BT Preps OTT Service: Streaming Forum Preview
BT is using an evidence-based approach to build a standalone OTT service that also integrates with existing offerings. BT Head of IPTV solutions and Streaming Forum keynote speaker Mike Rizzo talks about what the company has learned from BT Sport and how it will compete with other OTT services.
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Streaming Forum 2017 kicks off in London on February 28 with a keynote from Mike Rizzo, the head of IPTV solutions for BT TV and BT Sport. BT Sport launched in 2013, a massive undertaking that included securing the rights to Premiere League matches and building the infrastructure to support delivery to millions of viewers from day one. Almost four years later, BT is ramping up a broader OTT offering, BT TV. We spoke with Rizzo in advance of his keynote to find out more about the goings-on behind the scenes as BT preps the service for launch.
Streaming Media: Was BT Sport conceived as a testbed for a broader BT OTT offering? Why launch the Sport service first?
Mike Rizzo: Not really, although it certainly did help to galvanise momentum for a broader OTT offering.
The BT Sport app was created to coincide with the launch of our BT Sport channels, and initially was offered as a way to reach customers who did not want a full set-top box service. Of course it has come a long way since then and is now the platform of choice for many customers, including some who do have a set-top box.
What sort of feedback—positive and negative—have you gotten on BT Sport that you're applying to the creation of a new service?
We have had very positive feedback on the video quality and overall user experience, and a lot of this is being carried over to the new OTT service. We don't classify any feedback as being negative, but rather see it as being constructive criticism that can be used to help us improve the service. There is no better way to show that we are listening to customers than by acting on their grievances and suggestions.
With the Sport app we were able to respond to issues raised by customers very quickly to improve the customer experience, particularly in relation to interactive services. The single biggest learning that we are carrying over into our new OTT service is that we need to be more agile, to experiment with new features using techniques like A/B testing, and to release app updates more frequently. To achieve this we are challenging established working practices and reviewing the tools and processes we use. We are also placing more emphasis on collecting and analysing data from client devices so that we can better at identifying issues earlier.
How difficult is it to integrate an OTT service with a traditional set-top box approach?
It is easier today than it was just three or four years ago, but there are still some big challenges. Legacy set-top boxes (STBs) will always be a constraint that cannot be ignored, and can unnecessarily complicate the content transcoding and packaging pipeline. Content contracts are another problematic area, where we cannot always offer identical services on OTT because of rights restrictions. The transaction fees levied by Apple and Google for in-app purchases are another barrier we have to work around. All of these issues then have repercussions on content discovery and the whole customer experience. In the long run, with the growth in popularity of devices like Android STBs and Apple TV, I think things will get easier and the boundary between OTT and traditional STB will blur to the point that the STB becomes just another device.
Which OTT service do you look to as the leader in the field right now, and why?
Netflix. Because they have optimised their delivery processes to maximise value to the end-customer by applying a rigorous, evidence-based approach.
How will BT's OTT service differ from what's already on the market?
We will offer a unique, personalised user experience that will greatly improve content discovery to make it easier for users to find things they are interested in watching. We will also provide a consistent, seamless experience across STB and app.
In the broad view, what are the biggest challenges—technical, strategic, and business--facing operators who are launching OTT services?
At a business level—piracy is a major cause of lost revenue for both operators and content owners. Traditional conditional access/DRM systems, while necessary, are not sufficient. We are starting to see more emphasis placed on individualised watermarking and real-time source detection—but this then needs to be linked to stronger and faster law enforcement.
At a strategic level I think it is about being able to have a better handle on what matters most to customers, and by implication to avoid unnecessary differentiation across platforms.
At a technical level, the need to support multiple DRMs and formats to meet requirements for different platforms is always a headache, but things should improve with the introduction of the CMAF format that can be used both with DASH and HLS. Another problem area is the large variety of Android devices, and the subtle differences in their implementation (particularly in relation to security).
What advantages do operators have over standalone OTT services?
A key advantage that operators have is that they can leverage their networks to manage services differently when the customer is on-net. This means that it is possible, for example, to use multicast to deliver linear TV more economically than traditional unicast OTT approaches. It is also possible to deliver high-bandwidth services such UHD and 360° more reliably when customers are on-net.
At a commercial level operators can leverage their existing customer bases to upsell TV services, and to attract new customers using triple- or quad-play bundles.
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