Visitors arrive at IBC2012

'Second screen' services the big story at IBC

The ‘second screen’ has become an obsession in the broadcast industry.

In an Ovum survey published at IBC, 83 per cent of broadcast executives said that customers expect to “access all premium video services via the Web”, and 70 per cent said there is evident demand for “more content personalised for second screen viewing”.

Overall, 85 per cent of Ovum’s sample either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that, “A multi-platform distribution (MPD) strategy is essential to market growth”.

So far, broadcast channels have found it easier to adapt. At one level, MPD is simply another pipe. So Sky in the UK now makes its programming available via cellphone-, tablet- and PC-aimed portals. More recently, the UK has seen the YouView Internet-enhanced IPTV box, although it remains locked to the main TV.

The greater challenge faces the delivery networks, the cable, telco, and satellite providers who carry the signals. Their bugbear is ‘disintermediation’ – a clumsy word for their fear of becoming commodity bandwidth brokers and nothing more.

IBC saw one of the most powerful carriers, Liberty Global, offer its technological response to the second screen. An unfamiliar name in the UK, Liberty has just under eight million European customers in important cable markets such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland, as well as seven other continental markets. However, it is those four that form part of the initial roll-out of its Horizon TV platform.

“Horizon TV changes your tablet, smartphone or laptop into a television. An iPad can be used as a remote control or as an additional TV screen in the home. At the same time, customers can wirelessly stream personal content from their computers, tablets and smartphones onto their TV screens,” said Mike Fries, Liberty’s President and CEO.

“This is what our customers have been waiting for. Finally, you can enjoy the best cable TV programming on all of your devices. Horizon TV brings the power of the Internet and the most popular apps to your TV screen and allows you to ‘connect, discover and be free’.”

What Fries doesn’t say is that achieving this integration has not been easy. By general agreement, Horizon is about a year late.

There are a lot of suppliers involved. The main set-top box is from Samsung (echoing its growing experience in app-led smart TVs), the processor is from Intel’s Atom family and the Snowflake UI/middleware is from NDS, the former News International subsidiary now owned by Cisco Systems.

A further raft of partners supplies the technology for Wi-Fi, conditional access, cable modem standards and more. This is a one-stop box that shows an industry shifting from ‘triple play’ (TV, phone and Internet) marketing to a unified platform.

Beyond that, there is also the issue of scalability – the cable industry has a reputation for delivering boxes and gateways that are then rapidly overtaken by technology. Liberty believes it has got the headroom right. The issue is that it may be too late.

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