Vewd started life in 2002 as Opera TV, initially offering rendering technology for interactive TV middleware. Since then, the company has moved with the times and now provides software solutions for over-the-top (OTT) video and hybrid TV. Here, CEO Aneesh Rajaram discusses the company’s evolution, the opportunities in the video-tech space and how viewing habits are likely to look five years from now.
-Describe Vewd and the company’s core focus?
Vewd is the world’s largest smart TV OTT software provider. Companies like Sony, Philips, Sagemcom, Swisscom, Verizon, Vestel and many more rely on us to make OTT and hybrid TV work on almost 50 million devices each year.
Our primary focus is to build the products and services that help smart TV manufacturers, Pay TV operators and content owners navigate the increasingly complex and fast-evolving TV landscape to produce successful and timely outcomes with their OTT offerings.
-When was the company founded and how has its strategy changed since then?
Vewd started as Opera TV, a division of Opera Software, back in 2002 when it delivered browser-based rendering technology to Canal Plus Technologies. This was used to enhance the world’s first interactive TV middleware. Soon after, the current core management team coalesced around developing software to render UIs and stream video on the Nintendo Wii, which was truly the world’s first streaming TV device. In 2007, the product portfolio expanded to help Philips launch the world’s first smart TV.
Since then, the smart TV industry has evolved rapidly, inspiring also the Pay TV industry, and Vewd quickly grew its blue-chip customer base to include major TV brands and leading Pay TV operators by focusing on a unique product development and partnership approach. At one end, Vewd pushed the boundaries to build the market’s most modern products that meet both consumer and customer demand. At the other end, Vewd partnered and invested heavily with silicon vendors to ensure its products were always ready on a range of silicon chipsets, thereby hitting critical market windows for customer product launches.
Today, as the industry’s only independent, white-labelled software provider that offers solutions for hybrid TV and OTT, Vewd has focused on widening the availability of its product offering to achieve massive scale. Vewd’s products are designed to be completely turn-key or modular and available across all key silicon vendors, across any OS, across any form factor, and from entry-level to high-end devices. Furthermore, Vewd allows its customers to lead with their brand and allows for truly differentiated offerings.
-Who do you see as your biggest competitors and how do differentiate yourself?
Depending on the Vewd product in question, key competitors could range from in-house solutions from large corporations (eg. Samsung Tizen, LG WebOS, Comcast Xfinity) for our modular software, and large Internet companies (eg. Google’s Android TV, Amazon’s Fire TV, Roku TV) for our turn-key software.
As an independent provider, Vewd differentiates itself by developing key software modules that can be deployed cross-platform: any silicon vendor, middleware, form factor or OS. For example, nearly 90% of Android TVs include Vewd’s software modules, enabling critical features such as hybrid TV that allow for these TVs to be sold. Furthermore, for our turn-key software, Vewd OS, we have highly optimised our software to enable smart TV features on entry-level TVs and selected a white-label approach to allow OEMs and operators to lead with their brand and differentiate their offerings. This helps our customers fulfil their product vision.
Finally, by ensuring our business model compliments rather than competes with our customers’ ambitions, we’re able to think long term and deliver to them high-quality software that secures their annual deployments.
-What do you see as the biggest opportunities in the video/technology space and what are the biggest challenges?
There are a number of vibrant opportunities in the video space right now. We see a bright future and considerable growth for live TV. This skews especially to sports content. According to eMarketer, sports digital media rights will have substantial growth over the next three to five years (11.5%). But traditional TV rights will see only slow growth (3.2%).
There’s also an opportunity for AVOD services as SVOD services become entrenched. We’ll see if there’s an upper bound with so many premium SVOD services demanding a share of the consumer’s wallet. With 42% of US households having three SVOD subscriptions, the coming launch of Disney+ will be a great litmus test. Will the number of households stacking four subscriptions increase? If it does top out, more viewing will take place on AVOD services. This also implies there is a coming boom in targeted advertising opportunities.
On the technology side, Hybrid TV standards like HbbTV and ATSC 3.0 provide tremendous opportunities and new business models for free-to-air operators, who are making a comeback in the US and expanding in the EU. HbbTV Operator Apps, which create a virtual set-top box in software, can help operators reduce capital expenditure and even do away with set-top boxes altogether. We expect more of the free-to-air operators, in particular, to embrace Operator Apps this year.
5G will have a tremendous impact, although the current US-China trade war and sanctions against Huawei may slow the rollout somewhat. 5G can expand the reach of long-form 4K and HD content, solve last mile connectivity into more homes. We should expect 5G-connected HDMI dongles to bring streaming video into more homes.
These opportunities are balanced by several thorny challenges. First, content production, discovery, and personalisation. The current discovery model is biased towards the large players because they have enough user data to make good recommendations. But as programming options expand and as more heavyweights enter the game, the sheer vastness of the content available becomes a problem. Is all of this production viable? Can the amount of production be sustained to keep undiscovered creators motivated? These are questions we’ll know the answer to in several years.
The slow pace of linear TV advertising budgets moving to fund free OTT services. Corresponding to the growth of AVOD, we see a tremendous opportunity in the space, but the shift of budgets from linear TV to OTT is quite slow at the moment. The pace needs to improve to support continued growth.
Lastly, the economics of 4K and 8K content delivery are a major challenge. Transport costs are still high and create OPEX disadvantages. This acts as a brake on adoption and deployment even though consumer uptake of 4K TVs is better than anyone expected.
-What innovation or development do you think has had the biggest impact on the video market as it stands today?
If I had to pick just one of the recent shifts we’ve witnessed, I would pick the advent of IP-delivered video and the opportunity it provides for consumption on any screen, at any location. This has led to increased viewership and engagement on all forms of content from live to on-demand. We’re still in the early days of this massive opportunity.
-How do you think the video market and viewing habits will look five years from now?
First, OTT share of total video, in hours per day, will outpace linear TV but not replace it. We’ll see Gen X and Gen Y drive this shift, consuming more on-demand IP-delivered video across screens. Gen Z will enjoy the same video within a more engaging lean-forward experience, much like we see with Twitch. Hence, we can anticipate new technology providing the tools and distribution paths for content creators to bring these Gen Z experiences also onto the big screen.
In the on-demand video market, major OTT players will be well established and we will see clear global and regional winners. While not all SVOD services will survive, some will continue through consolidation or acquisition.
5G will begin to make its mark and make OTT access truly ubiquitous and available on a multitude of devices. Additionally, codecs and standards will evolve to support wider OTT availability, lowering the economic barriers that exist today.