Platforms and subscriber devices in operator IPTV / OTT solutions

Modern interactive television exists at the intersection of two worlds. The first is a variety of subscriber devices - STB, Smart TVs, smartphones, and other smart screens. The second is operator systems that provide user interface, subscription management, content protection, etc.

An important part of modern television is the ability to watch what is convenient where it is convenient. Thus, it is mandatory support for a wide range of equipment - set-top boxes, smart TVs, smartphones, etc. Therefore, modern operator solutions must cover the entire range of this equipment, and the more equipment is supported, the more compatible the solution is.

The times of solutions for a specific device are over. For example, native middleware running on one set-top box were forced to support other devices or leave the market. In particular it could be observed on the example of the middleware Stalker developed for the MAG set-top box, at one time it has given a good competitive advantage to the manufacturer for selling their devices, because without middleware it is difficult for a TV provider to build a commercial product. The subscribers’ requirements for the service are constantly growing, they want watching TV on a personal smartphone, on Smart TVs, without set-top boxes, etc. As a result, the new middleware Ministra appeared, and it immediately fell into a trap of contradictions. 

On one hand, the new middleware was supposed to solve the issue of supporting a larger fleet of devices to meet the growing demands of operators / subscribers, but on the other hand, the task of promoting equipment remained. And these two tasks contradict with each other, becoming especially obvious with the advent of the AndroidTV operating platform. After all, it's hard to imagine a modern operator middleware that would not support equipment with AndroidTV. But having supported AndroidTV, the middleware ministry ceases to solve the problem of promoting its equipment, its set-top boxes. It turns out that the native operator solutions of equipment manufacturers as a long-term strategy for promoting their equipment are very doubtful.

However, the task of supporting operator middleware systems remained, and manufacturers of subscriber equipment began to solve it in a new way. Previously, such a task was solved by mutual integration work between the equipment manufacturer and the operator's platform developer. Now, with the advent of the AndroidTV operating system, unification has appeared; equipment manufacturers support the AndroidTV on their level, and the platform developer on his own, the operator gets a ready solution.

The question arises: will not it lead to the fact that the AndroidTV operating system will completely oust the manufacturers of operator platforms (middleware and CAS / DRM content protection systems) from the market? Can an operator build his solution only based on the AndroidTV operating platform?

In theory - yes, but in practice it is different. As we discussed at the beginning of the article, a modern solution should work on a wide range of equipment, and although AndroidTV supports a lot of devices, quite popular equipment from Apple, as well as native developments for Samsung, lg TVs, etc. are left out. Without supporting this equipment, operator solutions are unlikely to withstand serious competition.

Thus, first of all, the operator is facing the question of choosing an operator class system that works with a large fleet of devices. Collaborations of subscriber device manufacturers and developers of operator IPTV / OTT platforms is the only correct tactic.

Google understands it very well, positioning its AndroidTV platform as a universal base for all kinds of operator solutions, Google constantly invite leading developers of operator middleware and CAS / DRM systems to its AndroidTV summit. One of the tasks of the summit is precisely the provision of a platform where equipment manufacturers and developers of operator platforms could cooperate.

I would like to emphasize that to provide modern television services, the following chain should be built:

Client <> Subscriber device <> Operator platform <> Service provider

If the service provider has already decided on the operator platform, then the subscriber device manufacturer needs to support this platform to provide their devices. If the provider has not yet decided, then the best tactic for an equipment manufacturer is to offer a comprehensive solution - its own equipment and a platform compatible with it, but as we considered above, not a native solution and not just a set-top box with an AndroidTV shell.

The presence of an open API for operator platforms for docking with third-party systems, as well as free work on integration with partners' equipment is becoming a trend, just like the transition to cloud technologies in order to reduce costs for operators a while ago, which were primarily manifested in the cost of platforms, terms launching them and scaling the solution.