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Liberty Global’s Fries unveils plans on Horizon

Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries used the opening day of the IBC conference in Amsterdam to unveil the new Horizon set-top box, which will be rolled out first on UPC Netherlands’ network in the first quarter of next year before being launched on UPC Cablecom in Switzerland and Unitymedia in Germany soon after.

The operator is currently running field trials of the box in the Netherlands ahead of moving to consumer trials later in the year.

Liberty Global will work with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others to develop applications for a standards-based app store, offering apps and widgets that customers will be able to download to their Horizon boxes. About 60 content partners have already developed apps for the new platform.

Horizon will also comprise an online video store, with about 3,000 titles. In addition to the set-top platform, the Horizon service will be able to deliver content to the iPad, which can also be used as a companion device to control the main set-top/gateway.

Fries said that delivering content outside the home on the iPad was more complex because of rights issues. “It’s largely a rights issue…people are slicing and dicing rights. We have to continue to work with rights holders to provide content out of the home but our first ambition is to provide as much content as possible in the home on those devices,” he said.

The operator plans to bundle the boxes with its triple-play offering rather than sell it to subscribers at a premium. Fries said that Liberty Global was keen to drive penetration rather than make substantial additional ARPU from the box itself. “We have not disclosed pricing but it’s not substantial,” he said. “We don’t anticipate doubling the revenue with this platform. If we create a huge barrier to entry – even a double-digit euro barrier – we are not going to [succeed]. We are going to make it easy for people to become a part of it. It’s partly a retention tool and partly an opportunity.”
Fries said he believed the Horizon platform would appeal to analogue customers as much as to existing digital customers. “We have a huge opportunity to bring it into these homes without worrying about box replacement costs,” he said.

Fries said that he believed consumers in the German market, traditionally perceived to be cautious and conservative, would embrace Horizon. “The German market has all the characteristics for this platform. They have disposable income and will pay for value. If we can offer a value-driven service we will have great success in that market,” he said.

Asked about the challenge of keeping up with the pace of innovation expected by early adopters used to consuming content on the internet while holding the loyalty of conservative and older cable consumers, Fries also said that he did not believe Horizon would become outdated. He said that applications were becoming more and more cloud-based and software-driven, removing the need to replace in-home equipment every few years.