Opera spin off Vewd suggests smart TVs will crush Android TV

App store provider Opera TV quietly rebranded itself to Vewd a few months ago, after being spun off as independent company from Norway’s Opera Software following its takeover by a Chinese consortium. Since then, the new company, which Opera retains a minority stake in, doesn’t look particularly different other than the name, but Faultline Online Reporter got the chance to delve into how Vewd is pursuing smart TV and set top deployments without the guiding hand of the Opera Software browser business.

The 200-person team faces an uphill battle against Android TV and Apple TV but Vewd’s CEO Aneesh Rajaram assured us that the company’s presence in 30% of the smart TV market, some 50 million devices worldwide, is triple the footprint of Android TV, and its solid foundation of customers amassed over the years is growing stronger still.

Vewd has over a decade of TV technology experience, but not an ounce of R&D effort is channeled towards mobile. What makes this surprising is that before the separation, Opera’s mobile advertising business through 3rd party partners made up 63.5% of its total quarterly revenue back in Q2 2015, and was the company’s fastest growing sector at the time.

Vewd is constantly observing mobile ventures, but Rajaram stated that diversifying the current business model to accommodate mobile deployments is a proposition that just doesn’t add up today. “We are not the browser guys,” he said. Instead, Vewd is focusing heavily on the metadata side of the recommendation engine market, but claims that its own software is focused purely on enhancing recommendations and discovery, rather than being positioned as a competitor to the serious software players in the space.

Rajaram gave the example of Vewd’s deployment at Virgin Media in the UK, where it manages and enhances TiVo’s recommendations by analyzing app and content usage. Compared to smart TV deployments, integrating with set top middleware is more challenging and technically demanding, meaning an integration time of months rather than weeks, according to Rajaram.

That means smart TV deployments are the number one focus for the company right now, as shipments are expected to explode. Rajaram suggested that smart TV shipments in Latin America will soon surpass those in North America. Sony has always been the company’s main partner for smart TVs, but Hisense was highlighted as one of Vewd’s manufacturer partners seeing particularly impressive growth.

Most recently, Vewd picked up a deal at Brazilian broadcaster Canal Futura, adding its TV app to the Vewd App Store and claiming 50 million regular viewers tuning in to its cultural and educational programming. Vewd cited IHS Markit figures showing that smart TV shipments in Brazil will hit 19.4 million by the end of this year, growing from 14.2 million last year.

Accedo springs to mind as a main rival to Vewd, but Rajaram said this is not the case, as the Swedish app store developer is a member of the Vewd certification program, along with 24i and Massive Interactive. The program is designed to streamline capabilities for operators by allowing OTT app developers to test, verify and certify their HTML5 apps across connected TV devices spanning multiple vendors and industries. It uses a pre-certified toolkit called Snap for generating smart TV channels quickly, in a matter of minutes according to Rajaram, with an in-built HbbTV component for interactivity and integration with broadcast services. Claro Video is another major name on the certification program.

Next up we discussed the hybrid broadcast broadband TV (HbbTV) initiative, which Rajaram described as “a fantastic spec”, adding that satellite operators are adopting the hybrid specification and Vewd is seeing a big uptake of the technology, not just in Germany which is considered a stronghold for HbbTV. Despite getting traction in Europe, IPTV providers have not embraced HbbTV with the same exuberance, and we would suggest that HbbTV is perhaps focused too much on the broadcast side and not enough on broadband, although this does not matter to Vewd, which is well placed to capitalize not just on its new search and recommendation capabilities, but also establish skills in optimized video delivery migrating into cloud services.

That said, Rajaram also revealed that Vewd is currently in the process of shifting its cloud-based services away from Opera Software infrastructure and over to a major unnamed cloud infrastructure provider – a high chance of being either AWS or Azure.

The main competition for Vewd comes from in-house software developed by the smart TV manufacturers themselves, according to Rajaram, with 55% of all smart TV systems worldwide being served by Samsung and LG, which in turn use the operating systems Tizen and WebOS.

The UI on Verizon’s Arris-supplied FiOS set tops is presented by Vewd’s software, and Swisscom is another major European operator supporting the Vewd App Store. In the Asia Pacific market, Vewd has tied up a huge smart TV deal with Alibaba, and has a bunch of operator deployments through integrations with set top providers Sagemcom and Kaon Media. Rajaram cited more IHS Markit figures, claiming that pay TV subscriptions in Asia Pacific will grow 19% to over 700 million by 2021.

In the pure play OTT space, Hindi OTT movie provider Eros Now has teamed up with Vewd to offer its service on millions of smart TVs, Blu-ray players and set tops powered by the HTML5-based storefront – with over 68 million registered users worldwide. Mobile viewing in India and the rest of the Asia Pacific is off the charts, but entering this space could see Vewd stepping on toes with current partners like Accedo, which could upset the certification program ecosystem it has built.