The release of Bolt, TiVo’s new DVR, highlights the power of bringing all the video services used by consumers together under one entertainment operating system. It is time for operators to adopt this approach, and to go one step further: make the set-top box an open app platform.
What is the best way for an operator to get OTT apps on the STB and go about delivering the level of video service integration found in Bolt to its customers?
The easiest way might be to partner with TiVo directly to deliver a TiVo powered device. Virgin Media in the UK has done this to great success. Back in 2010 Cox announced that it would allow customers to buy a TiVo at retail and its employees would come and install the device in a subscriber’s home, but it never moved forward on the promise. According to Jim Denney of TiVo, however, the cable company will finally follow through on its commitment.
Another way would be to use an existing hybrid service, like Comcast Xfinity TV or Cox Contour, to aggressively pull in OTT SVOD services into the interface. Cablevision has said it will do this with Hulu, though it’s unclear if the company will follow through with this after the purchase by Altice.
Unfortunately, these two approaches both suffer from the same problem, though operators may not see it that way. Leveraging TiVo or an in-house operating system like RDK (reference design kit), the operator curates all the apps running on the box and only allows the ones it deems appropriate for inclusion. There are many problems with this curated approach for both the consumer and operator, including:
- A very limited set of apps available for the set-top box
- App development is more expensive because there are fewer developers for the platform
- Apps with functionality that lags behind versions on popular OS’ like iOS and Android
This brings me to a third, and I think the best, way to bring the OTT entertainment apps to the operator STB. Operators should seriously consider adopting an open entertainment operating system like Android TV. This, I know, sends shivers of horror down the spines of pay TV executives everywhere. Aside from an ingrained suspicion of Googles intentions, the openness of the Android TV platform goes against everything pay TV operators believe in, but it gets the job done and brings sophisticated search and voice control along for free.
This abhorrence for an open approach was exemplified at TV Connect earlier this year. After laying out a persuasive case for Android TV on operator set-top boxes, Sascha Prueter, Head of Android TV Program Management, was asked by an audience member if an operator could stop a competitor’s app from appearing in the Play Store. Mr. Prueter simply replied no, and went on to say operators have to buy in to the open app store as part of Play and the Android TV framework. As far as the audience was concerned, with that answer Android TV ceased to be an option.
Yet pay TV’s closest partners show no such reluctance to work with Google on Android TV. Just last week the company announced that HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, CBS All Access, and Disney will add apps to Android TV.
What the pay TV industry must accept is that while the set-top box remains an isolated island the services it delivers become increasingly irrelevant to users. Subscribers live in an open world with their smartphones, tablets and PCs; all of which are valid entertainment platforms these days. And TiVo, Roku, Apple and Amazon are happy to step in to the role of entertainment service integrators for their customers.
To effectively compete against these new online competitors, pay TV providers need to adopt an open app set-top box platform now. It is only with such a platform that operators can bring their customers all the content and services they want, keep pay TV services front and center in their lives, and help them find something good to watch in the tidal wave of content available to them.
Why it matters
Pay TV subscribers live in an open world with their smartphones, tablets and PCs; all of which are valid entertainment platforms.
While the pay TV operator set-top box remains an isolated island the services it delivers are become increasingly irrelevant to users.
Operators need to adopt an open app platform for the STB to keep pay TV relevant to subscribers.