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19 September 2019

Comcast snuffs Metrological Android TV plans with hush takeover

How apt that as Comcast commences its European beachhead through Sky, that the US giant should steal the headlines at Europe’s largest TV trade show IBC by snapping up local Dutch app developer Metrological Media. While the move is indicative of increasing US media dominance, Comcast has acquired a gem of a vendor with a revered team capable of boosting RDK recognition in Europe while also defending the ranks against Android TV’s belated invasion into the US.

Presumably the acquisition signals the end of Metrological’s exploration into the Android TV operator tier arena, as the company told Faultline Online Reporter at last year’s Amsterdam event that it would be “stupid not to be looking at building an Android TV operator tier launcher.” Reading between the lines, it seems that Comcast, an existing customer of Metrological pre-acquisition, thought the vendor was stupid to be looking at dabbling in a rival technology to RDK, so the world’s largest cable TV operator soon quashed that idea.

Metrological’s key component is the use of an open source browser in WPE (Web Platform for Embedded) WebKit, which has found favor at majors like Liberty Global and Comcast itself – so the US cable operator has firsthand experience of what Metrological can do working on integrating apps likes Netflix into X1. Crucially, it’s all about being able to use the full features of HTML5 rendering, so a new UI can be delivered from the cloud – which means it can be changed at any time, but still rendered on the device. In the future, operators might want to roll out the same UI across a footprint of legacy set tops, and using the Metrological Framework, this – and more – is possible.

Using the Metrological Application Platform, customers can pull in third-party streaming services, including niche content and localized apps, without users having to leave the TV experience. Metrological says its back-office gives customers likes Vodafone Germany the ability to anticipate the changing content preferences of their TV viewers instantly and efficiently.

Indeed, Faultline Online Reporter recently noted how the expansion of Vodafone’s GigaTV signals a significant win for a number of vendors, Metrological being one. Vodafone just took its telco TV platform from 3 countries to 5 countries, in a significant project which we have expanded on in a separate article this week following a conversation with key supplier Kaltura at IBC.

Metrological has continued to impress us during various demos over the years. Unfortunately we didn’t book in for a catch-up with Metrological this year, but at IBC 2018 we saw a demo involving analyzing data from set top apps to show an operator precisely at what point within a video app a viewer stopped watching, as well as how long they had spent inside the app before leaving, and other metrics which ultimately aim to establish why the user left. We admit this is not a revolutionary piece of technology but Metrological stands out because of its ability to integrate tools down to chipset level on some seriously old hardware, even under 800 DMIPS, at between 12 to 16 weeks.

It is these “app widgets” within the dashboard which give an operator marketing team the ability to make changes. Metrological noted at the time that the premium OTT video apps from Netflix and Amazon run natively, meaning Metrological can extract SDK data from repetitive pieces of code.

Metrological describes its software behind deployments like Liberty Global as hybrid architectures, claiming that its application framework acts as an abstraction layer, working with any device and software, which is how it professes to speed up app store deployments on new set tops, while also reaching users with legacy set tops.

On the RDK front, the technology’s most recent video breakthrough came via Arris, launching an application development platform for the RDK community called RDK Lab Accelerator several weeks ago, developed in conjunction with Metrological and RDK Management. Based on the Arris VIP5202W Ultra HD IP set top, the open source platform enables standardization of core functions used in broadband devices, set tops and IoT hardware – allowing service providers to manage devices, control business models and customize apps. In short, the RDK App Framework and RDK Video Accelerator make it easier to develop and manage apps in a consistent way across RDK video devices.

RDK also talks about providing a common method for service providers to leverage device management and big data to improve broadband and video performance – which is crucial to the link between video and broadband.

Perhaps Comcast, in uncharacteristic fashion, never intended to steal the headlines, considering an official press release was never published, yet both sides of the field and various sources in between have confirmed that a deal for an undisclosed sum has been reached.