Long reads

Q&A: Milya Timergaleyeva, Oregan Networks on pay TV and interactivity

Oregan Networks vice-president of market strategy, Milya Timergaleyeva, talks to DTVE about the challenges facing the pay TV industry and the future of interactive services.

Milya_TimergaleyevaWhat are the main challenges that the pay TV industry is facing today?

Following the initial wave of IP-connected deployments and large-scale vendor consolidation, operators are in the process of re-assessing the fundamentals of their approach to service delivery. Business models, network architectures, vendor relations and product definitions are being challenged for long-term sustainability, alignment with overall corporate objectives and return on investment. The strategy for subscriber retention, which is intrinsically linked to the vast real estate of legacy STB devices and head end infrastructures, is probably the most technically and financially challenging in this increasingly competitive space.

Oregan’s media delivery platform and architecture design expertise have crucially contributed to the industry’s first IPTV system upgrade cycle which substitutes the Microsoft Mediaroom platform. The move gave a second lease of life to approximately 80%, or nearly 0.5 million, pre-deployed STBs, through incorporation of substantial new features on five-years-old legacy hardware units. These new features include an enhanced EPG and personal video recording, multicast IPTV capabilities and a conditional access security uplift. We are pleased to see successful fruition of this complex end-to-end transformation initiative that ultimately yields synchronisation of capabilities between legacy and next generation hybrid IPTV CPE, whilst harmonising around a single head-end platform for OTT and managed IPTV service delivery.

The pay TV market is still divided into two distinct camps defined by the choice of the dominant media delivery infrastructure: the incumbent broadcast MSO and the telco-led IPTV deployments.

The Cable and Satellite segment is currently ahead of the telecom operators in terms of content purchasing power due to subscriber critical mass, strong relationships with the studios, favorable regulatory conditions and well-established and trusted positioning with consumers. On the other hand, the quality and pre-existing IP connectivity of IPTV legacy platforms naturally renders them more future-proof and capable to run next generation features – an advantage that is even more tangible in emerging markets.

Has the digital TV industry experienced any trend-forming shifts in 2013?

As the digital media industry is going mobile, the most affluent wireless segment of the telecoms market is showing a strong intent to lead with “TV Everywhere” style products. Oregan is embracing this trend by offering new software features for second screen viewing, companion screen applications and remote connectivity to the host entertainment device. Convenience and consistent cross-platform user experience are at the heart of this innovation which is planned to power new 4G and home-tethered operator products in the mobile telecoms market in early 2014.

Secondly, the CPE product development cycles have shortened. This is the effect of increased standardisation for content authoring and metadata delivery, sophistication of SOC – system on a chip – designs available in the market, and the increased proliferation and acceptance of software based, card-less conditional access.

And finally, as a complete middleware provider and device system integration specialist, we’ve witnessed the operator’s preferences shifting to simplified blueprint designs and focusing their development efforts on the overall user account management workflow and UX as key points of differentiation.

Overall, recent consolidation has sent ripples through the ecosystem. The answers have changed for many of the tier 1 and 2 operators globally, forcing them to become more involved in system design, ensuring sustainable, internally managed long-term roadmaps for services and features.

What are free-to-air broadcasters’ priorities when selecting an interactive platform and how well-aligned are they with TV and device manufacturers?

The free-to-air broadcasters in the UK see additional platforms as a way to achieve greater reach and engagement with audiences. Since the introduction of catch up services on tablets, mobile phones and PC, the viewer numbers have been growing exponentially, very much in line with industry expectations. Broadcasters are primarily guided by the simple maths:  high adoption numbers justify the investment into customizing, deployment and support of a service version for a specific platform.

How much convergence is there between the vertically integrated pay TV market and the horizontal free-to-air retail market when it comes to technology to enable interactive services?

In the UK, the two markets co-exist symbiotically. Consumers have come to expect to be able to access free and subscription based catch-up services, as well as a good selection of premium Hollywood content on the same device or service. When it comes to technology, we see vertical operators starting to seriously look into the reduced level of complexity of the off-the shelf standards-based designs that are increasingly employed in the retail space.

In some cases, operators are willing to take this a step further by tapping into a retail-based distribution model and revenue-share commercials with the manufacturers.

As a technology platform vendor catering for both categories of connected devices, we see that today’s main distinction between the horizontal OTT and vertical IPTV markets lies in utilisation of traffic shaping, QoS-related modules, as well as remote diagnostics and service monitoring. These capabilities, if harnessed to their full extent, continue to provide telecom operators with a well-defined advantage over the retail consumer electronics model.

Over time, however, the boundaries between OTT and managed services, are bound to become blurred as both segments start working together to reach subscribers on any device and any network.

What are the main benefits of standards such as HTML5 and HbbTV for interactive TV service providers?

We believe that applications and UX authoring cycles for multiple platforms can be reduced as the app community embraces the efficiencies and richness of HTML 5. In particular, a standardised approach to media playback functionalities via the HTML 5 video tag property removes the challenge of bespoke media player integration.

HbbTV holds the promise of linking broadcast and broadband worlds of content, offering the means of simultaneous, unicast-style, one-to-one media communication in conjunction with linear broadcast content.  Data mining and bespoke application delivery capabilities linked to this scenario create new revenue generation opportunities for internet publishers and broadcasters alike.

From the point of view of the web application developer’s community, HbbTV’s main drawback is its current prescription of the now-legacy CE-HTML – currently based on HTML 4.01 version – standard, whereas most of the newly deployed content is well progressed on the path of HTML 5. The future combination of the HbbTV and HTML 5 standards provides a solid technology platform for expanding entertainment and interactivity options.

How important is content search and discovery to service providers and what are the big technical challenges in delivering it?

With ever expanding libraries of content available as linear, on-demand, and personally aggregated assets, content discovery is not simply a method of selling additional content to the end consumer – it is one of the defining attributes of perceived quality of the service overall.

Thankfully, technology powering video search engines is mature and borrows heavily on the internet’s extensive history of collecting personal browsing data. The challenge rather appears to be in designing the application front end and devising back office data analytics engines that translate such data into meaningful content suggestions.

Oregan offers its media client software APIs that allow for extensive data mining and usage pattern extrapolation, which can power a highly personalised content discovery UX, as well as video-based promotion of new releases and recommended content.

What was Oregan highlighting at IBC and what further plans do you have for the year ahead?

Oregan’s main theme during the show was the demonstration of connected features across a range of platforms with varying capabilities that are defined by the amount of processing power, physical memory and storage capabilities. We have developed a proven and simple process of porting Oregan Media Browser 5 middleware on both legacy and next generation STBs, empowering operators to run POC services in a matter of weeks.

We expect the year ahead to be underscored with further industry consolidation and technology alliances. Some of the headline trends, such as the increasing appearance of ARM-based CPE in the pay TV market, the entrance of mobile operators into the pay TV video market with any time  – any device movie streaming services and applications, capitalising on newly deployed 4G networks, as well as tighter association of cable and satellite operators with the internet ecosystem – will continue gaining momentum. Oregan’s focus will be shared across further core technology development carrying those trends to fruition, and further strengthening the platform integration and consultancy services that will enable operators to benefit from the depth and diversity of Oregan’s expertise in the pay TV market.