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30 July 2020

OTT Video News, Deals, Launches and Products

Five years ago this week… A video patent war was imminent as the second HEVC license – HEVC Advance – was unveiled with a suicidal price tag, charging content owners as well as device makers and with no upper price cap. This deliberate act of sabotage came nine months after the MPEG Licensing Authority (MPEG-LA) announced its own, reasonably priced patent pool, capped at $25 million a year. A second set of vendors who were furious to be left out of the MPEG-LA – companies like Dolby, General Electric, Mitsubishi – made this move in protest. If vendors began to flee the codec, out of fear of legal action from either patent pool, it seemed likely that Google and V-Nova’s offerings stood to gain traction. You only need to read last week’s issue of Faultline to realize the significance of this.

 

In a mammoth week for the cable sector, Vodafone has awarded Harmonic a huge contract to roll out gigabit services across its DOCSIS 3.1 households in Germany, using the US vendor’s CableOS virtualized access product portfolio. The deployment includes Harmonic’s CableOS vCMTS software, CableOS Remote PHY devices and CableOS Central cloud-connected management service. The deal is a fitting follow-up to what Faultline said in July 2019 following the major Comcast contract, about how Harmonic’s CableOS platform, which Comcast played a part in the design of, could become not just the dominant virtualized cable software supplier in the US but in Europe too. This is the type of deal Canada’s Vecima should now be chasing following the acquisition of Nokia’s Gainspeed business (see standalone story in this issue). Vodafone also revealed this week that it will commence trials of DOCSIS 4.0 technologies in its German network next year, pending the arrival of the first hardware implementations supporting the new standard.

As for the video business, Vodafone has finally earmarked August this year for the completion of Vodafone TV’s replacement of the legacy Horizon platform across 24 million cable homes inherited from Liberty Global’s Unitymedia. It comes as Vodafone’s TV subscriber base fell by 50,000 subs in the last quarter, in stark contrast to the 429,000 subscribers gained on broadband services across Europe during the second quarter.

 

US digital security specialist Verimatrix saw first half 2020 revenues slide by 12% to $24.15 million. Despite this, Verimatrix saw progress in its SaaS and subscription-based offerings, again driven by the trend of content distributors choosing to offload infrastructure to managed cloud services. A total of 17 new subscription deals were secured in Q2, adding to Q1’s 10 new contracts.

Verimatrix has also secured a deal for its Video Content Authority System (VCAS) framework at the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (Cyta), described as a semi-governmental organization with a presence in the local IPTV market. User-specific watermarking is part of the deployment, enabling the tracking and enforcing of rights to identify piracy at its point or origin. In the same breath, Verimatrix has released version 3.7 of its WhiteBox product for code protection and application shielding – with the update including usability improvements, speed and size optimizations, plus increased robustness of public key algorithms.

German multiscreen vendor 3SS has signed up another partner company for its 3Ready Custom Launcher for Android TV, integrating with ad tech developer HopprTV. Based in Australia, HopprTV claims its AI-enabled data engine places ads tailored to viewer interests – with the two companies pointing to the collective aim of realizing the relatively untapped revenue opportunities via Android TV.

Brazilian triple play operator Qnet Telecom has deployed Ateme’s Titan Live technology for multi-channel H.264 encoding, designed to reach multiple devices.

 

In what could be a too little, too late move for the movie industry, AMC Theaters and  Universal have put their ongoing feud aside in a deal to slide Universal releases into AMC brick and mortar cinemas for a shortened 17-day exclusive window.

Israeli pay TV operator Yes has given the nod to Synamedia’s Infinite cloud platform to spearhead its migration from DTH TV to fully-IP delivered video services by 2026. Bezeq-owned Yes was impressed by Synamedia’s ability to shrink latency at every stage of the video workflow from encoding to CDN and player, in results which the two companies claim matched broadcast latency. The vendor’s virtualized digital content manager (vCDM) and Edge Media Streamer private CDN are included in the deployment.

Humax has come out swinging with a new bells and whistles Android TV set top. Claiming a world first, the Korean manufacturer’s H7 hardware houses AV1 compression, HDR10 and WiFi 6 connectivity. More significantly still, Humax has dressed it up with Operator Tier appeal by providing operator customers with a custom Humax UI, broadcast middleware (HATS), voice assistant (HAVIS), and back-end management (HATS). It runs Broadcom silicon with 24K DMIPS CPU and will launch commercially before the end of this year.

T-Mobile USA’s forthcoming Android TV platform will likely be delivered using similar streaming hardware as Dish Network’s dongle, made by Chinese manufacturer SEI Robotics, according to new FCC documents.

Verizon slipped below 4 million Fios video connections for the first time after losing another 81,000 subscribers in Q2 2020, contributing to a full year footprint shrinkage of 283,000. Fios internet connections increased by 10,000 in the quarter to just under 6 million. Verizon’s latest ploy to reignite Fios video interest is to integrate ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV on Fios cable set tops, Stream TV hardware, Verizon Android mobile handsets, and 5G Amazon Home Fire devices.

Having clearly learned nothing from Australia’s shambolic national broadband network, the Italian government is reportedly exploring a national high-speed fixed infrastructure project by merging TIM’s fiber business with the Open Fiber initiative, according to Reuters. Apparently discussions around a single national network were accelerated as US private equity firm KKR approached TIM about buying a 40% stake in its fixed network business.

Patent pool MPEG-LA has filed a patent infringement case against TV manufacturer TCL in Germany for alleged breach of AVC licenses. TCL Deutschland and TCL Mobile Germany are alleged to have used patented AVC methods without licenses with individual patent holders, although MPEG-LA did not specify which AVC patent holders were owed damages.

Delayed French streaming platform Salto is now targeting an October launch, blaming the coronavirus pandemic for the hold up, despite various OTT video platforms going live during lockdown months. Salto is a joint venture of broadcasters France Televisions, TF1 and M6.

Meanwhile, the UK’s own broadcaster-fronted streaming initiative, BritBox, is plotting a global expansion effort in up to 25 new countries. BritBox says it wants to build on success in the US and Canada where it has picked up 1 million subscribers.

Billing software giant Amdocs has acquired Irish BSS specialist Openet for $180 million, which provides data management, policy and charging software to major operators including AT&T, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

Broadcast and production workflow provider latakoo has added assignment tracking and file delivery to its cloud-based platform via a partnership with the Associated Press Electronics News Product System (ENPS) team. Large news organizations can benefit from knowing exactly when the assigned story is dispatched to the crew and when the finished story arrives.

Anime-focused streaming platform Crunchyroll is celebrating hitting 3 million paid subscribers from its total registered user base of 70 million accounts.

Broadband access equipment and CPE spending will rise 5% in 2021, offsetting a 7% fall in 2020 spending due to global lockdowns, according to Dell’Oro Group.

Altice USA is selling a stake of a little under 50% in its fiber business Lightpath to Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners for $2.3 billion.

As expected, Akamai experienced another blow away quarter. Revenue for the second quarter spiked 13% over the previous year to $795 million, driven by 19% revenue growth in the Media and Carrier Division ($390 million) and a 7% increase in the Web Division ($404 million). Net income saw an impressive 42% increase to $162 million.

Disney-owned ESPN has reached a deal with South African pay TV operator MultiChoice to bring two sports channels to DStv subscribers.

Mexican cable operator Megacable claims its OTT platform Xview exceeded 1 million subscribers in Q2 2020, gaining 200,000 sign-ups in the quarter – beating out pay TV additions of 167,000 new subs.

It seldom takes long before the UK duly follows the US lead, and regulator Ofcom has made a significant copycat move by freeing up the lower 6 GHz spectrum band for unlicensed WiFi connectivity. UK WiFi users will benefit from increased capacity, reduced congestion and additional channels.

The politicking has begun, with senior civil servants now using public methods to air their grievances with the UK’s purchase of OneWeb. Bickering sees the civil service warning that the entire $500 million could be lost, while the government expects a whopping 20% return. Charlie Ergen has also thrown $50 million into the hat, via EchoStar subsidiary Hughes Network Systems.

 

A week after it unveiled its Android TV dongle, Xiaomi has claimed that it is the top dog in Chinese smart TV market, citing data from Avi Cloud. This is the sixth consecutive quarter it has held that title, and sold 10.46 million units in 2019.

Programmatic ad platform OpenX is launching a new system to allow advertisers and agencies to access their log data, in partnership with cloud data platform Snowflake. Dubbed the Bidding Intelligence Data Set (BIDS), it increases transparency for all players in ad tech.

Advertising insights firm Magellan AI has onboarded the Westwood One Podcast Network to its service. Launched in 2017, Magellan AI provides ad and audience data on the top 3000 podcasts.

TVSquared has yet again teased a behind-the-scenes romance with Comcast. This time it is partnering with Sky Media – Sky’s advertising arm – in the UK to launch a direct web attribution tool across linear, on demand and addressable TV ad campaigns, meaning companies will be able to track whether ad campaigns have led directly to website hits.

Pandora is moving interactive voice ads into beta testing. With ads made in partnership with brands such as Unilever and Comcast, most ad content consists of asking the listener questions, and providing additional information following a “yes” response.

Social media ad spend in the US declined 31.6% in Q2, according to a report from Socialbakers. The analyst firm attributes this dip to #BlackoutTuesday and the far-reaching advertising industry boycott of Facebook. But social media clearly still has increasing value for advertisers. On a global scale, average cost-per-click for online paid ads increased by 55.3% in Q2.

UK AVoD service W4free has acquired 80 movies and mini-series from Signature Entertainment, which will be added at the beginning of August.