Inview gives new life to legacy STBs
According to SNL Kagan there are about 900 million pay-TV households and 250 million DTT households worldwide yet STB shipments are only 230 million per year. Since set-top boxes are only replaced, on average, every seven years, a significant portion of annual set-top box shipments goes to new subscribers. Replacement rates do vary by operator, since some encourage replacements in order to generate revenue from new services.
Set-top boxes are costly for operators and consumers if purchased directly. For operators, set-top box replacements are a cost of doing business, though many do not want to incur the expense too often, particularly in cost-sensitive emerging markets.
Inview has a solution for the legacy boxes, offering applications including an EPG, TV apps, and content discovery in very lightweight code that can run in devices with limited memory and processing power. The company started by providing the first EPG for over eight million Freeview boxes in the UK ten years ago. The older boxes can be updated to offer connectivity with the addition of a Wi-Fi dongle via the USB port.
There are multiple use cases for the addition of lightweight code to existing boxes. In one Asian country, Inview is working with cable operators who recently merged. When the new combined operator inherited an installed base of boxes that did not run the same user interface (UI), a software update with Inview code was able to bring the same UI to all of the boxes. This can even be achieved on boxes that are not connected through an over-the-air download.
The Inview Liberator middleware will also enable an operator to add OTT services to its existing linear TV offerings with software for the existing box and a platform for cloud-based OTT services. This will allow the operator to offer recommendation-based on-demand content as well as linear TV. In addition to generating new revenue with VOD services, an operator can generate revenue with advertisements in the EPG as well as through the addition of an app store.
Aside from legacy boxes, Inview’s middleware, which is already deployed across Europe, can also be applied to operators wanting to offer hybrid broadcast/OTT services in new low-cost set-top boxes. Inview has teamed up with Skyworth, a large Chinese set-top box manufacturer, to provide the box and platform at up to half the price charged by incumbent Western box manufacturers.
The ability to offer the same services on new and legacy boxes attracts operators. When a DTT operator in Asia went looking for a new set-top box/middleware solution, they found that Inview could enable hybrid broadcast/OTT services including VoD on a less powerful, lower-cost box as well as on its legacy boxes already in the field. A cable operator in another Asian territory ordered new boxes with Inview middleware to enable OTT functionality with linear cable services.
Although the operators are using only a portion of what Inview offers today, they do get peace of mind that they will be able to upgrade their services easily when they are ready to do so. An Austrian broadcaster has contracted with Inview for its middleware to enable boxes with Inview’s UI and PVR-ready capability, just a beginning step in its expected service evolution.
Inview is also developing the platform for a low cost HDMI dongle streaming device that can be controlled via a smartphone, similar to Chromecast, but using gesture control. Operators who want to provide a way to view content in a second room without incurring the expense of a set-top box can choose the lower cost HDMI dongle. It will also enable other operators, including mobile operators, who may not want to use the traditional pay-TV set-top box model to instead provide access to content via an HDMI dongle.
Inview has been providing innovative software and services in digital TV space for over 15 years and has around 60 employees. The company’s revenue model is through licensing and support fees as is common for most middleware companies. Unlike many, Inview is willing to enter into revenue sharing arrangements with its customers, showing them that its middleware can help monetize additional services.
There are many, many middleware providers today mostly focused on providing solutions that take advantage of the latest set-top box features with the latest and greatest in user interfaces and other services. Inview is offering a solution for a problem facing many operators today — that of how to continue to use legacy set-top boxes. Inview is not alone in this space. ActiveVideo also offers its CloudTV solution, which has been used mainly by cable operators to date since their system requires a QAM or IP return path.
Hundreds of millions of installed STBs provide a large opportunity for vendors who offer solutions that work with legacy STBs. Improved economics are also encouraging the launch of new pay-TV providers, and many of these will be operating in extremely cost-conscious environments. Middleware platforms that are able to serve these new providers, as well as those wanting to keep their legacy boxes around as long as possible, will win share.