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How Android TV has leveled the playing field for operators

This article hails Android TV Operator Tier as an important example of standardisation that has resulted in a win-win for Pay TV operators and consumers, with greater access to on-demand streaming an obvious benefit. Supporting operator brand identity within the UI, with operator VOD catalogues alongside broadcast channels and OTT content, all with minimal development time and costs, Android TV has become an undoubted success. There are now at least 170 Pay TV operators who are Android TV partners, and the author reckons Operator Tier has levelled the playing field and made Pay TV more competitive.

Carl Francis, Head of Operator Solutions, Accedo
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When on-demand streaming really started to take off around 2010, many operators found themselves on the back foot. Suddenly, they were competing against an opponent that played to a different set of rules. To compound the problem, set-top boxes were (and often still are) limited in what they were able to offer. They struggled to provide the advanced functionality and slick UX that users of streaming services had grown to expect.

Developing a set-top box platform that is able to support on-demand services, and with cool features such as voice control and personalisation, takes considerable development time and investment. As on-demand streaming grew, consumers increasingly wanted access to additional services, but it was not commercially viable for operators to source hardware and software for each new UI development programme (nor was there incentive or investment for device manufacturers to develop a suitable solution themselves). At a time when more viewers were starting to watch on-demand content, the absence of a completely standardised OS platform was a real barrier for operators who were eager to break into a rapidly growing market.

The power of standardisation

While there had been some standardisation efforts before the launch of Android TV in 2014, such as DVB-MHP & OCAP, HTML5, and lower level frameworks like RDK, these were only partially standardised offerings and as such, were insufficient.

Following Android TV’s launch, operators had, for the first time, a low-cost and straightforward route into the on-demand TV market. The platform made it possible to launch a service that was capable of accessing a huge number of apps, and included cool features such as voice control and personalised recommendations. Importantly, because it was standardised, it was possible to do this without the levels of investment that would previously have been necessary. Entering the on-demand market had become commercially viable.

The straight-out-of-the-box Android TV platform fulfills the needs of those operators who don’t need customisation on top of the standard features of app store, voice control, and personalised recommendations. However, given the highly competitive nature of the industry, operators naturally seek out ways to give their service an edge, to make it stand out from competitors. Customization is the obvious way to achieve that aim.

Customisation with minimal cost

Recognising the need for high level customisation, Google launched the Android TV Operator Tier programme in 2016. At this point, it became possible to build brand identity into the UI by customising the platform, while at the same time saving on development time and costs. The standard Google launcher boot screen can be fully customised, and the platform configured to incorporate operators’ on-demand catalogue, broadcast linear channels and OTT content. All of this is accessed and controlled under a fully configurable EPG.

The Operator Tier programme supported operators to aggregate third-party content while enabling their own content to be prioritised. This remains an important feature because aggregation, being widely accepted, is one of the tools that help operators stay relevant and competitive.

This ability to fully customise the platform with minimal development time and costs has most likely helped Android TV grow in popularity, and at the same time has provided operators with a solid foothold in the on-demand market. This growth in popularity since its inception is evident in the number of operators who have adopted the platform. There are now at least 170 Pay TV operators who are Android TV partners, and the number appears to be on the increase.

Android’s popularity as a mobile phone OS platform has probably helped pave the way for its growth within the TV sector. The standardised approach makes it easy for app developers to migrate apps from mobile to TV, which in turn ensures that consumers are presented with a lot of choice. In addition, consumer familiarity with Android OS functionality, such as Google assistant and voice control functions, makes it a less risky choice for operators who are weighing up the pros and cons of different platforms.

With its standardised approach, Android TV has undoubtedly played an important role in leveling the playing field by giving operators a way to break into the on-demand market.

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