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How to displace Roku and Samsung with your Pay TV Lite set-top box

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The intuiTV set-top box and touch-screen remote control that NAGRA launched at CES

Convinced that more Pay TV operators are going to launch ‘Lite’ OTT services similar to NOW TV from Sky or Sling TV from DISH Networks, NAGRA has unveiled a ready-made solution designed to compete with the best Consumer Electronics streamer boxes, in terms of looks, and with the best online services in terms of functionality and user interface. ‘intuiTV’, which was demonstrated at CES in Las Vegas last week, combines a managed cloud video platform, content security, a set-top box from SmarDTV (part of the same Kudelski Group that NAGRA belongs to) a NAGRA-designed physical remote control, UEX design and apps development. Operators can decide how to brand their OTT ‘set-top boxes’ and whether to ship them to consumers direct or sell them via retail.

This is an end-to-end solution for tier-one and tier-two Pay TV operators who want to launch a standalone online service that appeals to cord-nevers and cord-cutters. Today these services are typically branded and marketed independently of the original Pay TV service, offer a subset of the content available via cable, satellite or IPTV, and have much more flexible contracts, including monthly subscriptions and day passes. However, intuiTV can also be used by Pay TV operators to deliver their full service online, using streaming as an alternative delivery mechanism to satellite or cable for those occasions where broadcast delivery is not possible. The new solution can also be used for hybrid OTT/broadcast deployments with the introduction of a second device designed for broadcast reception.

intuiTV is designed to give Pay TV operators a route into more homes and the chance to make their OTT set-top box the device consumers use for most of their entertainment on a television set. Thus the popular features of traditional Pay TV like multichannel linear TV, VOD, catch-up and start-over are supported, but delivered as online video. Netflix and YouTube can be integrated into the service and NAGRA says more third-party online video services can be added (4K streaming is already supported). The company wants users to ditch their other streamer boxes and instead rely on this one device and remote control, which is why so much effort has been put into giving this a CE-grade look-and-feel. 

The ace in the pack, when it comes to the user experience, is the ease with which you can navigate between the worlds of television (within the Pay TV service) and the world of apps (like an SVOD service). According to Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, Senior Director, Product Marketing at NAGRA, “The Internet video experience is messy. There are lots of different remote controls and boxes and user interfaces to deal with, but with intuiTV there is no more switching between HDMI connections. You can ‘swipe-to-tune’ between live TV and the app environment. If you are watching something in a streaming service you can drop straight back into the Pay TV service domain. The product is very TV-centric.” 

‘Swipe-to-tune’ is a navigation feature where you literally swipe left or right, or up or down on the touch screen remote control to find content, whether it is recent channels, trending programmes or new content, for example.

André Kudelski, Chairman and CEO at Kudelski Group, reckons that “the future of television is television”, which explains why his company feels the need to simplify the ‘app-fragmented’ viewing experience that is now synonymous with online video. “Consumers want to find content without having to worry about constantly swapping inputs, changing remote controls and guessing what is behind each and every app on a constantly morphing app dashboard,” Kudelski (André) claims.

Smith-Chaigneau adds: “There is a lot of discussion about millennials and their taste for Internet video services and this addresses that customer segment, and it could provide a way to recapture some lost customers.”

For some time, NAGRA has been pointing to the new realities of the paid video marketplace, which has become more segmented than it used to be, with opportunities to offer some consumers a growing bundle of content and functions and others a ‘skinny bundle’ at a much lower price. (You can see some early thoughts on this trend here). The company was also one of the first to help a Pay TV operator expand its online activities beyond TV Everywhere (where multiscreen access is tied to a set-top box subscription, available to existing customers) to Pay TV Lite and then even further as a broadcast substitute.

In 2011, Canal+ launched an Internet brand called Yomvi to initially cover its TV Everywhere offer. In 2012 Yomvi was opened up to non-Pay TV customers who could take out a discrete subscription for the Internet service only. Today you can sign up for family, football and other genre-specific channel bundles. CANAL+ also made Yomvi available to a Spanish telco called Jazztel who effectively replaced their own classic IPTV service (which was struggling to reach scale) with this OTT bouquet, offered over xDSL lines to set-top boxes. 

Now Yomvi is being used again in Spain as a substitute for classic IPTV, this time with Vodafone Spain, who introduced a TV service in October 2014 with a hybrid set-top box (the Vodafone Box) that combines local DTT signals with the Yomvi OTT content. You can watch the Yomvi programming on a television or on multiscreen devices.

With Yomvi, CANAL+ has demonstrated a journey that could become more commonplace. Last year NAGRA commissioned the research and strategy consultancy MTM to explore the opportunities for Pay TV operators in the OTT market and found them focused on TV Everywhere, off-net services that target new customer segments and OTT services that “super-serve customers on set-top box platforms”.

That study also found that besides increased customer satisfaction, reduced churn, enhanced brand image and increased ARPU, executives wanted to attract new audience segments and provide a new channel to market with their online offers. The study also listed the factors behind successful online video services: access via mobile phones and tablets, an integrated user experience across devices, innovative pricing options like day passes, the ability to appeal to a broad range of audience segments and bundling of third-party OTT services with your own content offering. Pay TV Lite ticks many of these boxes and if you use intuiTV you can also tick off the third-party OTT box.

The managed cloud platform behind intuiTV harnesses NAGRA MediaLive, a unified back office and platform for the delivery of TV and multiscreen services. This can be used for TV Everywhere and standalone OTT like Pay TV Lite. Although intuiTV is being presented as a managed service, there is the option to host the platform on-premise if an operator prefers. 

The remote control for intuiTV devices has been developed within NAGRA and gives operators the option to assign buttons for direct access to online services. This device confirms the growing interest in hardware within Kudelski Group. “Truly ergonomic remote controls have become both an art and a science in their own right and NAGRA has done significant research with leading design academies to create the intuiTV remote control,” the company says.

It should be no surprise that NAGRA is providing hardware that can compete for space under a television or on a retail shelf, Anthony Smith-Chaigneau reckons. He acknowledges that intuiTV shifts the company focus slightly towards the consumer market (given the possibility of retail device sales). “We have expertise in the user interface and set-top boxes and have been heavily involved in the consumer end of the business without being a consumer-facing company,” he notes. 

It is worth remembering that EchoStar Corporation, whose technology division made set-top boxes, became a shareholder in SmarDTV last March and transferred its Steeton (UK) and Madrid operations into that company.

Smith-Chaigneau points out that Pay TV operators are not about to roll over and let companies like Amazon take control of the paid-for video market, including the market for lower-ARPU pay customers. intuiTV is designed to help them launch an attractive service quickly, scale it effectively and concentrate on their business and marketing objectives rather than the backoffice technologies.

More reading

Videonet report: How OTT Is Changing The Shape Of Pay TV

This report investigates how Pay TV operators are harnessing OTT distribution and using operations paradigms from the IT and Internet worlds to defend their existing businesses, reach out to new markets and make themselves more agile. It describes, with numerous examples, how different OTT strategies are evolving including Pay TV Lite, the integration of third-party OTT services into STB platforms and the use of OTT as a substitute for satellite and IPTV. It considers the impact that virtualisation and cloud models are having on the ability of Pay TV operators to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon.

The report includes insights from VOO/Be tv, Vodafone Group, Sky, Canal+, KPN, Unitymedia, Liberty Global, TalkTalk,  Maxdome, ABI Research, Ampere Analysis, NAGRA, Elemental Technologies, Harmonic and many others.

Download it (free) here.

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