Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

21 January 2021

Ploughing TV data is new VO CEO’s mission – reflecting Orange’s

It would be easy to deduce that the arrival of a set top specialist from French giant Orange into the CEO position at subsidiary Viaccess-Orca was a decision made with obvious synergies for both companies. Orange wants more and better TV data to advance its addressable advertising business, while VO wants a bigger slice of the uniquely convoluted French addressable advertising market (and beyond).

Speaking to Philippe Léonetti this week, who took the VO CEO helm in May 2020, Faultline got a pretty good idea of how his experience in pioneering Orange CPE translates over to the vendor world. Ploughing data into everything VO does is clearly the message Léonetti has been conveying to his team over the past 9 months.

The newest facet of this strategy is built around empowering super aggregators with unified management and metadata ingest, in a product unimaginatively named VO Super Aggregator. Regular Faultline readers will know all about our mixed feelings for this upcycled trend – with pay TV operators walking a tightrope between the need to aggregate OTT services and avoiding returning to old habits.

VO Super Aggregator was only launched in November 2020, and the technology is clearly more intelligent than the name suggests. It brings a holistic view of subscriber behaviors and trends to pay TV operators, spanning all OTT services, and takes a unified approach to metadata management. Churn-reducing bells and whistles include single sign-on access, cross-service bundles with unified billing, ROI-boosting insights and analytics, and live-streamed channels to “recreate the magic of linear TV,” as VO puts it. It also boasts a wealth of content provider contacts to iron out the aggregation process.

Although aggregation sounds appealing, one particular pain point for operators is the metadata fragmentation across OTT services, which is something VO is addressing by “normalizing” (essentially standardizing) this data to unify content. The value to pay TV operators is channeling this data into marketing and targeted advertising campaigns, or personalized offers, or even contract haggling – all in the name of reducing churn or increasing ARPU.

Clearly VO has honed its data and analytics skills since we last spoke with the vendor, although Faultline touched a nerve with the mention of Android TV Operator Tier. We were told that VO Super Aggregator is compatible with the Google technology, but the company wants to think bigger and believes Android TV is a flawed beast.

Yuval Shachar, VP of Products at VO, jumped in to provide his knowledge on VO’s advertising ambitions alongside the super aggregation strategy. Android TV is one route into the targeted TV advertising market for pay TV operators, although Shachar described Google as “still struggling with TV” – rather contentiously given the technology’s uptake and Google’s ad and content inventory.

“We have a new employee who came from an operator working with Android TV who has revealed serious gaps to integrate in this world. I guarantee you that the majority of revenues stay with Google. Orange doesn’t own the content, so it has to work with broadcasters. There is a similar debate in Spain,” he said.

The second approach, that Shachar believes is (or will be) more dominant, is to break the strategy into pieces like in France, where pay TV operators essentially work for the broadcasters. Operators in France have been historically restricted from targeted advertising because laws state they do not own the content distributed on their platforms. Broadcasters own the content, even though the operator owns distribution rights, owns the subscribers, owns the network infrastructure, and owns the CPE.

However, change came just two months ago when channels from public broadcaster France Télévisions began running a segmented TV campaign on Orange set tops, initially involving 11 advertisers. This marked a significant turning point for the French pay TV market, following the early August 2020 decree allowing targeted and personalized ads to be broadcast on live pay TV for the first time in France.

France’s first foray into addressable linear TV is the product of SoftAtHome innovation, supplying its Watch’ON video technology, although VO is clutching at straws here by claiming it has some small involvement whereby customers can source data to manage addressable TV using the VO Service Delivery Platform.

“In France, operators want to expose inventory. This is extracted from a database and the rest is done outside by a third party. There is not a lot we can contribute here. Our role in Phase 1 is very limited. Beyond that, it’s up to the operators,” said Shachar. “We have built a solution in two parts – an interface for inventory and secure integration that complies with GDPR. SSAI is done outside of this domain, we just need to tell them to trigger the ad.”

Shachar is man truly ahead of his time, having attempted to launch a targeted advertising start-up way back in 2007 – openly admitting that his perceptions of a mature market were misjudged. Over a decade later, he is making his mark on VO’s fledgling incursion into addressable advertising.

All the advertising talk meant content protection was an afterthought in our latest VO catch-up, squeezing in some closing comments from Léonetti as a follow up to when we last touched base with VO at a physical event back in late 2019, around the time VO launched its dynamic watermarking technology.

Unfortunately, Léonetti could not disclose any public customers for the new dynamic watermarking product, but naturally he did not contest our assumption that Orange was using the technology – while making sure to reassure us that Orange is not alone.

Interestingly, when pressed on security technology, Léonetti said, “We are not where we’d like to be in terms of business yet.” This comment could be interpreted as having deeper connotations for VO in the security sector, although could just as easily be a throwaway comment about the dynamic advertising technology getting off to a slow in a field where rival digital security vendors were faster to market.