Cable operators aren’t the only pay TV providers that are grappling with how to pivot to next-gen platforms without the expense of abandoning a large base of legacy set-tops.
Telcos and other IPTV service providers that got into the pay TV game several years ago are facing similar challenges as they look to remain competitive in a world of over-the-top SVOD services, an array of virtual MVPDs, as well as cable operators, such as Comcast, that are rapidly deploying cloud-powered, IP-capable video platforms.
Amino Communications is trying to help its IPTV partners bridge that gap with Enable, software that virtualizes many of the functions of the set-top in the cloud and provides a way for those service providers to deliver fresh interfaces and new services to both old and new devices and, later, to some third-party OTT platforms such as Android TV.
The big challenge for IPTV providers that have invested in infrastructure, middleware and boxes is how to upgrade their platform without having to refresh all of the consumer-side devices, Jamie Mackinlay, an exec who heads up strategic marketing at Amino, said.
This has become a “universal problem” for many IPTV providers that made technology decisions five to ten years ago, and now want to shift gears to a new experience that delivers more intuitive navigation as well as recommendation systems, added Mark Evensen, Amino’s CTO.
Amino said Enable, a technology that it obtained from its 2015 acquisition of Entone, allows IPTV providers to take advantage of new interfaces, including voice-navigation capabilities, that are more media rich and visual, putting those providers on par with the kind of UIs that grace services like Netflix and platforms like Apple TV, Fire TV and Android TV.
To support that in older IPTV set-tops, many of those functions are offloaded to the network, while the device handles the rendering and user interaction, explained Evensen.
He said the hurdle that this overcomes is not just the cost of the equipment but the disruption that occurs when a service provider has to roll a truck and switch out a device. That latter part would be removed from the equation.
This idea probably sounds familiar. Amino’s approach with Enable shares some traits with the cloud TV of ActiveVideo, now a joint venture of Arris and Charter Communications. Charter is using ActiveVideo’s platform to help it bring its new Spectrum Guide to its base of legacy boxes as well as its new IP-capable devices.
Several Amino IPTV partners are already using Enable, including Cincinnati Bell and Hong Kong-based PCCW.
In the case of Cincinnati Bell, its legacy IPTV platform relied on boxes from ZTE and multiple software stacks. With Enable, Everson said, the telco was able to convert those older boxes to one based on Minerva’s platform while also supporting it on new Amino devices on a going-forward basis. By unifying that experience, Cincinnati Bell can roll new features to all its customers and not have to confine marketing programs to the legacy and next-gen customer base.
PCCW, meanwhile, had its own middleware but the underlying stack used a trio of vendors with nuances in the implementations. Enable’s virtual STB software is helping PCCW to homogenize its user experience, Everson said.
Amino is also developing new features for Enable that will allow IPTV providers to bring their service and experience to certain third-party streaming platforms. More detail will be announced later this year, but Amino views Android TV as key candidate because it is open. Amino believes Enable can be adapted to Android TV and provide a path to network-specific hardware that IPTV partners can use.