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The role of a Pay TV operator in the Smart Home

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Remote energy management with EnBW (left) and the QIVICON Home Base hub

What is the role for a Pay TV operator in the Smart Home, that subset of the Internet of Things (IoT) that they can touch and therefore, perhaps, influence? The U.S. cable operator Comcast provides one example of what can be attempted, seeking additional revenues through its Xfinity Home offering that encompasses home security, control and energy management features. 

The company views the Smart Home as an extension of its broadband capabilities, calling Xfinity Home “one of the primary services that takes advantage of the WiFi speeds that we deliver” and flagging the benefits of a great wireless gateway if you want to get good connectivity and coverage throughout a home. But Comcast is also exploiting what are now established Pay TV industry skills, including apps on set-top boxes and mobile devices, to provide a cross-screen command-and-control and reporting mechanism. 

Customers using the X1 platform (Comcast’s advanced and cloud-centric entertainment operating system) can adjust the thermostat, manage lighting and watch security camera footage, all on their TV using the Xfinity Home App. The Family Point App on X1 also enables family members to opt-into a smartphone tracking feature, with their last location appearing as a sticky note when the TV is turned on. Comcast says ‘the X1 platform transcends TV, giving Xfinity customers “seamless home management tools and the ability to communicate with every member of the family.”

From the Xfinity Home mobile app you can manage lights, change heating and cooling settings and monitor video from your home, either as streamed video or saved clips. Pay TV operators are now experienced in developing apps for multiple devices and multiple versions of operating systems, then keeping them up-to-date. This suggests a company that has both broadband and Pay TV has an advantage when looking to become the user interface for the Smart Home. 

The long list of devices available to Comcast customers taking its Xfinity Home Control 150 package emphasizes the importance of device interoperability and the opportunity to provide a unified platform upon which multiple services and devices sit. These include carbon monoxide detectors, door/window sensors, lighting controllers, indoor cameras, motion sensors, thermostat and water detectors. There are also lighting and appliance controllers that allow customers to adjust lights, create an energy-efficient lighting schedule and even turn off their coffee pot from an Internet-connected device. At the centre of all this is the ‘Hub’, the communication gateway to all Xfinity Home devices.

During Videonet’s recent post-CES debrief webcast, Tal Chalozin, CTO & Co-Founder at the advertising technology company Innovid, argued that the opportunity for service providers in the Smart Home is to be the aggregator of functions and devices that connects everything together, whether or not they themselves provide the user interface for command/control and monitoring. 

He thinks that now retail Smart Home devices have ‘crossed the chasm’ into the mass-market there is an opportunity for someone to connect different devices together with a platform that the average person can operate. He was disappointed that more device makers or service providers were not showing off this ‘Internet of Things Hub’ at the Las Vegas exhibition. 

“There is definitely an opportunity to provide the box or gateway that connects all these elements together,” he declared. “We need someone to connect everything together and orchestrate everything,” Chalozin suggested, adding that Smart TV manufacturers could perform this function, too.

For David Mercer, VP, Principle Analyst at Strategy Analytic (the research and consulting firm), the opportunity for service providers in the Smart Home “is to take away the worry for their customers, as always”. 

He expands: “As always, the question for consumers is whether they ‘Do It Themselves’ and, in a sense, go over-the-top by buying devices from Amazon or the local electronics store, bringing them home, plugging them in and seeing if they can make everything work together, or call Comcast or BT or Deutsche Telekom. They might want to see what these companies can provide, potentially installed and managed as a service in return for a small increment on their monthly bill.”

So is the opportunity for service providers to create and manage the home automation or home security functions themselves, or to aggregate the applications provided by third-parties on a service provider platform, or to control the user experience by delivering the user interface, like allowing consumers to watch security camera feeds via their programme guide or on their companion app? Mercer reckons it is too early to say whether there is a single answer. 

“We are at the very early stages of a new market and all these models are being explored to some degree. Some service providers are trying to take a very active role in developing platforms and the technology behind the platforms, and others are taking a back-seat role in aggregation.”

Deutsche Telekom is a good example of a service provider that is taking a wide-reaching and proactive approach to developing a platform and an ecosystem of interoperable third-party endeavours. The company is behind the QIVICON initiative, which is both a Smart Home platform and an alliance of industrial partners like the energy provider EnBW, Miele, Samsung, Osram and Bitron Home.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this initiative is that QIVICON is designed to work with any broadband connection, so represents a kind of OTT model for smart home service delivery. There is a central unit to coordinate all smart home devices and functions within a home, with users controlling them via apps. Any QIVICON-compatible device (like radiator thermostats, smoke detectors, blinds, lamps, etc.) can be controlled.

If you have a smart home starter package with the QIVICON Home Base hub and matching smart home devices, you can use the DT supplied mobile app to remotely control some of your home life. The use cases Deutsche Telekom flags up include : “Cold bathroom after getting up? That was yesterday! With Smart Home by Telekom you always have your comfortable temperature at the right time. Just schedule in the app when the heating has to reach that temperature – anytime, anywhere.” Also: “You are still on the road and want to heat up your living room prior to arrival – no problem with Smart Home.”

David Mercer believes all service providers will want to present themselves as the interface with the end user when providing Smart Home services. “That is their fundamental business model so whatever mechanism or approach they are using, I think that will always be the primary objective.” However, he is sceptical about whether televisions will be a significant point of interaction.

“This is being tried out at the moment but our consumer research suggests that this is not something people are necessarily enthusiastic about. So we expect that the control will be through other devices, and inevitably the smartphone will be one of the primary interfaces.”

The Smart Home is viewed as one of a dwindling number of opportunities for Pay TV operators in mature markets to get more money from us each month. Mercer says these services are showing early signs of success and could help grow ARPU, together with UHD television. 

Asked where the next £10 per month is coming from for Pay TV operators, Stephen Adshead, Associate Director at the research and strategy firm MTM, said platform operators can keep charging a premium for multiscreen and multi-room services and will be able to charge a premium for UHD. “But to achieve an extra £10 per month they need to diversify and package things they have not done before like home automation and home security.”

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