Android TV, Jio trigger turbulence for India’s set top scene

An Android TV operator tier set top turned up at Dish TV India last week, with all the headlines talking about incorporating OTT video content alongside other bells and whistles such as gaming capabilities and voice control. But the DTH operator and a host of local news outlets are only telling half the story.

Dish TV fundamentally has no means of delivering a two-way connection and therefore is either leasing fixed network lines from smaller suppliers or, more likely, simply offering an internet-capable set top for consumers to hook up to a third-party network. Dish TV eventually responded to Faultline’s queries, describing a hybrid device with linear channels delivered via the operator’s traditional DTH network, while OTT video services can be delivered over any broadband connection or 4G hotspot. The cellular element is a game changer. Were it not catering for 4G hotspots, the streaming capabilities of Dish TV’s new Android TV set top would be virtually redundant – reaching a tiny footprint in a market where fixed network penetration is just 6%. Mobile connections in India, meanwhile, are approaching 1.2 billion with an estimated 4G penetration of 80%.

On the vendor supplier front, Dish TV also revealed to Faultline that the deployment of an Android TV operator tier device marks the end of Frog by Wyplay’s middleware involvement, at least in the latest venture, as the operator waves in a new era of open source software. It comes as Dish TV unveiled two new offerings designed to connect subscribers to OTT content on top of traditional DTH services. Firstly, the Dish SMRT Hub hosts OTT apps, a first for a Dish TV set top, while another ploy to stand out sees the remote control incorporate Amazon Alexa.

We initially assumed that in order to scale the fixed network divide, Dish TV had expanded its deployment deal with French CDN technology vendor Broadpeak. As we reported last month, the two companies are collaborating to deliver Dish TV’s new mobile streaming venture, Watcho, using Broadpeak’s BkS350 origin and packaging server to record linear services in a single format for packaging into HLS and DASH for delivery to cloud-based time-shift TV. While Dish TV told Faultline that Broadpeak is not supporting delivery to its SMRT hardware, Broadpeak explained that Dish TV is using a combination of satellite delivery and OTT delivery though an Akamai CDNaaS (Content Delivery Network as a Service) to stream content, with Broadpeak technology allowing the creation of HLS and DASH content before being sent to Akamai for delivery.

Meanwhile, Dish TV’s SMRT Kit comprises an Amazon Alexa powered WiFi dongle and a Bluetooth remote which together allow users to access OTT apps. Elsewhere in the fiery Indian TV landscape, rival operator Airtel Digital TV went for the option of slashing its HD set tops down to $18, a reduction of $7. This is likely in response to a similar move from Tata Sky in cutting the price of its set tops in July by $4 to $21, while the SD version now costs $19. Airtel’s Xstream set top has OTT capabilities but is considerably more expensive, retailing at $56.

Arguably the apex of all this activity among DTH operators is Jio Fiber’s arrival on the video market in September this year. This is the latest initiative from Reliance Jio, a telco giant which has gained a disruptive reputation in recent years for aggressively entering communications markets in India. Jio Fiber is an aggregator model – collecting content from multiple platforms which is purchased in thoroughly tiered fiber broadband packages. Notably, Jio Fiber’s set tops do not offer cable or DTH channels, which instead are provided as separate subscriptions.

All this activity among operators further blurs the lines between DTH and OTT services. That phenomenon is nothing new in Western nations, but it is now taking place in developing regions like India, where DTH services are scrambling to stay ahead of OTT video without initial blanket cover of the population as seen in markets such as Europe.

Private DTH operators in India have seen their subscriber numbers flatline since 2017, staying at around 60 million in 2018. Meanwhile, OTT is set for rapid growth, with Indians already spending an average of 70 minutes a day on such services. The country is predicted to have 500 million online video subscribers by 2023, which would make it the second largest market after China.

Android TV operator tier now has a clean sweep of the Dish SMRT Hub, Jio Fiber and Airtel set tops in India. The service is a well disguised cookie cutter for set tops, allowing pay TV operators to distribute custom products based on the Android TV operating system. It has proved particularly popular as it provides a fast route to market with a trusted OTT platform and allows access to popular Google services, such as the Play Store and Google Assistant. Equally important for operators, it permits customization of the UI.

As mentioned earlier, Dish TV’s Android TV roll out represents a switch out job for Wyplay. This is poignant considering just a couple of weeks ago Swedish TV platform developer Zenterio capitulated as a direct result of its sluggishness in adapting its product portfolio for Android TV operator tier. We warned more vendor scalps would be claimed as Android TV’s rise reveals more laggards, and with Wyplay only reluctantly jumping into Android TV in June 2018, we fear there is – like the Indian set top market – turbulence within the French company. Of course, Wyplay remains a staple in Dish TV’s primary DTH set tops in the field, a service to which it has some 23 million subscribers.