Ericsson finally takes the brakes off Media First with J:COM deal

We have to confess to being taken aback by the pre-IBC announcement this week that Ericsson has landed a deal at J:COM in Japan, to provide its MediaFirst TV Platform.

This is an IPTV platform going for not the first time onto a cable environment, because it went on a cable IPTV environment in China a few years back in 2009 at the Guangzhou Digital Media Group. But this is the first time a traditional cable firm with millions of existing customers have made a switch out of traditional cable to Media First.

The key behind this was the adoption of RDK by Ericsson, something it only announced at last year’s IBC conference. We had thought at the time that this was part of a move to bring the efficiencies of RDK to the IPTV world, not for Ericsson to invade cable.

Ericsson said at the time it was bringing next-generation TV and media services to RDK environments by integrating its cloud-based MediaFirst TV Platform with the RDK (Reference Design Kit). And it mentioned cable at the time and highlighted how popular RDK was in Asia.

Ericsson claims that the deal brings new features to J:COM’s 3.7 million subscribers across Japan, including delivery over both managed and unmanaged networks. The service is not ready to go, and work will only begin on the design in Q4, but it will include personalization a seamless experience on all screen types, and Ericsson said it would deliver a conditional access system to enable the delivery of Ultra HD content.

Suddenly the announcement last week that Nagra’s sister company NexGuard would provide Ericsson with forensic watermarking, and we said at the time this was likely a request from a major operator – and given that this is a requirement for any Hollywood UHD content, it looks like the J:COM contract would have necessitated that deal.

Ericsson also talked about new monetization opportunities such as more effective content recommendation services, by leveraging Ericsson’s advanced data analytics. Ericsson has not so far gone into any detail of any products in personalization – it has long been a partner with ContentWise and this talk of personalization in this J:COM contract could be a big boost to the Italian firm.

This is now the 3rd deal in under a year that has gone to Media First, the first being Canada’s tiny Novus Entertainment, the second being Telstra of Australia, but this was only really at the production level – what Ericsson described as virtualized video processing – nothing more than cloud based workflow and encoding.

So that makes the J:COM deal perhaps its biggest Media First success since it acquired it. Again this can either give confidence to anyone who is currently thinking of buying Media First and other media assets from Ericsson, or provide Ericsson with the confidence that it needs to retain at least some of these assets.

Ericsson has been asking for $1 billion for assets including the remnants of Tandberg TV, Azuki, Media First, Red Bee, the Fabrix nPVR, Envivio encoding, and Technicolor Broadcast.

It has also recently caved into customer pressure to include an Android set top in the Media First architecture.

Hirohiko Imura, President, J:COM, says: “Consumers have more choice than ever before and it is therefore imperative that we stand out from the crowd to remain competitive in an ever-cluttered TV landscape. We believe that a seamless and personalized TV Everywhere service will enable J:COM to create that distinction. By deploying Ericsson MediaFirst TV Platform, we will have access to a range of uniquely intelligent, high performance solutions that will help us to transform our television offering and strengthen our position at the forefront of TV innovation.”

Ericsson now describes MediaFirst as a software-defined, media-optimized cloud-based TV platform – when it inherited what was clearly a first generation IPTV implementation, so it has virtually re-written it.

Back in April J:COM chose to use ActiveVideo, the Arris and Charter owned cloud UI pioneer, to retrofit a new cloud based VoD UI into older set tops, clearly a step in the direction of cloud based TV, but probably only an interim measure until this Ericsson systems can be put into place. The ActiveVideo system had been in development for two years at J:COM prior that this announcement.

J:COM was established as Jupiter Telecommunications and is Japan’s largest MSO, which used to be owned by Liberty Global, and was since acquired by KDDI, which also owns Japan Cablenet, making it the dominant Japanese cable group with over 8 million subscribers.

Given that Ericsson has not announced a deal to sell its Media assets after 4 or 5 months of it being on the market, and given this success, we would not be at all surprised to see it retain those assets after all.