As they search for
new ways to give their subscribers more HDTV content and interactivity, many pay TV
providers have taken a hard look at hybrid set-top boxes that afford access to "over-the-top"
content from the Internet. Veronique Malan, Advanced Digital Broadcast's vice
president of worldwide marketing, recently talked with HD Update contributor
George Winslow about ADB's long-standing interest in hybrid boxes and its work
helping TV providers deploy more HD services.
MCN: What have been
some of your key strategies for developing products to help operators expand
their HD offerings?
Veronique Malan: First,
we have a strong vision that the future of TV, and especially high-definition
TV, is going to hybrid, meaning that broadcast TV will be combined with over-the-top
TV and that consumers will be accessing both types of content throughout the
home. A lot of the products we are delivering to our customers are already
hybrid and hybrid-enabled.
The second key strategy we have is really focusing on the
consumer-TV experience and trying to enhance that. With the introduction of HD,
consumers are getting more concerned about the quality for the image, the audio,
etc. When they change channels, they don't want to wait for two or three
seconds for the HD picture to come up.
MCN: What are some examples of that, in terms
of your newer products?
VM: At [the] IBC
[convention in Amsterdam], we
demonstrated a couple of products and functionalities that are quite exciting
in terms of consumer experience.
One was actually what we call "smooth view." Today, when you
fast-forward through an HD program using your DVR, you see the frames jumping
around. What we've done at ADB with smooth view is that you can fast-forward or
rewind through the more boring part and still follow the program perfectly.
The other part was demonstrating how fast our boxes are. With
our boxes, you can get an instant response so that you can flip through the HD
channels the way you used to be able to do in the good old days when you had
just analog TV. So we've basically getting back to the basics and improving the
consumer experience. [To achieve that] it is not a matter of having a faster
chip; it is also unlocking the chip's speed by optimizing the software and we
have a lot of experience doing that.
MCN: For ADB, what
have been the strongest sectors in terms of demand for HD set-top boxes?
VM: We have been
traditionally been strong in all of them, but right now about 50% in 2009 sales
were in cable, and rest are being split between satellite and IPTV and
MCN: What are your
VM: Right now,
our stronghold is Europe. Over 80% of our activity comes
from Europe, both Western Europe
and Eastern Europe, where we are quite strong and have
launched quite a lot of products in Eastern Europe.
It is interesting because conventional wisdom would probably
say that Eastern Europe is an emerging market and that
it would probably not be looking for mature and advanced technology. But we've
had quite a lot of success with our most advanced boxes. In Eastern
Europe, like Western Europe, the operators
are eager to attract new customers and retain them with high quality services. So
products like HD DVRs have been successful.
Our operator partner in Hungary
was actually the first one to launch HD services in Hungary
and we were also the first one to launch DVR offering in Poland.
Those advanced services have seen a very nice pickup in Eastern
MCN: What are you doing the United States and North America?
VM: We are
investing in the U.S.
market and, so far, we have been successful in the IPTV market. We are not very
visible because we are selling through distributors but in the first half of
2009, one of the U.S.
distributors actually made it into our list of the top ten customers worldwide.
We have a nice volume going for us in the U.S.
in IPTV, mostly tier two or three operators, but it adds up to a very nice
MCN: What kind of interest do you see in
hybrid set-top boxes that allow subscribers to access Internet content, and
perhaps provide operators with a way to expand the range of the HD content they
VM: Hybrid set-top
boxes are a topic that is dear to our hearts. We have been expecting the demand
for hybrid boxes to take off for a while and we've been getting ready for that.
I think we launched our first hybrid box at least five years ago and today,
about 80% of the boxes we sell are hybrid or hybrid-ready. So we have a lot of
experience in that area.
At this point, they've taken off a lot of faster in Europe
than in America.
Right now, all the broadcasters see [online video] as a good
opportunity to capture more of the consumer's viewing time. In addition, the
consumer is not only going to expect to watch video, he would like to access
social-networking sites, etc., so [hybrid boxes] are an opportunity for operators
to bring all that experience to the TV.
But it isn't just a matter of bringing the Internet straight
to the TV. It is really mater of repurposing the internet so that it is easy to
consume on the TV.
For example, we are working with one of our partners on an
application that will enable you to access Facebook, YouTube and other popular
applications in a way that is reformatted for the TV and easy to navigate on
the TV with your remote control.
So it is not just about bringing interactivity to the TV but
actually making the experience richer.
There are also some opportunities for the operators when you
start thinking about the social networking facilities and recommendation
engines or capabilities. ... That is a feature that could allow operators to
generate more revenue from things like VOD.
MCN: Have telcos been the most interested in
the hybrid boxes?
VM: Actually, we
are working with everyone and selling hybrid boxes to cable, satellite and
telcos. The driving factor is really the end user and the fact that consumers
are looking for increased interactivity.
MCN: How has the economic climate affected the
way operators are approaching their HD offerings?
VM: We had a good
first quarter. We continue to see our customers roll out and launch new
services. For us, it has been satisfying to see the industry holding up.
The one thing that probably helping us at ADB is that
we focusing on the high end of the business. So, our customers are looking to
differentiate themselves with high end services. That part of the market seems
to be more resilient than the rest.