The Now TV service from Hong Kongese giant PCCW – via its media arm HKT – has long been ahead of its time as an advanced IPTV offering, dating back to launch two decades ago. In Now TV’s most recent upgrade, the Android TV user experience is getting an integration facelift with the assistance of UK-based TV technology specialist Amino – a long-term supplier to Now TV.
While we are not trying to take the shine off any celebrations, there is an air of caution here that Amino might eventually run into the same problems as ThinkAnalytics, when the vendor deemed the Now TV account to be untenable – withdrawing its content recommendations engine. This left the field free for ContentWise to slide in with its automation and personalization software, which we understand the Italian supplier is virtually giving away for free.
Against this background, the transfer of power from PCCW Media to HKT, over Now TV’s control, is beginning to look like it was designed to make some unsavory cost cutting technology decisions. Admittedly, the content recommendations marketplace is in a state of flux, while Amino’s OS, middleware and integration services will be needed as long as Now TV remains an IPTV staple in Hong Kong, and Amino remains expert in Android TV.Of course,
In deploying the Amino OS and Amino Engage services as part of a fully integrated Amino software stack, Now TV is intertwining its IPTV roots with the OTT shoots that have sprung from its newest Android TV set top – the Now H1 device. Unveiled in May this year, Now H1 is an upgrade on the Now E platform which launched in 2018 as PCCW’s debut Android TV offering, with Now H1 marketed as an all-in-one home companion.
Amino OS is the adhesive that brings the crown jewels of OTT – your Netflix and HBO Go apps – to your pay TV platform. The experience blends Now TV’s own content with preloaded content from popular OTT video services, which admittedly sounds like a rudimentary pay TV integration project, except that we should bear in mind that PCCW is not a rudimentary operator – having offered streaming content since 2003 when it began using IPTV as well as WiFi hotspot delivery, way ahead of the curve.
On a side note, it’s likely that the long-standing success of Now TV in Hong Kong is one reason for pushing European operator Sky to rebrand its own Now TV streaming service – dropping the ‘TV’ to become simply ‘Now’.
Amino Engage is delivered as a SaaS management option that also serves up insights on video consumption metrics for monetization. This, Amino claims, increases operational efficiency and boosts customer loyalty.
It was summer 2017 when Amino publicly announced its first software-only contract with PCCW for the Enable platform. This provided a layer of software below the middleware, so that PCCW could adjust the middleware and UI on its existing footprint of Now One UHD set tops to roll out the 4K version of Now TV. Amino inherited Enable with its 2015 acquisition of US-based cloud TV company Entone, which – alongside another acquisition of Swedish OTT system Booxmedia – saw the company move aggressively into software.
Amino has since added to this with the acquisitions of 24i Media for app development expertise and The Filter for content recommendations – resulting in the creation of Aferian as an umbrella company to keep a watchful eye on the additional moving parts of the growing organization.
There are a number of key technologies behind the scenes supporting the integration effort of IPTV and OTT content. To simplify the preparation and delivery of video content to IPTV and OTT platforms, while migrating to new streaming formats and reducing storage usage, PCCW contracts Harmonic. A significant upgrade arrived in Q1 2019 with Harmonic’s VOS Cluster technology, deployed as a cloud-native, on-premise deployment.
This enabled a unified system for IPTV and OTT content preparation and delivery – using Harmonic media processing to speed up time to market for new services.
As already highlighted, Now TV was way ahead of its time using its own CMS in 2003 at launch, as well as its own DRM. Initially, the Now Player was based on Harmonic Pro Media Live for live streams and there were additional transcoding systems from Imagine, a relationship we understand has withered on the vine as Now TV modernized.
For delivery, we understand PCCW and its HKT subsidiary run in-house CDN infrastructure, supported by public infrastructure in a multi-CDN architecture, while Edgeware has long supported content delivery across all services, supplying its TV Delivery Server technology using scalable three-layer architecture for IPTV delivery without delays. This is essentially a video cache at the CDN edge, with additional cache server support coming from F5 Networks, and PCCW has also worked with edge storage company G-core Labs.
Circling back to the front-end, PCCW has completely rebuilt the back-end of the Now TV services on set tops and connected device applications in the past couple of years. The new Now TV design integrates the ContentWise Analytics and ContentWise UX Engine platforms – with machine learning capabilities for expanding the range of Now TV’s personalization and discovery features.
Dynamic interplay of data-driven personalization and assisted editorial input is designed to adapt to individual intent and tastes. New features include a personalized home page and use cases designed to simplify content exploration, while using AI to strike a balance between algorithmic personalization decisions and editorial input to maximize programming ROI and repeat usage.
From reading this, you wouldn’t think Now TV was cutting many corners – not with the new Now H1 device – but then again, marketing is everything.