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The Euro50 Q&A: Mario Pino, Etisalat

Etisalat is emerging as a global player in the delivery of over-the-top multiscreen TV services, and Mario Pino, director, business development and strategy, digital media services unit, has been instrumental in developing its IPTV 2.0 platform.

Age 48

Education Studied International Business and Economics at Illinois Benedictine College and Finance and Economics at the University of Arizona.

Last year’s highlights Since July 2010 until the present, a core team consisting of marketing, engineering, and IT members, embarked on the implementation of the IPTV 2.0 platform, and its Phase 1 services.  The Phase 1 services consisted of over 37 unique services and features. The IPTV 2.0 platform was soft launched in May and commercially announced publicly as ‘launched’ during the Gitex 2011 event in mid October. Another two ‘phases’ will complete the vision of the IPTV 2.0 platform, and these phases will be completed between Q4 2011 (Phase 2) and Q2 2012 (Phase 3).   Today, close to 100,000 customers are enjoying the eLife TV experience with improvements made to the network, provisioning, user interface, and operations of the service every day. In parallel to being the IPTV marketing launch director, in early 2010, I began the implementation of the OTT strategy.  The strategy initially consisted of Etisalat having an OTT service on its own STB that could become an IPTV (with OTT) just by users doing a software upgrade.  By Q3 2010, we decided that in parallel to Etisalat having its own STB that could start as an OTT service and end up as an IPTV STB, which still has the OTT service within the menu, the team embarked on the ambitious plan of porting the Etisalat OTT service on as many devices that were considered ‘strategic in nature’.  These devices would enable users to access the Etisalat OTT service via a TV, a PC, a mobile, and a tablet.  In July, we watched the Etisalat OTT service, eLife OnWeb, brought to market on the LG Smart TV platform.  Today the eLife OnWeb service can be discovered by an end-user using an LG Smart TV Upgrader, LG 3D Audio Systems, LG Blueray DVD Player, a PC (via a Web Browser), an iPad from Apple and/or Tablets/Pad from Samsung and Huawei respectively, hybrid satellite receivers, and an Android OS set-top box.  In addition to the devices listed above, Etisalat is working on another 10-plus additional devices that will be ready to deliver the eLife OnWeb service to end-users by the end of Q2 2012. It is our goal that over two million devices will be able to provide seamless multi-screen access of the Etisalat eLife TV and/or the eLife OnWeb service to hundreds of thousands by the end of 2012.

Most significant industry development The rapid increase in ‘connectable devices’, including Smart TV and Blu-ray DVD players; Netflix’s rise and fall, providing a lesson that the service should be on everything, that even the best management team can have a misstep, but that the content industry needs Netflix (so do users); WebKit becoming a mainstream development platform for many devices; HTML5 gaining developer and device community acceptance; shipments of Android device manufacturers surpassing Apple; Google TV, Android for TV; CDNs finally taking interest in the Middle East and offering technology and delivery; Netflix launching internationally, thus raising awareness that ‘they can’ and telcos need to be ready (or preempt).

Goals for next year In 2012, we will go beyond traditional linear TV with value added enhancements.  In 2012, we will continue enriching the user experience that we have today strengthening the convergence of the IPTV and OTT platforms.  This continued convergence will enable our team to commercialise the more than 40 multi-screen, social, and smart home services that are part of our OTT roadmap and the 30-plus social, community, recommendation, and multi-screen services that are part of the IPTV 2.0 Phase 3 roadmap for 2012. This continued work on both the IPTV and OTT platforms will change the everyday lives of an estimated 500,000-plus customers in the UAE, no matter if via a TV, a PC, a mobile, or a xPad/Tablet, in ways that they did not believe possible. From a purely Etisalat perspective, 2012 is the year where users will truly experience an ‘eLife’.

Industry challenges and opportunities Watching carefully what parts of the overall OTT value chain Google will attempt to ‘grab’; HTML5 becoming the first application development choice, thus furthering the acceleration of multiscreen service convergence and deployment; new ‘direct to consumer’ OTT Service Providers leveraging deployed connectable devices continuing to fragment the market and how telcos and ISPs will deal with the threat; converged UIs across many screens, where relevant content is offered (i.e. recommended) to users that is based on the device being used, that is linked to a single user account having many ‘registered ‘devices become reality; new advertising models that take advantage of the TV screen, which is local and personal.

Alternative career choice I love being part of creating an experience that is relevant to a consumer.  Therefore, if I would have not worked in the digital TV/media industry, my passion for food would have led me to being a part of the food industry, specifically working internationally for a major global food industry player.

TV character most identified with Luke Skywalker, from Star Wars.  I will never forget seeing Princess Lea coming out of R2D2 in the broken image before taking R2D2 to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars.  As a young adult, I remember saying to myself that I want to somehow play a key role in delivery of an experience in the living rooms and devices of people as I had at that moment, and here I am today.  When I joined Etisalat, I saw a blank canvas and a lot of ‘crayons’.  With those ‘crayons’ I was asked to draw a picture of how things would look for Etisalat five years from that day.  I can honestly say that five years later, the picture is going from being a black and white trace of a picture, to colors being added to certain areas of the picture.  The picture is far from complete, but we have about two years to go and am happy that I am playing a key role in bringing this painting to its completion

Most admired personality I have always admired Bill Gates because of his work at Microsoft as their CEO and even today as one of the world’s top philanthropist.  While at Microsoft, he executed on a vision of building a great product that will be supported/backed by a great organization, all while creating an ecosystem of partners that depending on their part of the innovation on what Microsoft brought to them, had the potential of rising and falling financially. As he elected to hand over his day-to-day responsibilities to his long time trusted friend and COO, Steve Balmer, he could have taken his billions and lived a peaceful life with his family.  Instead, he elected to build one the largest (if not the largest) private funds that is supporting initiatives worldwide from giving children a chance to learn, to eradicating curable diseases in developing countries, to building health facilities to building wells and helping communities become self sufficient.

Life outside work When I get a block of leisure time, my priorities turn to spending quality time with my sons and wife, thanking God for all of the blessings that have been given me to me, supporting our local church, and water sports (e.g. jet skiing, boating, snorkeling, and diving).

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