Orca updates SUI, rolls out partner program, but needs to do more

Orca is demonstrating its latest version of IPTV middleware at the CommunicAsia show in Singapore this week, which has an interesting ‘My Lineup’ daily personalized channel.

The idea is that selections from Broadcast, VoD, and a PVR are all visible on the MyTV interface, and that instead of playing them at one at a time, a person in the TV household can schedule their viewing in a particular order, and just come back to their own ‘channel’ when they next come back to the TV.

Other parts of the enhanced Orca RiGHTv SUI include a ‘Dashboard’ to accompany TV viewing showing all the systems main functions at a glance.

RiGHTv is also one of the first to have a recommendations system with an average subscriber ratings for VOD content, as well as peer to peer recommendations that can be provided to live via instant messaging to tell friends that they should switch to the channel you’re watching.

Also this week Orca said that it launched its Interactive Alliance to promote cooperation among IPTV best of breed players. In essence this is just a better way of automating APIs between its middleware and keep track of system versioning so that integrating an IPTV system from multiple suppliers is easier.

The Orca Interactive Alliance includes players clustered into Integration partners, technology partners, application developer partners, and SUI (Subscriber User Interface) partners

Orca will provides partners with implementation tools, including the SUI SDK for TV interfaces and application development, an IPTV Service Delivery Platform for rapid integration into the operator’s network, plug-ins and APIs for effective integration across the IPTV value chain, as well as training and documentation, and rolled out browser specialist ANT and integrator Nortel as two of the partners on board.

As much as we have enjoyed the nascent IPTV market with its 60 set top vendors, its multiple browser and DRM entries, more than a handful of VoD server suppliers and encoder makers, and one or two competent middleware offerings, it is time for it to begin the painful task of consolidation. The problem is who is going to lead them.

The consolidation driver is simple. The market has been stalled while it waits to see what Microsoft-Alcatel can achieve in this market, and few major IPTV contracts are going to small start ups any more, although these was one big one in India this week (see separate story). In the absence of large operator support, the sector needs to redefine itself into a handful of viable players, to re-kickstart the IPTV economy. And yet even this is tricky. Even telecom giant Ericsson’s move into the sector last week was muted and involved just one partnership last week with Kasenna.

Why, for instance has no-one tried to buy Orca, supposedly a whale of the middleware sector, rather than let it stumble on alone, despite it supposedly being friends with such notables as Lucent, Nortel and IBM.

Well Lucent can’t buy it and still go into a merger with the market leader Alcatel. IBM can’t buy it and still continue to get a huge amount of implementer business on Microsoft projects. Nortel however could buy it, as could have Ericsson if it had not been so taken with Kasenna.

While Orca stands out as the ‘stand out’ acquisition of the bunch, other potential acquisitions such as BitBand, Entone, Broadbus, Widevine, Verimatrix, ANT, Espial, Secure Media, Minerva Networks and about 100 others, are all crying out to be incorporated into a larger IPTV or triple play vision. One thing stopping this is that there are so many of them, that it’s tough to choose just the right one. And the situation is getting more overcrowded, with IPTV operators also trying to bring their home grown IPTV code onto the market as products, such as Telefonica’s Imagenio.

But right now, in a semi-stalled market, we know that investors will be anxious. They will have seen a hypergrowth market go ex-growth and the value of their investments plummet. Even the smaller public companies will be feeling the chill.

If a telecom major (or minor) won’t come forward to lead them (and they should), then perhaps one of their own kind could do this. Perhaps one of the public entities among this group have the share price and connections to make it happen?

But it can’t be an encoder company, because they can’t buy into a single architecture, and why should they, they’re doing so well, and will continue to do well for the next five years. They must remain agnostic.
And it can’t be a DRM business, because they don’t have the market capital to achieve much, because the threat of Microsoft and all the big conditional access suppliers, make their future difficult to fathom.

A set top supplier likewise can’t limit its business to a single architecture and risk becoming sidelined. No it’s back to those that offer middleware, and who’s fate is irrefutably linked to IPTV, and that means it’s back those with middleware or from outside the market.

Orca or one of the others have to lead the rollup of best of breed IPTV vendors before they are all so far adrift from the leaders that no-one will take them seriously, leaving them to fight over hybrid TV markets and chase new operations like mobile TV.