Today’s digital entertainment sector is more fragmented than ever: it’s downright confusing for some. The now perennial threat of cord cutting hovers like a sword of Damocles for incumbent Pay TV operators worldwide. In parallel, premium content brands and broadcasters who are intent on forging direct, profitable relationships with viewers on multiple screens are getting to grips with how difficult their ambition is to achieve. Moreover, they all have become acutely aware – often through bitter experience – how a loyal relationship with a subscriber can quickly lead to a complete turnoff if the service is at all difficult to navigate or if finding the content which the viewer desires is even just a bit inconvenient or not intuitive enough.
What all incumbent and prospective TV providers have in common is the strong desire to create a service which consumers will truly love, recommend to their friends and colleagues, and happily pay for over the long term.
Fortunately, that vision for what makes a next-generation, truly compelling TV service is becoming clearer. To the surprise of many – and to the anxiety of some – none other than Google is emerging as the TV service provider’s best friend on this journey.
To examine what a great TV experience feels like, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the viewer, or sit on his or her sofa, trusty remote in hand, as it were. What do viewers really want? What does a great TV experience feel like?
We think the answer is pretty clear: People want lots of great content, linear, live and on-demand, originating from broadcasters as well as from apps and the web – all seamlessly offered in one attractive interface, smorgasbord-style, and easily searchable for viewing at any time.
Importantly, TV needs to be ultra-easy-to-use, and ultimately, personal. Enabling the best possible user experience is absolutely paramount.
Sounds simple, but we all know that making it happen isn’t.
Creating harmony cross-content and cross-device
Consumers today have intimate relationships with their mobile devices and clever TV service providers understand the importance of enabling all users’ favourite apps and features on as many of them as possible. People expect the experience across devices to be seamless, facilitating a harmonious flow as the viewer moves from one device to the next. And this includes the connected TV and set-top box (STB), both of which have generally lagged behind in terms of being places where people expect beautiful, innovative and fun experiences.
Operators have finally realised the value of weaving together these viewing paradigms, and of optimising their apps and UIs to take advantage of the strengths inherent to each device. Enabling the most popular services, features and apps normally resident on mobiles and laptops as part of their Pay TV offerings is now widely considered a basic business necessity.
Enter Google, and in particular its continuously evolving Android TV Operator Tier proposition. By selecting Operator Tier – which we observe is increasingly taken as granted when people talk about Android TV in general – service providers are empowered to launch, right out of the gate, an impressive array of attractive services familiar to, and loved by, subscribers. These include Google Cast and the huge array of apps from Google Play Store, with Netflix taking centre stage, alongside YouTube, etc.
Critically, Google has demonstrated its commitment to learn from operators – and its understanding that operators are key business partners – by providing them with great flexibility as regards branding, with customised launcher and UX.
Google does require operators choosing Android TV to include certain apps on the box as pre-requisites, and there are guidelines on display order that need to be adhered to. But today’s Android TV gives operators huge freedoms, with latitude for creativity and design, and enabling operator-centric monetisation potential once unimaginable in the early days of Android TV.
With today’s Android TV, operators can position their own content at the forefront of the subscriber’s view, thereby enhancing the operator’s promotion and cross-selling opportunities. Meanwhile, they are delivering appealing features like the Google Assistant, paired with all relevant apps like Netflix and, from this Summer, Prime Video from Amazon, all to provide a superior customer experience – all straight out of the box.
Google Assistant is especially showing itself to be a game-changer: Voice control now plays a central role in people’s lives, and Assistant is redefining what’s possible in a search. It’s proving a powerful product differentiator for operators including Com Hem and Canal Digital.
Google is helping operators to travel the road to future TV
The number of Android TV projects being rolled out around the world has grown phenomenally in the last 18 months: 50 pay-TV operators debuted Android TV products in 2018, and Google’s forecast for 2019 is a whopping 140 projects.
Many are by broadcasters eager to connect with their audiences online via OTT. but we are increasingly seeing platform deployments from major triple and quad play providers involving millions of cable and/or satellite TV homes.
Several lighthouse projects launched in 2018 have gained international attention. They include Sweden’s largest cable operator Com Hem Group, which opted for an Android TV client with custom launcher to power its UHD-4K hybrid STB, Com Hem TV Hub. the first-ever major hybrid Android TV Operator Tier STB deployment.
Also last year, the Nordic region’s largest satellite TV provider, Canal Digital AS introduced its new Android TV based OnePlace satellite and OTT platform. This platform also includes a customised UHD front end and STB user interface. (Both projects in the region which gave the smorgasbord to the world.)
The next generation Android TV offerings we are seeing nowadays offer fully branded, customised and immersive user interfaces which present apps and content, alongside increasingly intelligent recommendations, elegantly. These new realities which TV viewers are able to enjoy seem a world away from those earliest game-changing Android projects.
The operator benefits are myriad. With the many pre-integrated extras incorporated into Android TV Operator Tier, project rollouts can be accelerated, the need to invest in third party app integration is minimised, and licensing is streamlined. Faster time-to-market, lower overall costs, and speedier ignition of revenue flow are proving an irresistible cocktail to a growing population of service providers.
More and more of them regard Google’s latest Android TV offerings to be overwhelmingly compelling, a sure-fire way to help keep subscribers loyal. Proven and much-loved content and services, efficiently and cost-effectively deployable, was bound to be a winner for many operators.
As to what the future holds, and what kind of a partner Google will prove over time, who’s to say. Operators will certainly strive to retain, or increase, business freedoms and flexibility in their relationships with Google, aiming to make sure it stays a win-win for all. But with so many service providers nailing their colours to the mast and deploying Android TV Operator Tier to underpin their strategies for next-generation services, it is reasonable to say a revolution is underway, and the visionary operators embracing Android TV are leading the charge.
The journey to that content-rich, easy-to-use, personal TV nirvana is underway. There is little doubt that Google is helping operators to get there sooner.
Editor’s note – more on this subject
Connected TV World Summit 2019 included an Android TV Workshop, hosted by Android TV, during which Pierre Donath, Director Product and Marketing, 3SS, discussed ‘How to shape the Future of TV with Operator Tier’. You can see that presentation here.
Com Hem and Canal Digital were both acclaimed for their Android-based next-generation platforms at this year’s Connies Awards – see here.