Nagra reluctantly wins first Android TV operator deal

Nagra has won its first Android TV Operator Tier deployment this week with Euskaltel, securing the Spanish pay TV operator’s debut 4K set top. The deal aligns with the operator swing towards Android TV, which is a welcome trend for consumers, yet concerns for any vendor with dealings in the set top sector are mounting as Google’s OS dominance spreads from the handset to the TV.

Adapting to an Android TV ecosystem has meant adopting Google’s Widevine DRM, which a few security players were late in doing, along with the other major DRMs and conditional access security systems for connected devices. The majority of video service providers are looking to Android TV to play a pivotal part of their future set top strategies, as the traditional pay TV players will eventually have to wave goodbye to the closed set top environments that they have enjoyed control over for too long – welcoming the eventual transition to open platforms.

Security vendors have developed systems which can broaden security support with an open set top environment by coexisting with legacy cable systems, without duplicating bandwidth. Kudelksi Group subsidiary Nagra recently developed such a system in partnership with Altice USA, as cable operators in the US are backing a shift in technologies towards open set tops, despite the FCC’s open set top initiative appearing almost dead and buried.

The world’s largest set top company Arris is a fitting example of vendor reluctance in making the switch, having initially suggested that its huge hardware footprint would not serve as homes for Android TV, but it then embraced Android with open arms at IBC 2016. The driving force behind this is of course the operators, in Arris’ case Telefonica, also in Spain.

Euskaltel uses Technicolor hardware, which we believe rolled out its first Android TV device about a year ago. The newest Android TV-based 4K set top from Technicolor has been fitted with Nagra Connect content protection, combined with the Spanish cable TV operator’s existing OpenTV Platform backend.

Nagra’s Connect converged DRM conditional access product is responsible for securing a range of content and features including VoD, catch-up, start-over, cloud DVR and multiscreen TV – supporting broadcast, IPTV and operator OTT.

An interesting report published earlier this year from UK consulting firm Ovum and Dutch security specialist Irdeto found that the chief concern for video service providers switching to Android TV or Android Open Source Platform (AOSP) is content piracy. Results showed that 43% of respondents stated that an open platform provides an increased attack surface due to users being able to easily install other applications on the set top. This was followed by 41% saying installing applications used for illegal streaming is a worry, and 32% are concerned for both open source vulnerabilities and pirated content risks.

Currently, the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) maintains the open source elements of Android, which are free to use and form the core components of the OS. However, the Google applications like the Play Store, Chrome, Gmail and YouTube are licensed to Android developers by Google – on the condition that if one app is desired, all the Google apps have to be included in the OS that is eventually sold to consumers.

Obviously, this allows Google to get its foot through the door of nearly all set tops deploying Android in developed economies, not to mention the volume of Android phones sold – which tend to use basic versions of Android, as opposed to China which favors heavily modified versions of Android Open Source and native Chinese apps.

The vested interests of vendors, including Nagra, lie with more traditional, operator-owned pay TV environments. Before 2014 when Android TV launched, Google was not a major player in TV as many of its mobile apps did not require making the jump to the big screen, but offering operators a cost-saving alternative with Android TV has forced the likes of Nagra to adapt.

A recent blog post from Nagra summarizes this reluctance rather well: “Google demands that set top manufacturers follow a fixed three automatic update scheme but offers no support after that. This implies that an in-built obsolescence of the most important capex driver of any pay TV deployment may kick in early in the deployment life cycle. Moreover, there is a question mark over whether advanced services in the form of applications and even security could potentially become misaligned as the middleware support disappears. This would cause both the TV industry and the consumer major issues. On the other hand, a fully-managed pay TV solution gives consumers a guaranteed and supported solution as well as the all-important QoS that consumers expect.”