Now I’ve got your attention I’ll explain. A session here at Cable Congress posed the question what should operator’s digital home strategies be? No surprise that everybody nodded enthusiastically to enabling the home network, developing the Set Top as the home gateway and delivering ‘blow me away’ user interfaces.
But panellists also admitted that this was the easy bit; keeping up with the tastes, habits and demands of consumers and the way those demands have a push-me-pull me effect when interlinked with the changing abilities of technology, never mind constantly keeping an eye on how well the competition was doing, was more difficult.
What the session did do was pitch against each other the two prime providers of magic boxes that believe they are on the way to delivering the ultimate interface: TiVo and NDS, and their customers; Virgin for TiVo and Kabel Deutschland and UPC for NDS.
There was some reasonably good natured banter along the lines “TiVo may be a [small] step but at least our customers can take it now.” Against which Balan Nair, CTO of Liberty Global, promised the much trailed Horizon would be deployed somewhere this year.
What they agreed on was that it was excellent that most operators were doing something with somebody to develop the ability to be the provider of TV everywhere and home hub functionality. “We have the benefit that with very few exceptions we don’t compete so we can share our progress and problems,” said Andrew Barron COO of Virgin Media, who declared they had gone with TiVo partly because, with iPlayer and Sky in his market, he needed to get out there fast with a solution.
The panel also agreed it was vital for operators to work with third party specialists and for there to be standardisation in play out formats APIs as often as possible in order to speed development in the hope of matching the lightning speed of APP development on platforms like Android.
That speed and flexibility is also necessary, they admitted, because everybody should get out of the prediction business when it comes to new services and functionality, and even more so when it comes to foreseeing how consumers will react. Barron retold how he had grown up in Brazil and one day they opened a new park in Rio, but rather than lay stone paths on day one, the authorities waited and after a few weeks looked to see where the brown lines were, where people had naturally made their way. “That’s how we’re beginning to think about our product and platform road maps these days,” he said and the footprints will soon be formed by the anonomised user data the new STBs can provide.