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13 December 2022

Evoca TV close to failure in blow to NextGen TV and its 5G roadmap

US hybrid video operator Evoca TV will cease operations at the end of 2022, unless it secures the necessary funding to survive.

The collapse of the service, which harnesses the ATSC 3.0 or NextGen TV technology – which is heavily focused on mobile and converged, as well as conventional, broadcast – would be a crushing blow to the nascent NextGen TV community.

But this fate looks more and more inevitable. According to Evoca TV’s CEO, Todd Achilles, many broadcasters believe the firm, owned by Edge Networks, has the only viable ATSC 3.0 model. However, some might argue that there is no such thing, yet.

Achilles is attempting to keep sprits high, claiming that the business is “making good progress” with capital lenders. The size of Evoca TV’s rescue package is undisclosed information, as are the financier parties involved, but the cash injection is likely to add a significant chunk onto Evoca TV’s current total of $35m raised since 2018.

Debuting in September 2020, Evoca TV is not only hybrid in technology – blending ATSC 3.0 and ATSC 1.0 signals for over-the-air (OTA) TV with broadband for over-the-top video – but also in operating model, boasting the reach of broadcast, the monetization of cable, and the flexibility of streaming. This really epitomizes the pros and cons of ATSC 3.0 TV services – easily accessible but still too much like pay-TV to appeal to younger audiences.

Being a hybrid, Evoca can make routing decisions about what channels go OTA and what goes IP, based on viewer data on the box. If it chooses, it can create a closed loop around broadcast infrastructure, with broadcast the more efficient way to deliver video, while two-way IP pipe brings the benefits of interactivity and apps that provides a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario. Tying that in with 5G infrastructure would complete the circle, but Evoca TV has more pressing concerns, like trying to stay afloat.

Evoca TV started out costing $50 a month, after the temporary offer, but has since been discounted to just $25 a month. The CommScope-made hybrid set-top, coined Scout, was initially available to each household free, without rental costs, while extra set-tops cost $100 each. As of writing, Evoca TV receivers cost an extra $5 a month to rent, or $250 upfront to buy. Only limited content can be stored locally on Scout set-tops, and Evoca has toyed with the idea of rolling out a Scout DVR, but any R&D has stalled in favor of funding.

What matters is that, at this price, Evoca is not going to make any money. It has picked up just 10,000 subscribers to date, and – even if Evoca survives into next year – many of these subscribers are now likely to be seeking alternatives after receiving Evoca’s email about an imminent shutdown.

Evoca TV’s Achilles’ heel has always been its channel line-up. Such is the frustration that CEO Achilles has lashed out at Diamond Sports, the Sinclair Broadcast-owned sports network that has also struggled for cash, saying that whatever funding Evoca TV requires, it will be “orders of magnitude” less than Diamond Sports’ running costs. Diamond Sports has been singled out because it has refused to let Evoca TV carry the Phoenix Bally Sports channel.

One of the stand-out features of Evoca’s technology stack is being the first ATSC 3.0 TV service using a unique security system bringing conditional access-like technology to IP-based ATSC 3.0 signals. Local OTA 1.0 channels come pre-integrated into the user interface. Third-party video-on-demand services can be accessed as expected via any broadband connection, while premium on-demand content is provided via something called non-real-time (NRT) delivery.

Only in September this year, at IBC 2022, Evoca rolled out the market’s first Android TV Operator Tier launcher on an ATSC 3.0 platform. This is powered by Xperi-owned Vewd’s OpX for Android TV, a cloud-managed operator-grade set-top custom launcher integrating pay-TV and OTT content. The Vewd OS has been powering Evoca TV set-tops since the beginning, as a HTML5-based application environment equipped with integrated modules and key services spanning local and regional apps.

Vewd OpX also ensures that consumers can’t tell the difference between transmission mechanism, essentially serving as an aggregation platform. Branding, skinning, content layout, personalization and promotions come fully customizable. It integrates platform and UI analytics, comes pre-integrated with the Vewd Cloud, and is compatible with video platforms based on Android, RDK, and Linux. The concept is to create an ecosystem based on relevance and viewing model, not on technology and transmission, which has been difficult for operators to achieve.

Earlier in the year, around the run up to the NAB broadcast event, Evoca TV demonstrated an industry-first, which saw the Idaho-based broadcaster transmit the first content to use the cross-polarization functions of ATSC 3.0 in the US. This made use of MIMO (Multi-Input, Multi-Output), a staple of LTE for many years, which is now being used to increase the carrying capacity of the ATSC 3.0 spectrum.

On that front, Achilles commented, at the time of NAB: “MIMO has the potential to dramatically increase the available payload for TV broadcasts, possibly even doubling the amount of data that a broadcaster can send to improve choice and robustness. That could mean many more standard and high-definition channels for viewers, the potential of more than one UHD 4K service, or even the possibility of 8K video delivered over-the-air.”