Google provides voice building blocks for Canal Digital renaissance

A 3 Screen Solution (3SS) press release this week highlighted a change in strategy at Canal Digital, moving from its pure DTH roots to a hybrid model of DTH plus OTT – delivering both to phones and tablets, but also to a new Android TV set top, supplied by Technicolor.

3SS implemented the set top user interface and phone and tablet apps and this includes the system’s navigation using a voice remote and Google voice and universal search. The back end was built by Canal Digital and much of it was used for its TV Everywhere OTT service Canal Digital Go.

Canal Digital told Faultline that the voice search uses the Google voice to text engine and either replies to queries from a local database on the set top, from a ContentWise back end search facility or through a simple Google search in the Canal Digital private cloud.

This system will go to market as OnePlace, and although prices have not been announced, we get the impression very strongly that Canal Digital sees the future not as a transition from DTH to OTT, but a hybrid future with content delivered through both mechanisms simultaneously for the foreseeable future. Major DTH players such as Sky in Europe and AT&T DirecTV in the US have pledged themselves to a full OTT transition. Our guess is that the upgrade will be either free or very cheap for the top tier of existing pay TV customers to encourage a mass shift to the new platform.

The Technicolor set top will be used for customers who have a broadband line to connect their set top and given that across the entire Nordic region (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark) fixed broadband connections average out at 83% of households with the highest concentration being at 96% in Denmark, it seems likely this will end up at the majority of Nordic Canal Digital customers.

Those homes which do not have a connected set top will remain on the existing device which is referred to among its customers as “Smart” and is supplied by Korea’s Kaon Media and based around ADB software.

The OnePlace set top will use a (Trusted Execution Environment) TEE from Conax (so we presume this is ARM-based) for hardware-based content security, the Android TV platform based on the Nougat release and a layer of middleware from Technicolor, with the TV UI and navigation from 3SS.

In addition to the “on board” set top software stack, OnePlace relies on the Canal Digital Online Video Platform for streaming which is made up of a number of back end software modules including Xstream’s Mediamaker.

There are a swathe of tier one pay TV players pushing to move to voice-controlled environments (see the Rethink TV report “Voice Control of the TV – Decision time for TV operators – Forecast 2017 – 2022 – published in January). In April, Rethink TV will do a forecast on Android TV.

One of the earliest of these was Swisscom, which is where 3SS established its credentials for working with Android TV and adding voice navigation to the TV service. The Swisscom TV 2.0 system is highly regarded and continues to sell well and was considered a breakthrough when it launched in 2014. 3SS developed all Swisscom client applications on the set top, mobile iOS, Android, Windows Phone and the web and the middle layer connecting the set top UI to the back end, all to a Swisscom in-house UI design.

Key features promised for OnePlace will include seamless UI between content delivered by DTH and IP, a backwards EPG for catch up and VoD, on device disc-based DVR, voice search across all available sources, including third party apps from Android and recommendations, support for Google Cast and Google Play Store integration.

Canal Digital has 838,000 pay TV subscribers using DTH broadcast, but this has fallen dramatically from about 937,000 some 5 years ago and has been slowly dwindling – this is designed as a project to turn this erosion around.

Tone Krohn Clausen, Canal Digital Chief Product & Digital Officer, said: “We are proud and happy to provide OnePlace to our customers in the Nordics, with its unique user experience combining both linear and on-demand content tailored in a personalized way. OnePlace is based on Android TV, and the open ecosystem will ensure future innovation to the benefit of our customers. A number of suppliers have cooperated on developing the product.”