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9 May 2019

TiVo execs debunk Android TV security concerns

Android TV operator tier has taken the market by storm, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. Without question, the primary hurdle for the Google project has been severe security concerns among operators, but a webinar this week featuring TiVo executives lifted the skirt on how those challenges have been overcome, hosted by Digital TV Europe which complemented the discussion with some interesting survey insights.

Access to content far outweighs any other benefit of Android TV operator tier, with 23.8% of respondents selecting this feature as Excellent and a further 41.6% as Good, relative to alternative platforms, according to DTVE’s survey of 560 industry executives from 64 countries. However, of the seven survey options, security still ranked bottom of the Android TV operator tier performance list, with only 14.2% choosing Excellent, while 33.1% selected Good, 19% Poor, and 8.1% Very Poor.

This proves work is still to be done, yet TiVo’s VP of Products Chris Thun got stuck into the change in attitudes among the operator community from the TiVo perspective. He said the survey data largely reflects what TiVo has seen in recent years in the market, whereby security and data ownership have typically been the two main concerns of service providers. Thun praised Google for reacting to and rapidly addressing these concerns in its roadmap. “Operators no longer need to look at monolithic middleware as a legitimate route to market,” he summarized.

Google addressed misconceptions about security and data at a recent Connected TV World Summit workshop, said Thun, highlighting specifically what it does and doesn’t collect to alleviate mounting operator concerns over security. One specific area being addressed was how side-loading apps can be blocked, giving operators improved levels of control in post-deployment.

Another key operator concern observed by TiVo is a demand to know what it takes to keep the Android TV operator tier platform up to date. Handling this in-house can often be too costly or cumbersome for smaller operators, TiVo said, which is why vendors have built dedicated launchers for delivering updates – keeping the platform up to date, secure and kitted out with the latest features.

Senior Director at TiVo Mikolaj Zapala briefly touched on the next stage of Android TV operator tier being IoT integration and the wealth of opportunities it can bring to operators. He didn’t reveal whether TiVo is currently looking at expanding into IoT verticals, although this seems unlikely beyond the vendor’s voice capabilities.

That said, TiVo has made major investments in user research to understand the minds of consumers, with two main focus areas, Thun added. The first is voice interaction. “The technology has now entered the mainstream thanks to Google and Amazon, if done right, voice can offer major ways to simplify the UX, via natural language understanding so you can have a conversation with the TV.”

The second is personalization, with Thun citing serving content to consumers based on viewing habits, as well as time of day and day of the week – not new ways of personalizing experiences but areas where vast improvements are required. “We are investing heavily in-house to build content discovery engines, with predictions based on past behaviors and introducing new flavors of content,” said Thun.

TiVo has also spent considerable time with the Android TV team analyzing what Google Assistant offers, which Thun described as a large horizontal play but something which can’t go deep enough in certain verticals. This meant talking with the Google team about putting TiVo voice functionality on top of Google Assistant so that entertainment requests would be handled by TiVo’s deep entertainment discovery capabilities, while everything else gets handled by Google Assistant. Makes perfect sense – but will Google eventually look to oust the likes of TiVo and take control of the entire ecosystem? Perhaps, but we don’t think this is in Google’s best interests for the foreseeable future.

When asked whether Android TV is the only game in town for operators to combine pay TV and OTT, Thun said the short answer is no, but operator tier is definitely in the “sweet spot” of the market right now in navigating operators towards new features.

Another primary design principle driving design portfolio of the Android TV operator tier roadmap is flexibility. “There are hundreds of millions of legacy Linux set tops around the world which need to be supported on an ongoing basis, and the reason why Linux is so widespread is the unprecedented control it gave operators, but adding new services like streaming apps on Linux devices is expensive and hard. Android TV provides pre-made app ecosystems, while TiVo’s unified back-end is giving operators the ability to understand data and evolve strategies over time,” added Thun.

The case for BYOD was also discussed, whereby operators are better placed to take advantage of hardware innovation, yet the general agreement from the two TiVo execs – as well as from DTVE survey data – was that Android TV’s crown jewel lies in giving subscribers wider access to services. So, the main challenges of a BYOD world means operators have no way of ensuring their own services are given prominence, no way of guaranteeing QoS and no way of controlling UX.

Conclusively, survey respondents were in agreement about the set top market being in decline and how operators are increasingly looking for ready-made choices, with respondents rating Android TV operator tier as the best option – given its rapid launch time and access to Google Play store. Whereas BYOD is a less tempting offer but does give operators a choice of hardware.

Among the drab questions flying in during the Q&A session, were some more interesting ones such as, “Do I need to certify apps on devices?” Thun said Netflix is a special case, in that it runs its own certification program separate from Google certification, so yes operators do need to certify Netflix. Also, Amazon Prime Video is unique too, as up until a few weeks ago operators needed to ink a special deal to get Amazon on the platform, but following the recent breaking of bread between Amazon and Google, that has changed. “What languages are supported for voice on Android TV?” Zapala said that with TiVo’s CubiTV technology it can leverage languages already present in Google Assistant. That is a total of 19 and growing. Zapala  added that this is being enhanced through conversational services, while TiVo’s own services support 7 languages and is set to expand in the coming months.

Unfortunately, our own more to-the-point questions were swerved, namely whether TiVo had any insights into whether a tier 1 US operator would deploy a service based on Android TV operator tier this year, as a couple of its rival vendors have alluded to.