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15 July 2021

Agile Content reveals methods behind recent acquisition madness

We promised a deeper dive into the strategy of acquisition-hungry Agile Content and that’s exactly what we’ve got this week, after speaking with CTO Johan Bolin, who came over with Edgeware when the Swedish CDN technology developer became part of the Agile Content team late last year.

After snapping up Android TV R&D specialist WeTek last week, making it three acquisitions in seven months, we learned that adding device management capabilities to Agile Content’s burgeoning technology stack was a priority for cornering a share of the Android TV Operator Tier market. We know from recent conversations with people in the industry that demand for Android TV device management is off the charts – from controlling devices remotely and providing remote assistance, to monitoring network functions and delivering bug reports, to audience profiling and behavior prediction.

Device management is a wide-ranging field with serious cost saving possibilities for customers if done correctly – across not just in-app experiences where all the action is happening, but with tools that can analyze hardware and firmware too.

WeTek also offers its own set top hardware and delivers video services to the hospitality industry too, but these are secondary businesses to its device management credentials, in Agile Content’s view – which is a both a B2B technology supplier and a consumer-facing video platform via Agile TV. Whether or not to white label Agile TV is up to the operator, with Spain’s MasMovil an example of an operator that uses the Agile TV branding over its own.

Strategically, Bolin claims Agile Content has hit a realization that most pay TV providers and broadcasters around the globe are sub-scale compared to the US video majors. One way to address this is with vendors consolidating the technology stack, where part or all of the stack is outsourced – either a complete TVaaS offering like Agile TV that can be white-labeled, or via complimentary modules.

“We are offering a consolidated stack,” was how Bolin justified the recent spending free.

While he described Android TV as a “fantastic technology”, Bolin spoke about difficulties with device management at a higher level – where things can get tricky when navigating countless applications and different menus across numerous devices. “We have a neat solution for that, not that we believe set tops are an exploding market but still having an Android TV set top is a compelling option in some markets,” he said.

“We see it as a strength – we use our own dog food,” added Bolin, by which he means the Agile Content technology stack is used to power the Agile TV B2B2C business. It’s a self-sufficient machine, in other words, which makes it rather unique to what the thoroughbred vendors are offering.

That said, Swedish TV platform Magine TV started out in a similar way to Agile Content, but shifted from a consumer-facing business to a platform business. Agile Content started the other way around, which apparently puts it in a better position technologically as its technology stack is able to take on a more modular shape, rather than something tightly integrated like Magine’s, according to Bolin. Agile Content will be hoping for a longer lifespan than Magine, which was founded in 2013 and lasted until early 2019.

“Our strategy is we don’t ask customers to replace everything. An advantage is the products from acquisitions are abstract, so as a result it’s all pretty modular. If you want a package on its own, then that’s fine,” Bolin told us. “TV device management from the TV industry is better than a general system doing device management.”

WeTek brings an addition of roughly 100,000 subscribers from what Bolin calls tier 5 operators (we don’t typically dive any deeper than tier 3s, with only the occasional tier 4 mentioned in coverage). We also learned about plans to align around personalization viewing experiences too, in terms of menus and EPGs. Ad insertion is also on the roadmap, with WeTek giving Agile Content the tools to gain more control and precision to capture a share of the ad insertion market.

“The sooner we integrate, the better the scale,” noted Bolin. “It all fits together very nicely – from the CDN all the way to device management, and even content. We want to offer the whole stack.”

There is, however, an anomaly of sorts in Agile Content’s ranks. Fon, the WiFi offload company, was bought by Agile Content earlier this year, in a move that caused much confusion. Bolin explained that while the business offering of Fon doesn’t fit the mold on paper, the business model of Fon itself is very much to do with Agile Content’s business.

Working with operators, he explained that Fon has built an impressive back-end device management and “extremely efficient” billing system, specializing in areas like contractual agreements, terms and conditions, and bundling. Not particularly sexy things, but necessary things, particularly if you are playing a strategic long-game here like Agile Content is.

Looking ahead, Bolin sees Fon as being seriously significant in the coming couple of years. This is due to WiFi accounting for around 30% of call center requests, according to one of Edgeware’s own studies, while other research has this number as high as 50%. So, because Fon is supported in most gateways around the world, this established base of CPE can be harnessed to monitor QoE over time for video, data which Agile Content eventually plans to use to mitigate the number of WiFi problems related to QoE, and offer this as part of the stack.

A WiFi QoE research project is currently under way with a customer, but Bolin couldn’t go into anymore detail. We know all too well what the secretive world of WiFi is like.

Talking competitors, Bolin sees Molotov and Netgem as two chief rivals in the end-to-end realm, while it also squares up against players like Mux, Bitmovin, and JW Player, as well as encroaching on big cloud territory with AWS and the usual suspects. Of course, the Edgeware delivery slice of the business still competes with the Broadpeaks and Atemes of the world.

As a footnote, the hospitality angle is interesting and something worth revisiting another day. Bolin recalled a few years ago how people would voice warnings to stay away from hospitality – a sector seen as a lot of hassle for little money. Now, TV in the hospitality sector is becoming more of a special proposition on top, with numerous untapped opportunities for those who get there first.