The Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) has been around in one form or another on pay-TV and certain Freesat-type platforms for as long as digital TV has been a reality.
But how does a satellite operator handle around 1,000 free-to-air channels from hundreds of broadcasters and provide a common EPG that can work extremely successfully across its satellites?
The answer is Sat.tv (www.sat.tv), which Eutelsat has developed for use initially on its Eutelsat 7/8 degree West orbital position (which includes Nilesat) and will roll out to its other satellites, including the HOTBIRD family shortly.
One of the key problems is that the 1,000 channels are split into various languages (with Arabic being the most common) but the EPG’s designers have skillfully managed to incorporate English-type lists that read from the left-side of the screen, while Arabic script is correctly presented from the right.
Given that there are hundreds of channels which are wholly random in the satellite frequency positions, the EPG now correctly identifies them with the channel logo, lists the main channels in the country of each viewer at the top (through a predefined channel numbering) and categorises them into genre as well as linguistically. It also provides not just the usual ‘now/next’ but a full listing up to seven days ahead.
Nicolas Moulin-Fournier, SVP/New Video Services at Eutelsat, explains the dilemma: “As well as about 1,000 channels we are serving close to 60 million satellite TV households across North Africa, the Gulf region, and beyond. Even though digital broadcasting has been about for well over 20 years, the EPGs and channel listings have barely changed in that period. There has been a lack of coordination between the broadcasters delivering signals and the set-top-box manufacturers. And with an STB costing barely $20 in retail, there just isn’t a lot of money to invest in improvements.”
Eutelsat has leveraged its Cirrus team on this project and to implement this brand-new user experience for both broadcasters and end users. Eutelsat has focused on helping viewers to navigate the channels very easily and find their content of choice based on their country and favorite channel genre.
Robert Lakos, the Dubai-based advisor on the project, says that Eutelsat has now had conversations with most of the leading box supplies, mainly Chinese, who totally understand the new concept. “Companies like NationalChip and Montage in China, for example but also many others are now incorporating the new EPG.”
Moulin-Fournier adds that the EPG’s presentation, as well as search and discovery benefits to the consumer are huge, and that there are still around 12 million STBs bought every year in the region. “The consumer gains a modern user experience . The broadcaster gains additional visibility to its targeted audience. And we think Eutelsat will also gain in that we work with our broadcasting clients to improve accessibility for their channels. These elements simply didn’t exist before other than for a few smart broadcasters. Now everyone looks good.”
Eutelsat is currently soft-launching this new EPG service with field tests, but there will be further announcements around September. The Sat.tv service will be available through multiple set-top-box brands thanks to a self-certification process.