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28 February 2019

MWC 2019: Fighting pirates prominent, but no resurgence for VR, yet

Mobile World Congress exceeded all expectations, in the sense that not only was it the 5G free-for-all everyone expected it to be, but to the extent that numerous long-standing attendees voiced concerns about the Barcelona-based trade show being on the cusp of becoming the CES of Europe. This might sound dramatic, but hearing it directly from the mouths of some established vendors is all the evidence required.

We’ll honor off the record comments to ensure no one gets barred from attending future shows, but the sentiment is something we’ve alluded to in previous years’ coverage. Our attendance at MWC is purely in aid of bringing the voices of the mobile video market to the surface, those which might otherwise be drowned out by consumer gadgets and future networks. So, there were a handful of significant video moments from MWC which we will touch on shortly.

Surprisingly though, there was very little in the way of VR, a case in point we emphasized last year, but with the prominence of 5G at this years’ show, we expected VR to make a resurgence of sorts. It’s perhaps best that wasn’t the case, as it would have been premature.

That said, another concern from the vendor perspective voiced at MWC is that plenty of current and prospective customers are hanging on and waiting for 5G to arrive before rolling out some form of OTT video service. The vendor argument is that companies need to start building a platform now, to have ready to rock ’n’ roll once 5G network roll outs begin. Waiting around for a new delivery pipe to be built simply then to dress it up in sexy marketing clothes (when in reality 5G is far from sexy) is not a worthwhile strategy. The time is now.

These irks came from companies like Synamedia, which had a relatively light presence at MWC compared to some of its much smaller compatriots. The NDS reincarnation was showcasing its new security product focused on stemming password sharing, using analytics and machine learning tools to bring down operations comprising in some cases hundreds of users for a single account. It can detect suspect devices and crucially use the detection of illegitimate users to the advantage of customers, then upselling a subscription to the pirate directly. Synamedia claims “a lot” of trials at telcos and pay TV operators.

It was serendipitous then when we arrived at the Viaccess-Orca stand to be told about an almost identical security service prepped for launch later this year. This is indicative of the video market right now, particularly for telcos, many of which own lucrative sports streaming rights, and the piracy threat was certainly a trend we picked up from MWC during our time there, one which will bubble up closer to the surface in the coming years.

Viaccess-Orca went into a little more detail, explaining that a method coined breach detection in the monitoring of illegal streams can surface anomalies to operators, allowing them to revoke devices and it can even help customers take pirates to court in some cases. It also emphasizes the crucial nature of upselling, which Viaccess-Orca reckons could open the door to a new way of selling content and a great way of justifying security purchases.

This developed into an interesting conversation about the future of the content piracy space. Subscriptions are the preferred model in our industry as we know, but what if operators were to embrace one-off payments for live sports matches – the most prevalent form of content in the pirate ecosystem – a model synonymous with boxing and UFC but little else. Operators are currently reluctant to do so as they feel it would be detrimental to their core subscriber bases and therefore damaging ARPU. But Viaccess-Orca is a believer that there is plenty of money to be made by pushing offers to pirates saying, “We’re about to shut down this illegal stream, but here’s a link to purchase your live soccer match for a small one-off fee – no strings attached.” We’re inclined to agree but the operators will take some convincing.