MobiTV – from mobile video force to serving 3,500 cable subs

Citizens Fiber, a US cable TV and internet provider with a tiny subscriber base of just 3,500, has handed troubled IP video software vendor MobiTV its first deployment deal in what feels like a lifetime. Contracts at AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Deutsche Telekom should be keeping the MobiTV business more than healthy – deals we suspect are on the brink and clearly MobiTV is already feeding off scraps.

Remembering MobiTV was given a last chance round of funding from Oak Investment Partners and Ally Corporate Finance one year ago, to the tune of $21 million, served up a big suggestion investors were unconvinced with the company’s product line. The cash was intended to accelerate the expansion of its MobiTV Connect software, shifting from its core mobile TV business to one targeting both mobile and set top environments.

The two investment partners won’t be seeing much of that $20 million again, if an operator with the reach of Citizens Fiber is the best MobiTV Connect can muster. Since 2001, MobiTV has guzzled $163.8 million of funding.

Softbank’s Sprint has been the most reliant on MobiTV of the big four telcos mentioned, using it for the Sprint TV mobile service since 2005, inheriting gradual improvements to the software over time as the vendor rolled them out – handling multiple processes in the IP video chain. Although the capability to upgrade the system is relatively easy, as the content can flow through the existing MobiTV system, some 13 years on we suspect Sprint is already in the process of working out a replacement for this ancient system.

MobiTV was behind the new Sprint Spot app launched last year, which looks to be heading in the same direction as Verizon’s Go90 – as Sprint continues to struggle with any sort of coherent strategy in OTT video.

MobiTV, which began life as a CMS, once boasted technologies spanning transcoding, packaging, subscription management, digital asset management, cloud-based network DVR, personalization and recommendation software, targeted advertising, analytics, and encryption via its own DRM – almost everything an operator should need to launch a comprehensive streaming service. We are unsure how many of these technologies remain in the MobiTV portfolio today, but recent moves suggest all or part of deployment contracts may have fallen to more specialist suppliers, particularly through acquisitions, such as AT&T’s purchase of Quickplay Media.

A full switch out at Deutsche Telekom looks likely to have happened back in May 2016 when the German operator launched Entertain TV, judging by the way it described the new platform when compared to the Entertain2Go service MobiTV headed up, coming entirely from the mobile side. Huawei was the main supplier for Entertain TV, but MobiTV insisted it maintained the network DVR element.

So the funding round last year was all about enhancing a product specifically targeted at small pay TV operators, designed to reduce hardware costs while providing a bridge to modern IP-based services and features, rather than focusing on the technologies used at its tier 1 accounts. It’s almost as if investors knew MobiTV’s large deployments were aging and approaching the market from a new angle was essential to survival.

On the company’s new trajectory, helping legacy regional cable operators catch up with the TV industry progressing around them, Pennsylvania-based Citizens Fiber is the first, perhaps of many. In fact, this week marks MobiTV’s first customer win since July 2016, when wireless US operator C Spire selected it for a virtual pay TV platform launch.

Citizens Fiber has selected MobiTV Connect to deliver app-based pay TV services to its 3,500 subscribers, initially testing the platform with a select group of beta users before fully rolling out the service later this Spring.

MobiTV Connect was launched in July last year and is an IP video delivery system targeted at helping smaller US cable companies to offer OTT video on smartphones and other portable devices, especially to streaming media adapters deployed already in many US homes. The plan is to help cable operators upgrade video delivery from traditional QAM to IP and blend on-demand, live TV, catch-up TV, network DVR and recommendations.

Citizens Fiber hopes the belated upgrade will reduce churn and pick up new customers as it prepares to expand outside of its current rural area and into the cities of Latrobe and Greensburg later this year. The SaaS platform from MobiTV also supports 4K content and voice control – without switching out set tops.

Citizens Fiber Operations Manager Zach Cutrell said, “We know app-based delivery is the future of TV. The partnership with MobiTV has been a healthy and beneficial relationship since day one. Its vision for where the industry is headed, attention to detail, and willingness to work with a provider of our size has been a breath of fresh air. It engineered a solution that allowed us to share costs of the necessary cross-country circuit and streaming server with another progressive thinking fiber company outside of Pittsburgh; Hickory Telephone Company. Being able to share these costs, having our own distinct customer facing applications in the App stores, and not outlaying a significant investment has been a game changer for both companies.”