Midcontinent, aioTV Prepare TV/OTT Blend

MSO To Link Android-Powered ‘PassBox’ To Legacy STBs
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Midcontinent Communications  and aioTV are collaborating on a “strategic project” that will enable the MSO to pair traditional live TV services with a fancy, new user interface and a mix of over-the-top video applications and services.

The envisioned scenario will see Midcontinent link legacy,  QAM-only set-tops (many from Pace) to aioTV’s Android-powered, IP-connected “PassBox” via an HDMI cable. This two-box, HDMI-linked  approach will allow Midcontinent to securely pass-through its existing multichannel TV service to the PassBox and integrate them with a new interface and an array of apps without requiring the viewer to change the TV’s input.

Midcontinent has not announced when it will introduce this new option and is still mulling how it will offer the PassBox to its video subscribers, but integration work is already underway, Mike Earle, aioTV’s CEO, said in an interview. aioTV was demoing its platform in Denver this week at a suite nearby the Colorado Convention Center, site of this week’s SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.

With a commercial launch anticipated sometime in 2015, aioTV is working with Midcontinent on a UI that features the MSO’s brand and a baseline recommendation system that factors in the customer’s past viewing behavior, including shows that have been favored or shared on social networking apps. Earle said aioTV can also plug in recommendation engines from third-party companies such as ThinkAnalytics, Jinni and DigitalSmiths, which is now part of TiVo.

In addition to feeding in an MSO’s primary subscription TV service (viewers can change channels through an RF blaster when paired to older set-tops or through an IP backchannel  on newer-class boxes), the PassBox also links to free OTT video from the Web (it adheres to embedding rules by using the source video provider’s player), and is capable of providing full access to and integration of Google Play, which includes popular apps such as HBO Go and Netflix.

Earle said operators are considering different approaches when it comes to app support. While some want to offer a more controlled, walled garden of apps, others want to provide full access to the Google Play lineup.

Earle said the PassBox, which was shown running Android 4.4, will be equipped with the new Android “L” release, meaning it will support the new Android TV platform, though aioTV’s iterations will carry the brand of its cable operator partners.

aioTV’s approach is one of several that aim to help operators mix traditional TV offerings with OTT content.  In the tier 2/3 segment, it will primarily tangle with TiVo, and will likely come up against WebTuner, a startup that is holding talks with cable operators and industry organizations, including the National Cable Television Cooperative, a buying agent for about 1,000 independent cable operators.