Thailand-based operator True Digital Group, which serves up video under the TrueVisions brand, has been working with video technology vendor iWedia on its Android TV Operator Tier project since early 2019. Unlike other Android TV offerings, however, True insists that it doesn’t sit still – revealing that it has dedicated teams that are constantly experimenting with features, of which the most recent success is mid-roll ads, following months of work.
Matt Blumberg, Senior Product Manager at True Digital Group, claimed during an IBC-hosted webinar this week that a lot of operators view TV launches as one-time projects, perhaps treating them to an annual update if you’re lucky, while True prides itself on a different approach with ongoing teams. Its engineering team is paired tightly with iWedia’s, for example, together with a dedicated UX team, to create a highly agile workforce that creates adaptable front and back-ends for True ID TV.
As well as mid-roll ads, which Blumberg described as a “huge project”, he also cited TV commerce as a recent area of exploration.
To grasp the sheer size of demand for digital video consumption in Thailand, we’re talking about the world’s 20th most populous country, with the world’s 5th highest overall internet usage and the world’s 5th most YouTube users.
This is a market of contrasts, however. While there is an insatiable appetite for content of the YouTube ilk, Thailand is, on the other hand, still very much an emerging market, where a low average income of around $500 a month means there are limited opportunities for mass consumption in SVoD and premium linear TV.
Having done a fair amount of market research, True recognized this thirst for OTT video content and is now running headfirst into FAST (free, ad-supported streaming TV) channels, as well as AVoD. “We knew we had to find a way to launch a product to satisfy all needs. Most people want free content and a large library,” added Blumberg, talking on behalf of the majority of consumers.
When your audience demands so much free content, other avenues can often be forgotten. To avoid such limitations, True drives upselling opportunities within its OTT set top, for those who want more premium content. The operator also makes sure to maintain its most valuable customers, those who buy the full-fat pay TV service, and to this end it launched the hybrid DVB Android TV box to continue selling its most premium content.
Few people know better what is going on behind the scenes of True’s Android TV Operator Tier implementation than Kristo Lazic, Sales Manager at iWedia, a 250-person firm headquartered in Switzerland with R&D units based in Serbia.
Albeit with vested interests, Lazic believes there is very little alternative in the market right now aside from Android TV. He played the scaremongering (but true) card by saying that the value of video is slipping dangerously away from operator hands, while at the same time new opportunities are arising for operators. Targeted ad insertion is one of the biggest trends on iWedia’s customer radar at the moment, as Lazic circled back to how iWedia has proved a successful ad insertion case at True very recently – which he believes will set an example for other operators.
“I think the hottest topic right now is targeted ad insertion, but that brings technical and commercial challenges – like legislation, talking to different broadcasters, content owners, sometimes even governments, and so on,” said Lazic. He went on to outline the three major technical challenges for ad insertion. Firstly, is the integration itself into the complex ecosystem of ads. Second, if operators choose the client-side option, they also need to take care of CDN optimizations. Finally, there is a need to achieve frame-accurate insertion on the client and that requires good engineering skillsets, he warned.
Lazic also sees more and more operators trying to differentiate by creating crossovers between FAST channels and super aggregation. Perhaps FAST aggregation will be the next buzzterm?
For such crossovers, iWedia helps build a baseline that adds value to existing operator offerings, and Lazic claims that any operator with experience in OTT should make fast work of FAST channels.
For telcos like True, which have long been fully digital and have embraced agile DevOps, that is much easier than for traditional pay TV operators with traditional mindsets. The telco guys are “really embracing agile methodology,” according to Lazic, which is apparently proving highly successful by returning value to operators.
“We’re really getting into that – setting up processes to help operators grow faster and scale better. It can make a big difference between a slow and almost unusable UI, and a good UX,” he added.
While it wasn’t mentioned during the webinar, we know that True has launched its second generation of OTT and hybrid set tops based on iWedia’s latest DVB software, and we suspect the third-gen isn’t too far away. Importantly, iWedia’s DVB stack has received Netflix Hailstorm certification, which is crucial for operators to meet Netflix’s stringent standards to ensure that the Netflix UX is not impaired by broadcast playback and that all transitions and resource allocations are executed to high standards.