The Operator as an App model (platform operator services delivered via a connected TV device app rather than a set-top box) and the virtual STB model (an operator app but one that remains open as the default UI environment for a Smart TV, rather than opened/closed from the app store when needed) are ready for prime time. That was the big message from Stefan Jenzowsky, Head of Business Unit Multimedia at Siemens Communication, Media and Technology, who says his company has already overcome all but one of the objections that people have raised about using television apps in place of STBs.
The one objection that has not been overcome yet is the lack of multicast delivery into an app. Siemens is working on this in the laboratories, he told Connected TV Summit last week. This is definitely possible for apps, however, because the TeliaSonera/Samsung virtual STB (vSTB) app, as deployed in Estonia, delivers managed multicast IPTV to Smart TVs.
Jenzowsky ran through the list of what is possible already using the Siemens OTT Swipe solution. â€œQuality control and back channel: This is solved, we know how to monitor the quality that viewers are seeing. Can you use the original UI? You bet. If you provide us with your set-top box user experience we will make an app that provides an identical user experience across all platforms, whether Sony, LG, Panasonic or anything else. We can do that today.
â€œCan we deliver an entire television operator portfolio with suitable channel change times. We can. We are very close to the channel change times of a good set-top box. We can do that on apps now. We can deliver the picture quality needed. The User Interface response times are absolutely the equal of a set-top box. Can we cover all devices? Yes.â€
The Siemens OTT Swipe name refers to the swipe action when you want to transfer content you are watching on a tablet or smartphone to the TV, or vice versa, which is a compelling user interaction. But the product actually encompasses an end-to-end multiscreen solution covering apps development, user experience and backoffice and content delivery elements. It makes use of portable devices as companions that are synchronized with the main TV and there is an emphasis on personalization, including recommendations.
Siemens OTT Swipe is a way to complement existing TV services or to launch platforms without traditional set-top boxes, which is what Ditto TV has done with an initial 25 channel linear TV offering. Ditto TV is owned by the Indian media company Zee Entertainment Enterprises and according to Jenzowsky, they tasked his company with creating a digital TV model using only apps.
â€œThere is no set-top box. There will never be a set-top box in this model,â€ he told the London audience. â€œThey have a very large television library; they are like the Disney of India. We built an â€˜Operator in an Appâ€™ solution for them, starting over a year ago, and they now have nearly a million users. The average viewing time is 14 minutes a day and by the end of this year we expect this to be one hour. It will go live in 160 countries because Indians live everywhere.â€
Another company interested in the Siemens â€˜Operator as an Appâ€™ model (or â€˜virtual operatorâ€™ model as Jenzowsky also called it) is Mobily, the Saudi Arabia-based wireless telco. The company wants to reach out to Arabic speakers worldwide. One of the features of their TV service will be a â€˜friends and familyâ€™ channel where users can upload their smartphone or camera recordings into a channel that they can then share with the rest of their family.
â€œCan the app replace the set-top box? Yes we believe it can,â€ Jensowsky reiterated. â€œWe are on that train and we are investing a substantial amount of money and employ a lot of people to achieve that, to create a virtual set-top box, and it is already deployed today. And you can couple handheld devices to your television via the cloud because there are apps running on each device.â€
Jensowsky was challenged from the audience about the burden of developing multiple apps and then testing them. â€œTraditional operators limit the number of STBs they work with and when they change them they have to test them to death to make sure the Quality of Experience is good,â€ his questioner pointed out. â€œHow do you deal with the QoS when you change the apps?â€
â€œWe guarantee the QoE and we guarantee it with a contract, like a Service Level Agreement,â€ Jensowsky replied. â€œWe have many people in India who are physically testing the user experience for all the devices where the app is used. If there is a new model of Blackberry phone, we adapt to it before the product gets into the market and we guarantee the user experience on that app. We will write penalties into the SLA [Service Level Agreement] if necessary. We have 400 people developing this product at the moment.â€
As we have written elsewhere this week, the viability of operator TV apps as STB replacements is now under the spotlight. You can read much more about this, including the various objections to the â€˜Operator as an Appâ€™ model, in these stories.
Our perception is that Pay TV operators view this as a practical and not a â€˜religiousâ€™ debate, so they are open-minded about STB avoidance/replacement if connected TV apps can be proven to truly replicate the set-top experience for users.