“All new devices must fully embrace OTT.” This statement, from Aneesh Rajaram, CEO at Vewd, may seem obvious by now, but ‘fully’ is the key word. For his company (which was known as Opera TV before its rebrand last September), this means opening a television or set-top box to the widest possible selection of streaming content, and Vewd is trying to make this easy and low-cost.
The Vewd app ecosystem, which includes everything from YouTube and Hulu to super-niche long-tail services, contains over 1,500 apps from 1,000 different content providers and is available on a huge footprint of customer premise equipment from brands like Sony, Samsung, HiSense, TiVo and Vestel (which itself manufactures for 60 brand labels including JVC, Hitachi and Toshiba). The Vewd OS is incorporated on 50 million units that ship every year.
Having become one of the biggest connected TV ecosystems in the world, Vewd is increasingly treated as a ‘must-do’ TV app by content owners. Their priority list may also include the Samsung, LG, Roku, Apple TV or Android TV app ecosystems, plus game consoles. That explains why ten of the biggest app developers in television, including Accedo, Massive, Easel TV and Cisco, were certified last autumn to build applications ‘out-of-the-box’ to work on Vewd-enabled devices.
Increasingly, Vewd is moving towards the centre-ground of the broadcast industry. Its new HTML-5 based, backwards EPG solution (unveiled at IBC last year) was made available as an out-of-the-box market profile first for Freeview Play in the UK. It means device manufacturers can deploy a Freeview Play compliant product without their own custom software development. The EPG is fully integrated with the Freeview Play metadata service and the broadcaster players on the free-to-air DTT (and hybrid broadcast broadband) platform.
Now Vewd sees an opportunity in the operator set-top box market, especially in territories where subscription ARPUs do not justify next-generation devices with the bill of materials required to match Android TV guidelines. Rajaram believes Vewd OS, the entertainment operating system that was initially launched for Smart TVs at CES in January, is perfect for this scenario.
There could be a second opportunity for operator-supplied or operator-approved set-tops – this time in more developed markets -for second-room client devices (to gateways) or pure-play streaming boxes. Vewd will use IBC in September to launch a suite of products that will help it target the operator market, harnessing Vewd OS.
Rajaram says operators need a way to reach cord-nevers and cord-cutters, which means relatively low-cost devices that onboard streaming services. “There will be some new form-factors that embrace the Vewd OS and which will change the game for operators as well as retailers,” he declared this week.
Vewd is helping to rationalise the app universe, giving content owners and their apps developers the opportunity to build once and publish into a store that runs across hundreds of device models. “The TV app vendors are a critical part of content distribution,” the company points out.
Speaking about his company’s Vewd certification last October, Michael Lantz, CEO at Accedo, said: “It gives us instant access to a very wide ecosystem with consistency in how our customers’ video services perform across devices.”
Some content creators and video platform providers use Vewd Snap, the app build tool, to create a presence on Vewd-enabled devices. JW Player is one such company, helping a diverse range of companies and bloggers to package online video channels into ready-to-run TV apps. Zoomin.TV is another. This online video publisher targets Gen Z viewers with 400 videos a day, working with freelance video journalists to tell stories.
Kaltura, the OVP (online video provider) that helps media companies host, syndicate and monetise video, worked with Vewd Snap recently to help Sesame Workshop (the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street) to launch a new Sesame Street streaming app for the Vewd ecosystem. The app includes 48 seasons of children’s TV programmes.
Rajaram believes custom onboarding of apps (where a content owner performs a bespoke integration with each device maker) is too much of a burden for both content owners and manufacturers. His company has been trying to educate content owners about the benefits of Vewd’s ‘build-once-publish-lots’ offer.
Vewd has deeper technical partnerships with a number of content owners, including the BBC and Google (for YouTube) and that is an important differentiator for the Vewd app ecosystem, he reckons. “We take onboard their ambitions and requirements, and code that into our software,” the CEO says. He adds that smaller content owners “love the way they are also treated as first-class citizens on the platform.”
Are there any advantages to building apps for Vewd beyond the ease of publishing and device reach? If there were two televisions in the same room, one running the Vewd content apps and the other an alternative app store, is there anything that would make a content owner hope that someone watched on the Vewd-enabled TV? Yes, there are, according to Rajaram. Content promotion, data tracking and analytics, and monetisation options are three differentiators, he believes.
The updated UI is going to be a winner, too, he predicts. This delivers a video-centric experience from the minute you launch a screen, avoiding static apps. Content partners can make use of full-screen auto-play to show viewers content they might like, with other choices also displayed.
Payments and billing are supported on the platform, covering all transactional business models. And smaller content owners may want to harness the ad management that is available, including ad insertion and programmatic sales (including through SpotX).
The Vewd strategy has been to pre-integrate with multiple SoC (system on chip) vendors in an effort to reduce costs and time-to-market for device makers using the Vewd software stack. These include Mediatek, MStar and Novatek for Smart TVs, and Broadcom for set-top boxes. In May, Vewd announced a global partnership with HiSilicon Technologies, another important chip manufacturer.
The Vewd OS itself provides a full UI/UX that integrates broadcast sources, live streaming, time-shift and on-demand into a cohesive experience. Manufacturers (and soon operators) can customise the branding.
Speaking about the Smart TV market, Aneesh Rajaram predicts that in-house platforms will die out as the OpEx benefits and UX improvements from a multi-brand ecosystem like Vewd become clear. Manufacturers will embrace the new model, whether using Android TV or “other means”, like Vewd. And he estimates that 70% of the television set market is mid- or low-end, using hardware that will not be able to run Android TV.
At the same time, he does not want to pitch Vewd against Android TV, saying they are complementary – even on the same television. There are apps in the Vewd store that you will not find in Google Play, for example. His company can also provide an HbbTV stack, which includes full support for HbbTV 2.0.1 and its Companion Screen and Media Synchronization capabilities.
Media Synchronization means viewers can move content seamlessly from the TV to mobile devices. The Companion Screen function in HbbTV 2.0.1 ensures broadcasters can deliver content to a smartphone or tablet that accompanies and enriches what is showing on TV. This could be alternative camera feeds or second language audio tracks, or audio descriptions for people who are visually impaired.
In March, Vewd and Vestel extended their relationship to ensure that millions of new TVs will support HbbTV 2.0.1. Talking about their wider relationship, Vestel’s Vice President, Marketing and Product Management, Hakan Kutlu, said: “Vestel has relied on Vewd to deliver the most compelling OTT platform on millions of Smart TVs each year.
“For our brands, the quality of the OTT experience is paramount. Vewd is the only partner we trust to deliver both premium content and the latest streaming technologies flawlessly to millions of households.” At IBC, Vewd is hoping this kind of recommendation will help open the door to the operator market.