung approach solves a problem (i.e. reducing the reliance on additional DVRs or STBs when extending Pay TV to more screens in the home) that will go away anyway as people go straight to the Internet rather than a DVR for their content.

Teckentrup will be speaking on a panel about the ‘Next steps for Connected TV’ at the Connected TV Summit next week. He is joined by executives from LG, Vestel, Samsung, Google TV and ACCESS discussing whether connected TVs can replace STBs and whether the real opportunity for CE vendors is to enable low cost multi-room Pay TV rather than develop their own content portals.

Another question for the panel is whether CE vendors need a multi-screen presence to compete and Toshiba clearly has no doubts that the answer is yes. Toshiba Places has been designed to enable content discovery and consumption across different screens. Tekentrup points to VOD as a good example of where the consumer experience is enhanced by using different devices. For example, you can look for movies on the smartphone or tablet but watch them on the widescreen TV.

Toshiba’s strategy is to provide an optimal experience where its own hardware and software platform are used together but the company accepts that people will have a mix of brands for different screens. It wants to provide content portability across these screens when users sign in to Toshiba Places and the idea is that a single sign-in can be used to access different apps-based services in different places.

The Connected TV Summit panel is also being asked how the CE industry can make apps development more cost-effective. As we reported last week, LG is working with Philips and Sharp on common technical requirements for their different Smart TV offerings, based on open standards like HTML5, CE-HTML and HbbTV.

Teckentrup will not give details about how Toshiba can make apps development easier in the connected TV market but he confirms, “This challenge is on the shortlist of our most important activities. We want developers who invest in the platform to have that investment protected. So we are working on a lot of things to stabilise our architectural elements, provide some longevity for apps development, and allow people to stretch their efforts across a wide number of products.”