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Espial one of first to offer Android TV as part of a TVaaS service

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The cloud-based video platform and UX provider Espial has reacted to operators’ increasing interest in Android TV by announcing it will now support the open-source standard’s inclusion in its own TV-as-a-service (TVaaS) product – powered by its Elevate Cloud IPTV Platform. This will take the form of support for Android TV Operator Tier set-top boxes and Android TV retail devices – making Espial one of the first companies to make Android TV available within a TVaaS environment.

Repeating a commonly-held view about Android at IBC, Michael McClusky, Espial’s VP of Product Management, argued that in a set-top box environment, “one of the things consumers like are applications. So it allows for operator content and applications content to come together on the same platform, fully-integrated, so that a consumer doesn’t have to move away from that.”

McClusky said he understood from IBC’s Android TV event that 125 operators worldwide had now deployed or had committed to deploy Android TV on their systems. “But we’re not religious about Android TV,” he noted.

While deploying Android TV was now “much simplified because of the standardisation on the certification,” he said, “it can still take you – and the Google guys [at the event] said this – six months to get to market with a new box if it’s relatively simple (meaning an IP box), and six, nine, 12, 18 months if it’s got DVD and it’s got various other flavours.” Espial is therefore now looking at pre-certifying and pre-integrating an application that runs on those boxes to keep start-up times and costs to a minimum.

McLusky argues that Espial’s TVaaS service is an ideal vehicle to achieve this. “If you have a very small subscriber count, you pay a very small fee. Your time to market is days, not years. Your upfront cost is relatively small: it’s related not to up-front licences; it really relates to how much it costs to do an initial integration to your billing system or your content.” This allows operators to get started fast and then start offering service, he concludes.

Espial’s Elevate Cloud IPTV Platform is arguably emerging as a half-way house somewhere between a cheap, off-the-shelf, SaaS-based Online Video Platform and traditional operators’ expensive in-house, DIY, best-of-breed OTT integration projects. During the summer, Espial announced a tie-up with Harmonic’s VOS360 media processing SaaS solution to allow video service providers to rapidly launch IPTV and app-based TV services at low cost – and, as IBC opened – revealed it had chosen Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its cloud partner.

“Everything we do on the cloud side is on Amazon,” said McCluskey. “The benefits of Amazon are, for us, in terms of the cost-points, we can scale big and scale small. If you do that all on the cloud you’re able to turn things up and turn things down to match demand. That means it is very cost-efficient.”

However, none of these partnerships should be regarded as limiting operators’ choices, McCluskey insisted. While Harmonic is “our preferred partner, the one we’ve pre-integrated with, if you say, ‘look, I prefer AWS media services, I’d prefer Broadpeak, I’d prefer ATEME, Imagine, then we have APIs that integrate there.

“So we do have some optionality – mainly because in the industry we find this is a place where operators can be very opinionated. If I talk to an operator and they say, ‘look, I’ve invested 20 million dollars to build this processing plane’, there is no way I want to junk that. Then we’ll say ‘fine, we’ll integrate to it.’”

Meanwhile, Espial is looking ahead to work out what sort of ‘plug-ins’ to its platform it might want to offer customers in the future. “Ad integration is definitely one of the plug-ins we would see going forwards,” says McCluskey.

Another is to offer Pay TV operators who would previously have offered detailed paper contracts to their prospective contracts the opportunity to create flexible, non-binding, Netflix-like credit-card sign-up systems. “If you want to have that as a supplemental way, perhaps to address millennials, because you’re getting into OTT, and you want to have a model that is more aligned with that, that is the type of plug-in [we might offer].”

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