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9 December 2021

iWedia targets T2, T3 operators as retail opportunities emerge

Bracing for rather a lot of snow, iWedia CEO Hans-Juergen Desor dialed in from the Black Forest, to walk us through the past year – in which the Swiss software specialist celebrated its tenth anniversary.

The lack of travel has been problematic, with iWedia only having a two-month window to have face-to-face customer meetings. Despite this, iWedia has retained nearly all its existing customers, while growing its overall count. In other words, it lost a couple and gained a few more, which is just business.

Tier 2 and 3 operators have been key targets for iWedia, over the past year. iWedia’s white-label UI offering has helped here, as many operators are now exploring retail channels, said Desor. The pitch is that iWedia can provide a bespoke and entirely customizable UI and UX with minimum effort for the customer, in a framework that supports any video device – be that Android TV, Linux, iOS, web browsers, or smart TVs.

Desor noted that it is a difficult market for the T2 and T3 operators. The T1s have such large budgets that they can chase their own ecosystems, with Sky going as far as to develop its own smart TV. The smaller players cannot match this, stressed Desor, but they have opportunities from content owners that can be explored.

This can, however, open up another set of headaches for these smaller operators to navigate. If you want YouTube on your platform, well you will likely have to pursue Android TV, and because you are a relative minnow, this sort of negotiation happens for essentially every app that you might want to install on the service.

Desor is seeing signs of change. As smart TVs have such a significant market presence, operators are desperate to have their applications ported to them. While the user experience is better with less clutter, both on the UI and on the I/O side, Desor emphasized that the idea of a set top-free offering is a main initiative for operators.

The second part of this dynamic, said Desor, is the drive to make content more discoverable and digestible. Recommendations are key, and AI has attracted a lot of investments – mostly for metadata analysis and subsequent automated workflows. Niche content and user-generated content (UGC) can be hard to find, with Desor describing a problem that is not unique to broadcast content.

There is an opportunity to be had here, believes Desor. Moving private content from people’s phones onto the TV would ensure it remains cemented as a central family device. Finding the right content for this dynamic audience is hard, but not impossible. On a smartphone, with its audience of one, such recommendations are rather more straightforward, but when you have no certainty about who will be sitting in front of the TV, you need something to help guide your recommendations.

Desor observed that this dynamic audience problem applies to the automotive sector too, before reassuring us that iWedia is still enthusiastic about the auto market. Desor said that drivetrain electrification, recharging grids, and consistent wireless data coverage are all much more pressing problems for the automakers.

A more pragmatic business problem is the question of data charges for cars. The likes of BMW will not be happy paying directly for Netflix traffic to their cars, but the MNOs will be salivating at the chance to add millions of additional ‘customers’ to their networks. On the service side of things, how best to nudge consumers towards paying more for adding cars to their video packages could be rather tricky too.

As for emerging opportunities, iWedia’s recently completed ATSC 3.0 stack already has , but Desor cannot disclose their names. iWedia envisions a trend where cord cutting motivates a search for alternative networking, using OTT as one source and ATSC 3.0 as the other. This could be the terrestrial broadcast component of ATSC 3.0, or more likely the broadband element that would pipe in content curated by the broadband network operator.

Looking ahead to next year, the arrival of new codecs does not worry Desor. iWedia has spent a long time developing a multitude of abstraction layers, and so it can remain effectively agnostic to the encoding. This also applies to changes in the silicon footprint of these devices, supporting chips and operating systems across the board. Multicast ABR comes up in customer conversations fairly often, but the big question there is investment schedules, with telcos in both Europe and APAC eyeing it up.

As for geographic differences, while FTTH storms ahead in Europe, iWedia’s presence in APAC is a lot more reliant on legacy access mediums. OTT is not yet deployed in the region, said Desor, to anything like the extent it is in Europe or North America.

The second major issue affecting these emerging markets is content availability, with Desor saying this is especially true for Africa. A lack of local content makes it very difficult for major OTT providers to enter the countries from overseas. Localization of content for a multitude of different languages and distinct dialects is very costly, and the ARPUs in those markets are already challenging enough.

Africa is still very much a traditional broadcast market, and lacks the internet infrastructure for OTT providers to build on, said Desor. The CEO added that in India, while the likes of Reliance Jio might have 20 million cable subs and 5 million FTTH, those fixed networks pale in comparison to the mobile subscriber base.