Pace are Platinum sponsors of TV Connect Asia, co-hosted at the Broadband Asia conference, taking place on the 29th-30th April 2014 at the Suntec, Singapore. In this interview with Pace’s VP of product marketing, Peter Simpson, we find out about his views on how the market for TV delivered via IP has evolved and where it’s heading in the future.
Pace has been making set top boxes since the beginnings of digital TV. How would you summarise the changes that have occurred?
Until the last 10 years the pay TV industry evolved around enhancing a viewers’ experience sent to a single screen delivered down a predominantly one-way broadcast network: black and white to colour, larger TVs, more channels, improved efficiency and encoding, the first PVRs—even the majority of the first standard definition to high definition services. TV on the single screen was a mainly shared experience, but the rise of the web and mobile over the last 10 years means it’s now about what ‘I’ want to watch—wherever I am, on whatever device I have, whenever I want.
In the last three years the world has become faster and more connected, and we now see pay TV evolution stimulated and accelerated by the service innovation opportunities of the web, so much so that ‘mobile’ can now be considered the wireless web. Untethered, personalisation are the two pervasive paradigms that have been underneath service evolution globally and with TV and content being a sticky and ARPU generating service it’s not hard to see why many mobile operators and OTT providers are aggressively looking to broaden their reach.
What are the biggest challenges you find in dealing with an ever evolving market?
You can’t look at the broadcast and pay TV industry in isolation from the web and mobile industry. With consumers attached to all three networks and more tech savvy than ever, any service or innovation becomes rapidly available across all their devices. For the pay TV operator the challenge is to innovate at web-speed yet maintain the quality and experience of broadcast, they need a common framework and set of tools that help them achieve this. The relevance of initiatives such as RDK and Pace’s own Elements software platform that enable operators to create the same experiences across all their devices will become increasingly important as a means of getting their services to market quickly and yet having the flexibility to dynamically adapt to market changes.
Another challenge for PayTV is how to resist (or embrace) the war of eco-systems that is shaken, taken and joined-up the web and mobile industries – Apple and the AppStore, Google and Google-Play, Windows8 and the Windows Market place all give consumers a multi-device, multi-service proposition. TV has been resilient so far but cracks (or again, opportunities) are starting to appear with OTT providers investing in content and with less complex delivery chains they can be faster to market with new technologies (eg 4k).
How is the set-top box evolving and how will Pace evolve with it?
Screens in the cloud need to be lit up across different networks and environments, fundamentally there will always be a need for a gateway to deliver, manage and assure services across each network. PayTV (in fact any service – voice, data included) is about delivering a managed service versus just playing content; with the proliferation of devices and networks this gets more complex – the role of operator (and Pace helping them) is to simplify to make it easy to deliver the best quality of experience for their consumers. Whilst we have a number of ‘managed’ gateways to connect users to the different networks we now have both managed and unmanaged devices where they can access and view their content, in many cases the end point of consumption is an application on a tablet or smartphone. Delivery to the main screen will still predominantly be either via a headed gateway (has HDMI and play-out to connect to the display) or via a headless gateway (eg broadband and WiFi router) with a connected client device for play-out. It is the gateways challenge to tame the many technologies available for home networking (wireless, MoCA, HPNA, PLC, etc), simplify the users’ ability to connect and play content, and ultimately make sure that a high quality experience is available on every device. With the tablet now staking it’s claim for the 2nd screen, operators need to be sure that their TV Everywhere service is as good on their subscribers iPAD as it is on their new UHD-4k screen.
In many emerging markets basic TV is still the priority and the Set-Top-Box is still the preferred and most viable means of delivery. However, the market dynamics can differ significantly with emerging markets having the benefit of learning from the developed markets yet less legacy so that they move faster and more flexibly to suit respective market needs (eg Africa/Asia mobile OTT and delivery).
Do you think that content will inevitably move from traditional broadcast to an all-IP model?
The ‘Cloud’s’ scale, flexibility, speed of innovation makes it a compelling long term aspiration, however, cost efficiencies make all-IP delivery everywhere a tough thing to do currently, estimates vary between 5 to 20 times more expensive to deliver content over CDN v broadcast (and this assumes multicast technologies are deployed for live streaming, unicast makes the challenge larger as every single stream is managed uniquely). Operators with broadcast capacity have ability to deliver high quality live content to multiple users which would still currently break many web infrastructures, however, broadband does enable OTT providers to deliver the latest on-demand content more rapidly – for example we could the early roll-out of UHD-4k see broadcasters going for live sport whilst OTT providers focussing on movies or premium in-demand content.
One thing is certain though, the more users consume on-demand, catch-up services on devices such as tablets, the more they’ll get used to not being chained to the schedule. With many of younger generations often not experiencing traditional TV, but always catching up, snacking, interacting with their friends whilst they view – we can be sure that the viewing and delivery of content will continue to evolve as fast over the next 10 years as it has for the past 10.
When do you see 4K entering the mainstream and what challenges will it throw up for you?
4k is already here – broadcasters are trialling (expect to see many pilots and trials around the football world cup this year) and OTT providers are already streaming content – Netflix for example. A 4k encoded piece of content, a URL, HLS streaming and a capable tablet/PC to play bypasses racks of encoders, new STBs, new broadcast delivery chain etc enabling OTT providers (and PayTV on-demand services also) a good opportunity to test the market. An essential ingredient of UHD-4k is HEVC encoding and we see this being deployed independently from 4k as operators can either improve the quality of their existing services, or deliver more services within the same bandwidth …or maybe even a bit of both.
There is much debate around the minimum screen size for a certain viewing distance, but throw in 4K’s superior colour spectrum and we’ll see an enhanced viewing experience on smaller screens, just as Apples’ ‘retina’ screens make the iPAD the must have screen for portable content viewing. The experience of 4k versus HD is déjà vu the experience of 10 years back seeing HD versus SD, once viewers see it – they’ll want it !
What can we expect in terms of new products or developments coming along in the next year?
2014 is going to be exciting year for the PayTV industry :
- The 2014 Football World Cup and the winter Olympics will light a massive fire under the use of Ultra-HD and HEVC as the must-have experience to view sport;
- The debate between Traditional TV v OTT finally stops as PayTV Everywhere becomes the main game in town with operators competing on delivering the best content and experience, consistently to every screen;
- Comcast’s Reference Design Kit (RDK) starts to gain traction outside of North America, offering as it does the chance to reduce development costs and allow operators to bring new interoperable, multi-screen, multi-room services to market quicker and cheaper;
- It will be the year of the Media Gateway as the major triple-play operators look to expand their services beyond voice, data and mobile to include TV;
- Quality of Service becomes a major differentiator for operators, underpinned by intelligent remote management and diagnostics coupled with proactive customer care – this can be obtained with a platform such as Pace’s Eco Service Management, which eases complexity of managing today’s multi-device connected homes while increasing customer satisfaction;
- Finally, operators will move towards standardising on a single software platform for all their devices so that they can deliver a consistent user experience via an advanced gateway software, such as Pace’s Helium solution, which connects and distributes media services throughout the home at a lower operational cost.
What is the importance of industry events such as Broadband/TV Connect Asia?
Pace has a number of Tier 1 customers across the APAC region – Foxtel, Sky New Zealand, Telstra, Singtel, Astro and Tata-Sky in India. TV Connect / Broadband World Forum Asia gives us a great platform for us to share some of our insight and experience to a broader audience to hopefully help them with taking the next steps on their PayTV journeys.