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7 January 2016

Nagra reinvents MediaLive, OpenTV into new 4K UI intuiTV

Nagra has spent some time emerging from under its conditional access history into the full light of OTT end to end systems, and each step has appeared stuttering and uncertain. Remember it buying Open TV, against the open hostility of its US investors? Remember EchoStar Europe falling into its hands, as a set top player, in a deal heralded as some kind of partnership, when it was in fact EchoStar evacuating Europe?

But it is these building blocks that it has brought together into a proper end to end OTT strategy, focused on building “B-to-B-to-C” OTT services in under 100 days. Those were the words of Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, Senior Director Product Marketing at Nagra, talking to us at a pre-briefing before CES.

What we were discussing was intuiTV, described by Nagra as a new way to enjoy TV, giving multiple devices access to the same content, over OTT with an ergonomic “swipe-to-tune” UI using, a touch-screen remote control and opening the way for gesture and voice control as well.

When you describe it like that it sounds a bit lame, like any one of the “30 or so end to end OTT systems” that we have seen launched in the past 24 months, but it is the Nagra pedigree that makes it different, in the same way that when NDS made its shift to broad spectrum pay TV, that too was different, just prior it being subsumed into Cisco.

Like any so called intuitive TV, intuiTV uses a cross media bar, which you swipe up and down to navigate the different sources of video and across to select a viewable item. We first saw a UI like that in 2004 and we have not seen anything much different since. Don’t get us wrong, we prefer it hugely to the EPG. But the strength of those UIs is in which operators trust them, how fast they react and what glitches they retain. We saw NDS develop Liberty Global’s Horizon service and after 4 years and many false dawns, there were still glitches and stalls. In other words, it’s all about the execution.

Smith-Chaigneau described it as the first UI built specifically for use in 4K. And he calls it B-to-B-to-C, because it is designed to be sold of another business, and then launched almost immediately to create a consumer experience, the target time is around 3 months. That’s the modern idiom for an OTT service. And to be honest it is as much because operators do not know what to do in OTT, as it is the market changing so fast. Operators are learning and don’t want to build an18 wheeler, just to learn their first lessons in content marketing. They want something quick and dirty, to begin their learning curve. Some operators are on their third version of OTT video and still have very few customers.

Ask Vodafone. It has most recently asked Kaltura in Germany to build something in just 3 months, and awarded the contract based on that. Other OTT specialists have reported similar experiences. If an operator finds that the “fast to market” system works and it allows it flexibility to learn about OTT video, then it will stay loyal to the supplier. If not it’s just another 100 days’ wait until the next one.

But the CEO quote in the release says a lot. “The future of television is television and it’s more about enjoying content than anything else,” said André Kudelski, Chairman and CEO, Kudelski Group. “This means getting back to a simpler and more intuitive viewing experience that makes it easy for consumers to find the content they want, without having to worry about constantly swapping inputs, changing remote controls and guessing what is behind each and every app on a constantly morphing app dashboard. With intuiTV, they can enjoy all their content in one place, with one device, one remote and a single and seamless user experience.”

Yes, most of that is true, except for the first sentence. No-one is really sure that TV is still about Television, and Smith-Chaigneau underlined that by saying that the intuiTV system as it is today is more about sharing TV on devices such as a tablet or a laptop, than involving the smartphone, except, says Smith-Chaigneau, as a controlling device.

We reminded him that study after study has shown that the fastest growing video market is on a smart phone, especially in the US, but he shrugged and said Nagra was headed there, but that the last step of unifying the UI for the phone, was perhaps a little way off.

He added, “The world has suddenly woken up to OTT, look at Roku and Apple.  So we have packaged up an end to end system which uses the best of our technologies. It has a new zoomable UI, supports a touch screen remote and allows for gesture and voice controls.”

The system relies on Open TV 5.0, can be used with the EchoStar set tops and has a cloud management system and works with best of breed partner software such as Conviva analytics or any one of Elemental, Envivio or Harmonic head ends. And he added, “Ingest in the cloud is a big service opportunity. Every broadcaster has to resolve that and get its content to portable devices.”

We asked if intuiTV uses a recommendation system and he confirmed that one so far had been implemented, but he would not say which one. He added that Nagra will remain flexible, offering whatever recommendation flavor a customer wants.

To us this looks like a merger between the conditional access systems of Nagra, its Open TV 5.0, the Nagra MediaLive which is the precursor to this product, which is already used currently at Foxtel in Australia and Dish in the US. We shall see who else pops up using it in the next 100 days.