Netgem has unveiled plans to combine the set-top box and television soundbar to create a new product category for service providers, with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant providing some of the human-machine interaction. The company believes there is an opportunity to help consumers reduce their ‘digital clutter’ while at the same time converging traditional TV, OTT, subscription music, web radio and other audio services within a single platform and user interface. Netgem’s CEO Joseph Haddad believes this proposition will improve customer loyalty and can also raise ARPU.
The new solution – called the Netgem SoundBox – is aimed at mobile operators and telcos and was launched on the eve of Mobile World Congress (MWC). The opportunity is for IPTV providers to take the latest home technologies to the mass-market, starting with their higher-ARPU customers, using the proven device subsidy model. Consumers who would not otherwise be ready to pay for a powerful television soundbar could get one as part of their monthly Pay TV subscription.
As Haddad pointed out, televisions are getting thinner and their sound systems weaker and the market for complementary TV audio systems is growing. The soundbar is now a common sight underneath a television. The Netgem logic is that if more people are going to need a soundbar as well as a set-top box, why not combine them?
It sounds like a great idea: the STB becomes a more attractive product and retains its prominence in the home (together with any service provider branding) and watching TV – the core product from any Pay TV provider – becomes more enjoyable in more homes. But most importantly, the service provider could become the touchpoint for popular streaming music services, which are often used outside peak TV viewing hours like when people first get home from work or are cooking dinner. These audio services would be reached via the service provider UI.
The Netgem vision is that a companion device app will provide the user interface for the music services. And in its eve-of-MWC demonstration the company showed how you can transfer a music session from your smartphone to the Netgem SoundBox by effectively casting the stream to the fixed device. The SoundBox demonstrated in London, which is a hardware reference design, had great sound quality with plenty of bass to fill out a large room.
According to Haddad, “We are working with our service provider customers to get smarter software into fewer devices. We are trying to reduce device clutter and complexity and we provide a favourable economic model and a user interface that increases enjoyment of the services.”
It should be stressed that the Netgem SoundBox is a proof-of-concept today but the connected home software specialist said the first customers will take delivery this year. Netgem will work with a selection of OEM device manufacturers and service providers will be able to select the specifications for the soundbar hardware, deciding how they want to segment their consumer market. The new device works with legacy remote controls.
Haddad views the mobile operator market as a good launchpad for the Netgem SoundBox as these companies seek a foothold in fixed home services. “Music is strongly associated with mobile operators,” he points out. Netgem thinks all telcos can use the SoundBox concept to encourage multiple service adoption.
The company has a wider ambition to support smart home services on its software/device platform and integrate those into the entertainment user experience. “We want this to be the central hub of the smart home. We believe the next ‘play’ [in the triple-play, quad-play world] is lifestyle and that you will be taking a lifestyle service from your provider, who will give you access to lifestyle services in a unified way.”
Amazon has made its Alexa cloud-based voice service available for hardware integrations since 2015 and Netgem will take advantage of this licensing to include an advanced voice interface.
Haddad believes the convergence of TV and music content is natural, partly because so much ‘listening’ today is actually streamed music videos. The idea is that consumers will find more of their entertainment through their service provider UI and they will need fewer parallel devices. This fits with a wider ambition at Netgem to recalibrate the television UI so that content is presented not according to how it was delivered (live, DVR, on-demand, OTT, etc.) but by how we want to consume it (movies, kids, music, etc., with each ‘avenue’ of content embracing recordings, streamed video, live, and so on).
Netgem believes the desire for a digital declutter is also strong – there are too many boxes and cables in homes and people will welcome some simplification. “The STB is part of this digital clutter, so we are part of the problem. We had to start thinking outside of the box.” That means literally. With SoundBox, the set-top box is disappearing, but only from view. In future it could be ‘hidden’ inside a soundbar, which could be as splendid as a telco desires, no longer the ugly duckling in the digital home.