No longer hunting for a 'Netflix killer,' broadcasters, MSOs trend toward integration

Samantha Bookman, FierceOnlineVideo

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

As we've noted recently, over-the-top providers like Hulu and Netflix are no longer stealing a march on traditional distributors. Broadcasters like CBS, cable operators, channels like A+E Networks and others are finally making multiscreen a bigger priority--as long as the technology fits within their current moneymaking model.

But TV Everywhere is still gearing up, mired both by technological complexity and by licensing and advertising issues that keep a good deal of content off of viewers' tablets and smartphones. That's something we highlighted in our IBC Preview Issue.

Something we didn't highlight is a trend that many smaller cable operators are quietly buying into: the combination set-top box/OTT streaming device. Led by TiVo--which offers a retail-only Roamio box as well as set-tops developed specifically for its U.S. MSO customers--more manufacturers are developing STBs that also have the capability to stream video over the top.

Arris, for example, said it is working on a "standards-based" software platform for its Whole Home Solution set-tops that will combine linear programming with OTT services. Silicon Valley startup Wurl, which provides OTT discovery apps to pay-TV operators, teamed with Arris on the project.

And Vidmind will be showcasing at IBC an Android-based set-top box that offers both on-demand online streaming and live streaming of broadcast signals. The box is currently being used by Russian broadcaster/streaming provider TVzor, GigaOm reports. Owned by consumer electronics retailer Trellas, TVzor is less hamstrung by Russian broadcasting laws than U.S. providers are.

All three devices reveal an interim trend in which major providers are trying to meet consumer demand for anytime, anywhere content while their own TV Everywhere efforts take root. As The Diffusion Group pointed out earlier this summer, users access cable operators' TVE apps on mobile devices only about 16 percent of the time, and broadcasters' apps about 25 percent. Subscription video on demand services like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix are accessed far more often, about 40 percent of the time.

Device makers are also clearly looking at combination set-tops as a way to stand out in an increasingly crowded streaming-device market.

Last year at IBC, attendees and panelists were talking almost nonstop about online video, but mostly in terms of the threat it posed to broadcasting and linear distribution. This year the talk will be much more about integration: How can traditional providers grab a piece of what's already in place in the OTT universe and, most importantly, profit from it?

I'll be covering IBC 2014 from Amsterdam this week, getting a look at the technologies and strategies that providers are bringing to bear. Check out our IBC Live page for frequent updates from the show.--Sam