Las Vegas – The worlds of traditional cable TV, streaming video and “digital lifestyles” are all colliding, and weaving itself into those realms has been key to the development and subsequent launch of Layer3 TV, David Fellows, the CTO and co-founder of the Denver-based next-gen cable operator, said here.
Fellows, an industry vet who is late of MSOs such as Comcast, AT&T Broadband and Continental Cablevision, used a talk here on Saturday (April 22) to provide a technology and operational case study on Layer3 TV, which has launched service in the Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles areas, as well as in Longmont, Colo., with a municipal provider called NextLight, but has not announced how many subscribers it has salted away so far.
A big idea behind Layer3 TV, Fellows said, is the notion that “the customer should be at the center of the universe.”
That, in part, means that there should be no walled gardens and that Layer3 TV's platform strives to provide customers with access to the TV service they are paying for as well as other sources of video and media, including content that is delivered over-the-top.
“There shouldn't be anybody getting in the way of that customer getting all the content to which they are entitled,” Fellows said.
Though Layer3 TV allows users to access OTT content on its set-tops and gateways, Layer3 TV is also playing within the rules of traditional pay TV for its primary vidoe packages, he said.
“The distributor should distribute and preserve programmer’s content,” Fellows said, noting that this means not degrading the quality of the programming while ensuring that everyone in the ecosystem is being paid and that the service follows all the rights and business rules.
To support all of that, Layer3 TV built a system basically from scratch from the backoffice and billing systems, to the content distribution network, and on down to the set-top box, but did so a replicable, “Internet fashion” that can avoid the frustrations of cable’s past, Fellows said.
But the result is a service that “looks and behaves just like a cable system” that supports quick channel changes and avoids some of the issues that TV delivered via the public Internet sometimes faces, Fellows said.
Fellows said Layer3 TV’s built-from-scratch approach also allows the company to sidestep the old cable video duopoly that harkenes back to Scientific-Atlanta and General Instrument that relied on proprietary, closed master control systems that handled important things like encryption, entitlements and secure downloads but also served as “the roadblock to all innovation.”
Layer3 TV relies on an IP-based video platform that delivers video in unicast streams, and also supplies the MVPD with valuable data and insight.
Among the early findings, Layer3 TV has discovered that its customers are gravitating to 4K content in big numbers.
Fellows said Nasa TV UHD is currently in the “mid-20s” among the most popular linear channels offered by Layer3 TV. The MVPD’s second most-popular VOD asset, he said, is the 4K version of Planet Earth II from BBC America, behind only NBC’s This Is Us.
“We are finding demand from customers that the marketplace had better react to,” Fellows said, noting that all of Layer3 TV’s devices are capable of supporting 4K video.
That unicast format opens the door to an “infinite, unlimited channel capacity,” Fellows said.
That flexibility has been woven into the Layer3 TV set-top box guide, which is capable of showing a handful of live video streams on the TV screen based on personalized viewing data (that mosaic includes one channel a viewer might be interested in watching, plus four alternatives).
And though the guide is a key cog in the platform, Layer3 TV doesn’t want its customers spending all their time there, but to instead use it to find something to watch quickly.
“We want our customers watching television,” Fellows said. “You're not on our system to be enamored with our beautiful user interface.”
Fellows also discussed Layer3 TV’s focus on a “white glove service” that relies on all forms of communications, including email, text, chat and the phone, which still handles most customer inquiries. And Layer3 TV’s consumer service reps that don’t use scripts, and employes tech support system that borrows a page from Apple's Genius Bar.
Those CSRs “actually know the product and know how to use the product,” he said.
Fellows also addressed Layer3 TV’s marketing tagline: “The New Cable.”
He said the company thought “long and hard” about being associated with the term that has a stigma to overcome, but ultimately saw it as the right fit because Layer3 TV offers a subscription TV service designed to be reliable and conform to programming contracts while also pursuing a fresh batch of angles and options.
"We decided we needed that cable word to put ourselves in the right part of the customer’s brain and then become The New Cable, and go beyond that,” he said.