Platform look at TV viewing

Content consumption has changed due to technological reasons. The content itself has become a service, available on any platform. To understand what content consumption is, one needs to get to know platforms that provide its consumption.

Nowadays, there is a variety of platform solutions in the technology sphere related to the market. There are so many of them that the situation is like with terrestrial fauna. Each platform is different from another, both externally and fundamentally, similar to the animal world. The development of both is based on the principle of natural selection, survival.

As one can see in the program “In the World of Animals” or on the NatGeo Wild channel, the mating ritual of peacocks’ males is comparable to an exhibition of technical achievements, where one of the key factors for attracting attention is creative design. Sometimes shocks happening completely change the course of history: mammoths became extinct, some species of monkeys evolved. In the technical industry technological breakthroughs play the role of shocks. But not only them. Legislative initiatives can also have a significant influence. Each country has its own legislative landscape, and from this perspective, each state can be considered as a unique reserve. Somewhere it is as close as possible to natural conditions, with a variety of species, and somewhere - a gloomy menagerie with downtrodden animals. Let's see what the adoption of the law about a single provider of platforms for federal public channels will lead us to in this regard.

The platforms can be segmented into operator and hardware platforms by origin. Initially, they had concise boundaries: operator platforms were considered as service ones, and hardware platforms served only as operating systems. Everything started to change as time passed.

Steve Jobs was the first to start: Apple began promoting the service platform concept. The others followed her example. Two different strategic approaches: basing your platform only on devices of your own production (like Apple) and support of equipment from different manufacturers (here Google succeeded with Android TV).

During the last Android TV summit in Bangkok, Google representatives explained intelligibly the advantages for equipment manufacturers: these are not ephemeral technical features of the operating system, but the service which a consumer receives. The demonstration of smart home management capabilities has been approached thoroughly this year: the Google showroom was filled with all kinds of compatible devices, and everything was controlled through a voice assistant.

Not all hardware platforms supported the service direction. Linux has not changed the approach; one can still find a lot of devices running on this operating system. A set-top box like this can find its subscriber-only in a traditional combination with the operator’s middleware, but the number of such devices is becoming less and less. The main reason is Google’s strategy, which can only be prevented by notorious legislative initiatives. Not only from the United States but also the response measures from the PRC, where most of the world's electronics are produced.

How do operator platforms evolve and in what direction are they moving in the meantime?

Operator platforms, also known as Middleware, have been service-oriented from the very beginning. There was a key moment in their evolution caused by the development of cloud computing, which divided the market into “before” and “after”. “Before” was a market that was full of monsters feeding only on large operators. Only a few could afford the costs of acquiring, deploying, and maintaining those monsters; a bunch of "small", so-called alternative operators, who were given the role of observers, remained behind.

Some operators, being unable to acquire an operator solution, started to create their own. An interesting fact: such a phenomenon is not widespread in the world and took place on a large scale only in Russia. Perhaps this is due to a large number of high-class IT professionals.

The first to change the situation on the market of operator platforms was IPTVPORTAL, the first cloud platform in the world which provides Middleware and CAS systems to telecommunications operators as a service (not to be confused with OTT providers). It happened in 2011.

We can say that the transition from capital costs to operating ones changed the feed base, and those who could not adapt became extinct. A vivid example, though not from the field of television: the once-very popular technology company Avaya in the telephony market. Their mistake was that they missed the time of the bifurcation and got a financial gap, improperly planned their budget, relying on large payments for their decisions, while the operators switched from buying solutions to their rent.

With the appearance of cloud platforms, the issue of launching own service for the operator began being resolved in one day if the content is available.

Regarding the relationship between hardware and operator platforms, it is more symbiosis than the competition. And the operator platforms get more benefits here. The point is that operator platforms provide service on top of hardware platforms. Accordingly, they include the entire service provided by the hardware platforms.

If hardware platforms can be called monogamous in terms of equipment selection, then operator platforms are polygamous, this is their strength: the ability to work with any hardware. They serve as an aggregator of hardware platforms – multiscreen.

The hardware platform service determines the competitiveness of the device (for example, which cell phone, TV or set-top box to choose), and the operator’s platform service determines the competitiveness of the operator.

The key service for all platforms is the ability to provide content to the subscriber at a convenient time and place. A user can get content only by interacting with a particular platform. Content providers are aware of this. If the content is not available on the platform which the subscriber uses, then this content is also unavailable to the subscriber.

Considering the data on paid television in Russia for the third quarter of 2019 (source), here is the picture of content consumption in the context of platforms’ interaction with subscribers in the domestic market.

The presence of several platforms at one provider can be attributed to the transient processes that are caused by both the introduction of new solutions and cannibalism, in particular, ER-Telecom and Rostelecom are actively absorbing regional providers along with all their content, including installed platforms.

It’s also interesting to look at the content consumption market through the prism of the used content protection systems. Almost all operators have non-certified (Russian certificate) security tools, mainly Widevine, PlayReady and FairPlay, as well as some self-made solutions. This is explained by the absence of any regulation in the OTT space. It is important to understand that when a service is provided on its own network, it is already strictly regulated, and, in this case, only certified conditional access systems should be used. For instance, the multiscreen option, technically, from the protection point of view, is implemented in the same way, both in the case of an OTT solution and in the case of providing a service on the own network; and if a non-certified conditional access system is used, then in one case we get a legitimate solution, and in another - not a legitimate one. In addition to the peculiarities of domestic legislation determining the list of allowed systems, sanctions have a serious impact. Obama’s decree prohibits the usage of American companies’ software in Crimea and Sevastopol, so Verimatrix’s VCAS solution cannot be used there, moreover, even if Widevine, PlayReady and FairPlay receive a certificate, they cannot be used there either. And today (considering the list of registered conformity certificates for communications), we have the following picture.

To sum up, we can say that technology and laws define a field for content, and, as we know, “content is the king”, and only in this field he can play.