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The accelerating evolution of Android TV - what a difference a year makes

KaiBorchersIt’s fair to say that the Android TV revolution has begun, writes Kai-Christian Borchers, Managing Director, 3 Screen Solutions. What may be surprising to some is just how fast it is happening and how enthusiastically operators around the globe are embracing it.

Service providers today recognise the need to deliver TV and multiscreen offerings that meet the expectations of an ever-demanding public.

The experience of consuming entertainment on a connected TV or set-top box (STB) while simultaneously connecting with both content and friends using mobile devices increasingly is an everyday reality, and not just for the millennials.

As people interact and toggle between watching ‘traditional’ TV and their handhelds they want the user experience to maintain an elegant flow. Operators have realised the value in seamlessly weaving together these viewing paradigms. So they are increasingly eager to enable the most popular services, features and apps normally resident on mobiles and laptops as part of their pay-TV offerings.

Enter Google, and in particular its continuously evolving Android TV Operator Tier proposition. By selecting Operator Tier, service providers are, at a stroke, empowered to launch an impressively wide array of attractive and familiar services to subscribers. These include GoogleCast and the wide range of apps from Google Play Store, with Netflix taking centre stage, alongside Amazon Prime, etc.

With voice control playing a greater role in various areas of people’s lives, enabling Google Assistant to help viewers easily find content through voice-activated unified search across all apps is already proving a powerful product differentiator, a prime example being Com Hem, whose hybrid Android Operator Tier (N) hybrid TV Hub service went live in April 2018.

In the past 12 months, the rate of Android TV uptake has broadened remarkably. The operator-friendly, viewer-captivating features in the latest iteration, including facilitating operators to have their own custom launcher, seems a world away from those earliest game-changing Android projects. When Swisscom blazed the trail with its Android (AOSP) platform which kicked off in 2014, Android TV did not yet exist. Indeed, at that time, some that thought Swisscom’s idea of running Android for a TV service simply would not work.

Credit is due to Google for recognising the needs of operators in our competitive marketplace and for adapting its offering. Indeed, in recent times it has reformulated many aspects of the way it does business in this sector, in order to support its operator customers. The change has been pretty rapid, and for some, considering the might of the Google powerhouse, rather surprising.

Google has demonstrated a commitment to learn from operators by creating Android TV Operator Tier. Not only does this offering deliver more flexibility as regards branding via allowing a customised launcher, it also enables operators to push their own content to the forefront of the customer’s view, enhancing the operator’s content monetization opportunities as well as delivering features like the Google Assistant paired with pre-certified apps such as Netflix to provide a superior customer experience.

Deploying Android TV is a much more transparent operation today than a year ago due to much improved and far more detailed documentation, technical specification and compliance guidelines. By taking these measures, Google has removed many significant hurdles which might otherwise introduce risk and/or project delays. The day-to-day progress of Android TV deployments today are much smoother than just 12 months ago.

In parallel, another development that has helped Android TV gain traction is the fact that in-house technical understanding among service providers has meaningfully increased. Even the most risk-averse operations teams are more at ease with the co-existence of IP and DVB broadcasts on their networks.

With the many pre-integrated, out-of-the-box extras incorporated into Android TV Operator Tier, project rollout can be even further accelerated. Operator Tier alleviates significant cost for service providers since they do not have to invest in their own bespoke apps, and licensing is streamlined.

Faster time-to-market, lower overall costs, and and speedier ignition of revenue flow are proving an irresistible cocktail to a growing population of service providers.

Now it seems with each passing month, we are seeing operators of all sizes opting to join the Android revolution, seeming to turn their backs on old incumbent development models.

The concerns in some quarters about the long-term ramifications, and perceived risks to an operator’s autonomy, of partnering with Google are well documented. And these apprehensions are, of course, not unreasonable given its sheer might and reach.

Google does require operators choosing Android TV to include certain channels in the EPG as pre-requisites. There are guidelines on display order that need to be adhered to. To not have 100% control of the channel line-up might be a hard pill for some operators to swallow. But Netflix too comes with a diversity of conditions the operator must meet.

Despite this however, more and more service providers are, on balance, regarding Google’s latest offerings – now Android N, migrating to O – to be overwhelmingly compelling, a sure-fire way to help keep subscribers loyal. Proven and much-loved content and services, efficiently and cost-effectively deployable, was bound to be a winner for many operators, especially those at an earlier stage of their lifecycle. Android TV today is by far the most popular software stack being deployed in our industry.

As to what the future holds, how and when Android TV and Operator Tier will reach the pinnacle of their evolution, and what kind of a partner Google will prove over time, who’s to say. Predicting the future in our business is a dangerous pastime. But with so many service providers nailing their colours to the mast and deploying Android TV Operator Tier to underpin their strategies for next-generation services, it is reasonable to say a true Android TV revolution is underway.

You can meet 3SS at TV Connect, Olympia, VL7, VIP Lounge

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