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25 July 2019

Which vendors win and lose as GigaTV ousts Horizon?

Vodafone has wasted no time in announcing plans to dismantle Liberty Global’s Horizon video platform in order to grow its own GigaTV service, already touted as the world’s largest telco TV platform prior to taking over the Unitymedia business in Germany and other European assets.

The telco this week declared GigaTV will eventually replace Horizon in the future, providing not even a ballpark timeframe but mentioning that the Horizon platform will be operating as normal for now, according to an interview with Vodafone Deutschland’s head of communications Alexander Leinhos, speaking with Digital Fernsehen.

The expansion of GigaTV in turn signifies a huge win for vendors like Metrological, which develops the GigaTV apps, Kaltura, for CMS, and chiefly Synamedia’s (Cisco) Infinite Video technology which is based on software from 1Mainstream. It is hosted on AWS, and takes live satellite feeds using broadcast services partner Encompass Digital Media, which downloads satellite feeds, cleans them and manages stream conditioning.

This delivers a best effort mezzanine file, and Synamedia puts in all the ABR manifests and provides its own CMS as well as a categorization system which works in 4 layers. It also handles metadata management and app building.

In the past, the 1Mainstream system used Envivio (now MediaKind) encoding and the Wowza streaming engine, but Cisco told us (pre-Synamedia) that it no longer supported these, but it does support the generic IAB VAST interface for a variety of programmatic advertising systems and has integrations with Conviva for client side analytics and plugs into CRM solutions from Paywizard and Evergent.

Through the Metrological Application Platform, it can pull in third-party streaming services, including niche content and localized apps, without users having to leave the TV experience. Metrological says its back-office gives Vodafone Germany the ability to anticipate the changing content preferences of their TV viewers instantly and efficiently.

On the other hand, suppliers that were instrumental in building Horizon, which Unitymedia rolled out towards the end of 2013 after a long delay, have had some time to prepare for this inevitable eventuality. These include MediaKind encoding, and in Germany it uses Cisco Mediahighway middleware in set tops built by Samsung and Cisco running an Intel CE4100 chip.

But the Liberty Global supplier map is convoluted. Horizon TV and Horizon Go services have been pieced together using a range of video technology vendors, differing across its European footprint. Not all of course have launched Horizon, namely Virgin Media in the UK which uses TiVo set tops.

Liberty Global has developed its Horizon TV and Horizon Go services using various different technology vendors across its footprint of 12 European countries. Not all of these subsidiaries have yet launched Horizon via the set top, for instance Virgin in the UK uses TiVo instead and Telenet in Belgium uses a “light” version of what is described as a similar product. Some of its central European markets only have Horizon Go.

Similarly, Vodafone has been known to have a fragmented video supplier history from country to country, but more recently the company has spoken about aligning the GigaTV platform. Last year, Kaltura told us that Vodafone had achieved cost savings of over 75%, coming mainly from infrastructure savings and helped by running one central service instead of 10 different operations, and all running on AWS infrastructure. The next GigaTV update is expected in October 2019.

We recall the dramatic change in persona of CTO Balan Nair as one of pure relief once Horizon eventually launched and how the service has continually improved over the years. Nair achieved his goals, which meant Liberty successfully migrated a chunk of video subscribers from the basic package to the enhanced tier, increasing ARPU in the process and leading it to ultimately cash in years later via a $22 billion sale of assets to Vodafone. We doubt Nair (who has since been promoted to CEO of Liberty Latin America) and the Horizon team will be in mourning following the unsurprising news of Vodafone’s phasing out of Horizon, with some healthy bonuses likely coming their way.