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19 August 2021

Smart TVs come into focus under Elisa’s multi-vendor Android TV project

We are accustomed to seeing the names 3SS and Technicolor on the same page, having formed a force to be reckoned with in hybrid Android TV Operator Tier deployments since 2018, but the mention of Tech4home (t4h) is a welcome addition to the announcement that Estonian operator Elisa has rolled out a new multi-vendor hybrid platform masterclass, with Nagra also invited to the party.

Elisa’s pay TV subscriber base in Estonia has not been eroding as rapidly as elsewhere in Europe, but the gradual downwards decline is still evident, making now a perfect time to inject some flexible Android TV upgrades. It lost 2,000 cable TV subscribers in the second quarter, dropping to a record-equaling low of 117,000 in total, while the DTT subscriber base also experienced 2,000 cancellations as it fell to 86,000 – so a base of 203,000 TV subs in total from a population of approximately 1.32 million.

Portugal-based Tech4home is a vendor we have associated more with the RDK side of the industry than with Android TV, developing voice remotes for Metrological-enabled set tops to drive the Comcast technology into millions of homes. Despite this connection, t4h has been involved in more than 30 Android TV Operator Tier projects, claiming to be one of the most successful remote control providers in the sector, and now finds itself in good company with Elisa’s scalp.

Elisa’s custom remote control unit developed by t4h naturally comes with built-in Google Assistant, but also some neat features including dual light and motion sensors that display backlit keys when picked up and automatically switch off when not in use for battery efficiency, while adapting to light in the surrounding environment.

We would never normally kick off an Android TV deployment story by highlighting the remote control over the video software engineering efforts, but there’s nothing wrong with doing things a little differently – particularly as voice remotes have become so prolific that their involvement in the equation is often overlooked.

Called Elisa Elamus (translated to Experience), the hybrid platform supports DVB-C, DVB-T, IPTV and OTT delivery on a Technicolor Pearl set top with a powerful dual-core processor, supporting 4K UHD and HDR – packed into a flat circular design (one might even mistake it for a Roomba).

We won’t let security be an afterthought, so we should give praise to Nagra Protect, the Swiss vendor’s cardless CAS, which is the latest generation of premium security deployed for the project. There are too many ingredients in Nagra’s Android TV success to possibly credit in this piece alone, but a couple of honorable mentions go to the launch of its Android Fast Track program in early 2019, as well as being one of few options on the market to offer enhanced content protection compliancy, supporting UHD security on both one-way and two-way networks, while many rivals have gone software-only and two-way only.

Multiscreen specialist 3SS is the string-puller behind the deployment – building on its appointment as prime systems integrator by Elisa in 2019. The German vendor has co-developed the UX and custom launcher together with Elisa, based on the 3Ready Product Framework, including custom app development for multiscreen viewing on a range of peripheral mobile devices, but also for Android-based TV sets, as well as Samsung Tizen and LG webOS smart TVs coming soon. This is what we call going above and beyond the call of duty.

The 3Ready Control Center is also in the mix, providing an automated UX management system that enables Elisa to manage all applications and curate content from all sources in one place in real-time. It equips Elisa with tools for A/B testing, from where it can adapt and improve products – for example evaluating audience reaction to mobile vs set top vs smart TV apps individually or even by customer segment.

Meanwhile, Technicolor’s TV Data Analytics agent brings a dashboard showing operational set top performance, plus software and app usage metrics.

We were under the impression that rival operator Telia Estonia had rolled out an Android TV Operator Tier installation back around the 2018 timeframe, which would paint Elisa as a laggard in this regard, although we cannot locate any public records proving Operator Tier is used at Telia Estonia, only in Norway.

Over in Elisa’s motherland of Finland, the operator has previously deployed 4K HDR set tops from Netgem. Unfortunately for the French vendor, its lack of Android TV experience combined with its shifting focus away from hardware looks to have lost it this latest Estonian opportunity.

Interestingly, it was only late last year when Elisa Finland deployed TiVo’s Deep Discovery software for the Elisa Viihde on-demand video platform, a new metadata package designed to drive conversion, engagement, and loyalty for the media landscape. The Xperi-owned company says the update enriches content with metadata for moods, tones, themes, weighted keywords, age descriptors and popularity scores, to improve recommendation relevance.

Elisa has since teamed up with NENT to form the joint video streaming venture Elisa Viihde Viaplay, although this initially launched in December 2020 only in Finland, not Estonia.