In an open letter to Sky, analysts at Decipher (the media research and consulting firm) have outlined what they would like to see on a next-generation platform from the Pay TV operator. They are anticipating a service upgrade sooner rather than later following reports in the UK national newspaper â€˜The Telegraphâ€™ about a major STB overhaul to meet â€œthe Apple threatâ€.
Decipher anticipates a two-part, staggered delivery of what it hopes will be â€œfun new thingsâ€. This means Sky launching a new operating system that will be uploaded onto as many existing set-top boxes as possible and delivering as much of the new functionality as possible before this â€˜OS onlyâ€™ option is followed with a new set-top box running the new OS. Decipher is betting that, â€œas we are a generation away from full â€˜cloud TVâ€™ when we can do away with STBs completely, the new box will be more of a â€˜media serverâ€™ than a PVR.â€
Naturally the new media server should be 4k friendly and perhaps even have one tuner ready for 8k content. Decipher wants the new media server to transcode channels on-the-fly so IP versions can be streamed around the home. It wants a combined Sky tablet app that recognises when you are on the home network or not, and presents a menu with only the correct [available to view] content showing.
â€œSecondly, the app needs to be able to access any content that we have paid for that is in the Sky box in the lounge, including linear, VOD and recorded. There is no point having recorded content on the PVR if we cannot access it from the iPad in a different room.â€
Decipher wants a â€˜castableâ€™ app so you can flick content onto any screen in the home, pause a programme on one device (like the living room television) and pick up the programme where you left off but on another screen. As well as this tablet app, the analysts want a TV â€˜Appâ€™ to deliver the same functionality but configured for the big screen, like a Smart TV in a second room. â€œThis means we will be able to see all the same pay channels, VOD and PVR content on the Smart TV screen that we can see on the [Sky media server DVR] box downstairs.â€
To get all Sky content onto what Decipher calls dumb televisions (non-connected), it advises the use of streaming sticks like Google Chromecast and the forthcoming Amazon Fire Stick, or streaming boxes like its own NOW TV offering or the Amazon Fire TV box. â€œBut we actually expect you to give away free Sky-branded Roku sticks with every premium subscription â€“ otherwise what was the point of buying into them?â€ the letter asks.
Decipher wants mobile rights and even holiday rights so you can take your Sky subscription with you to hotels and holiday homes. â€œIt would be even better if you could organise some form of inherent VPN so we can take this stuff overseas. Our Direct Debit doesnâ€™t stop when we go on holiday.â€
As well as being at the heart of a new and supercharged multi-room service (what Decipher likes to call â€œmulti-room on crackâ€), the media server should be the centerpiece for delivering time-shift services, the analyst firm reckons. The company is convinced that push-VOD, using a hard drive, supports a much better on-demand experience than pull VOD over a network, while recording content to deliver catch-up is much better than using OTT apps. â€œSo letâ€™s have a PVR centric approach to on-demand,â€ the blog declares.
â€œLetâ€™s take what DISH Networks have done with Primetime in the U.S. and blow it out of the water. A lot of the broadcastersâ€™ concerns over this can be assuaged with better presentation of the assets and sympathetic treatment of their programme and channel brands.â€
The new DVR server needs more tuners and more storage. Decipher analysts want Sky to match or better the 3TB of memory you get in the TiVo Roamio found in the U.S. The box should include start-over functionality, like the new EE box from EE, the mobile and fixed broadband (and now TV) provider. â€œThat box gives us instant rewind to the start of a show on around ten live channels of our choice. The box uses PVR memory to buffer all the channels to create the start-over cache. Consumers love this functionality when we show them it.
â€œWe also want loads more tuners. The Sky+HD 2TB box has the ability to record 350 hours of HD content or 1,200 hours of standard-definition but it only has two tuners and that really doesnâ€™t help on a Saturday or Sunday evening when we want to record five things at once. Somewhere between six and ten tuners would be great.â€
Decipher suggests more intelligent tuners, too, and points to how the U.S. satellite operator DISH has reconfigured its satellite re-transmission of the four major broadcast networks so that all four can be recorded using a single tuner. â€œThat opens up huge possibilities. EE do a similar thing with the Freeview channels on their four-tuner box in the UK, allowing up to 20 channels to be recorded at the same time.â€
In the open letter, posted on the Decipher OffAir blog, the analysts speculate that Skyâ€™s desire to sell us digital copies of movies suggests that they need a more flexible storage and access solution. â€œThe ability to store recorded content remotely in the cloud must be on the table â€“ a form of cloud PVR that would resonate with consumers as a â€˜Dropbox for TVâ€™,â€ they suggest.
â€œThis could be offered at a premium. Subscribes could store 2TB of recorded content on the local PVR memory and have the option (perhaps for an additional Â£5 a month) to have access to another 5TB or 10TB of remote storage for recordings.â€
Subscribers should be able to â€˜pullâ€™ this content to a device of their choosing later on, or even download those recordings to a mobile device for viewing offline and perhaps away from the home broadband network. Sky already allows download-to-go for selected VOD content on its premium Sky Go Extra multiscreen offering.
Decipher anticipates an Intellectual Property challenge with this endeavour but says it should be possible for the system to identify content that can and cannot be recorded to the cloud and then allocate recording space accordingly. It would like Sky to â€œbully this one throughâ€. â€œDropbox-like functionality has arrived in TV; the lawyers are going to have to work it out,â€ the letter declares.
Interested in what the Pay TV platform of the future looks like?
Read the full Decipher blog here
See our separate story, looking at Integrating more IP, fusing recordings and catch-up
Check out the themes at this yearâ€™s Connected TV World Summit where, among other things, we are looking at the â€˜The Pay TV platform-of-the-futureâ€™, â€˜Embracing OTT on Pay TV platformsâ€™, â€˜The future of DVR and time-shiftingâ€™ and â€˜Streaming Firstâ€™.