In recent years, ActiveVideo has been relatively quiet. In 2015, ARRIS (now CommScope) and Charter Communications acquired them for $135 million. Since then, they announced J:Com’s deployment in 2017 of their cloud-UI technology, powering new content discovery on the operator’s existing set-tops. But that’s about all.
Quiet, however, doesn’t mean dormant. Based in San Jose, with offices in Hilversum, the Netherlands, ActiveVideo says it is now delivering virtualized content to more than 18 million set-top devices. A large chunk of that activity is centered around the guide for Charter’s Spectrum TV service. (Charter is the second largest MSO in the U.S.) “That deployment has gone quite well,” said Jeff Miller, ActiveVideo CEO. “We’ve gained a lot of experience from it.”
At IBC, ActiveVideo shared what it has in mind for its next act, namely: combining its learnings in virtualization with the strength and appeal of the Android TV ecosystem. By mid-2020, the interactive TV pioneer plans to have up and running AppCloud, enabling Pay TV operators to give their subscribers easy access to app-based video.
On existing platforms, some operators have struggled to provide even a couple of popular applications, such as Netflix or YouTube. Meanwhile, new, big-name apps are on the way, with Disney+ and Apple TV+ both scheduled to launch in November.
Consumer demand for apps is growing, and software developers have built up a large supply. ActiveVideo is proposing that operators facilitate rather than block access to this market. “We’re not talking two or three,’ said Miller. “We’re talking hundreds.”
The number is even bigger. Google, which owns Android TV, said earlier this year its platform has more than 5,000 apps and games. And it’s gaining traction, putting those apps within reach of more consumers. In a keynote address at IBC, Shalini Govil-Pai, Head of Android TV, said that Android TV is being deployed in six out of ten smart TVs and is now used by more than 140 Pay TV operator partners.
The question is how operators can best tap into the app market. Two standard approaches are managed services and DIY. On the one hand, an operator can work with Google – or Apple or Roku – on a turnkey solution, while giving up some measure of control. Building your own, on the other hand, can be a big task. It means using an open platform such as RDK or Android Open Source Project (AOSP), dealing with partners, certifying and maintaining apps, and ensuring that subscriber devices can keep pace.
That last requirement is especially onerous. Active Video believes taxing those devices with ever larger processing and memory requirements is, in the end, a losing proposition. Instead, it thinks operators should consider a third way, leveraging virtualization along existing Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) capabilities (not to be confused with CPU). “Every box over the last five years has a GPU,” said Ron Brockmann. “This is a really easy way to get apps out and scale them.”
Using Open Graphics Library (GL) to stream commands rather than MPEG streams may sound like an odd way to power a TV experience, but ActiveVideo, has proven correct in the past. When Time Warner Cable’s Full Service Network, back in the mid-90s, thought ATM was the way to deliver advanced video services, ActiveVideo – then known as ICTV – was proposing TCP/IP. When MSOs later tacked toward thick clients, they jibed thin.
Then one large Pay TV provider copied ActiveVideo, but a bit too closely. In, 2012, ActiveVideo won at $260 million judgement and undisclosed patent infringement settlement against Verizon. The IP-based, thin-client and virtualized approach has prevailed. Even if not signing up with ActiveVideo and their new offering, it’s probably a good idea not to bet against them.