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Is Lean Back 2.0 the Future of Multiscreen Viewing?
Software developer 3 Screen Solutions thinks so as it attempts to broaden its market outside of German-speaking Europe

The future of TV is personal and lean back, says 3 Screen Solutions (3SS), which aims to be the company driving that ambition. Its idea is to track all available content on a platform, extract it from 'silos,' and make it available for search through a single query.

"Lean Back 2.0 [as 3SS brands it] combines the relaxing and passive nature of linear TV with the time-independence and sheer variety of VOD in a seamless way," says co-founder and MD of Business Development Kai-Christian Borchers. "To do that, broadcasters need to create personal channels out of search and pull content out of silos into a linear order, like a playlist, which becomes the viewer's own personal channel. The service will require profiling of the user and be based on user behaviour connected to social recommendations."

3SS is part way there with at least one client. The company served as prime developer and system integrator for the viewer interface for Swisscom TV 2.0 to which over 500,000 Swiss households are now interacting (taking custom from UPC Cablecom's Horizon) and winning the Best Multiscreen TV Service award at TV Connect earlier this year.

"With Swisscom we developed a true seamless multi-screen environment in which users can navigate and search between the big screen, tablet, or smartphone, consume content on any device, pause it or swipe to another screen and continue watching," says Borchers. "What is not yet achieved—and where we think the market needs to move—is to make all content silos searchable and to create a user experience that is not driven by the brands which want to protect their own silo, but driven by the user."

The keys to monetizing the OTT sector are metadata and rights, which 3SS believes currently don't "talk" to each other as they need to.

"Broadcasters have metadata about content purchased from Gracenote or Rovi, they have other more limited sets direct from satellite, other silos of metadata for VOD probably provided by rights holders, and others for catch-up and another for OTT," says Borchers.

"If you really want to build a superior service, you have to take all these and put them together and match up the metadata," he argues. "Current hybrid search and recommendation engine systems are blind in the sense that even when they are looking at content from different silos they are not aware of it. You need to know that the Titanic movie on TV is the same Titanic as the VOD offer, is the same as a a 'making of' documentary in catch-up, for example. But because these are several different data-sets, they will be shown as two separate results or recommendations."

As a result, he says, many platform operators are sitting on a "metadata train wreck" in which good money is flowing away after bad as providers struggle to develop a ‘joined-up’ content strategy.

He continues: "As a user I don't want to search a TV channel. I want to see who has a particular piece of content regardless of the channel or service. Everything should be integrated. It's very important to align this metadata to provide a proper customer experience."

He concedes that 3SS does not yet have such a product on the market but says it knows what it takes to build it. One hurdle is that the content aggregators who provide OTT services to broadcasters and operators do not want their offerings to be comparable.

"Netflix doesn’t have an interest in you seeing that this movie has been running on TV and is available in the catch-up library," he says. "Neither do most private broadcasters. They don’t want their client to be moving out of their world but to keep it in their own world."

This is where rights come in. Under 3SS' schema metadata is extracted from copyrighted material, and then manipulated. "The system would need to know who this content belongs to, and am I allowed to mess around with it?"

3SS was founded in 2009 by co-partners Borchers, Ulrich Beutenmüller, and Rudolf Maiterth to provide software, applications and engineering support to service platforms and equipment providers.

It has grown mainly in Europe's German speaking territories—Germany, Austria, Switzerland—winning business from the region's big pay-TV players including Kabel Deutschland and Unitymedia, as well as German publisher Bild. Some 60 percent of its business is in front end development, with the other 40% being back-end integration.

"We founded the company as a systems integrator or software developer because we realised client's requirements for front end interfaces has always been driven by the need to for customisation," says Borchers. "Each cable provider or OTT provider wants to have a specific look and feel so we felt it impossible to operate on a product base."

For German-based Rovi-owned entertainment platform Nowtilus, 3SS designed, developed, and integrated a Video Download Store for Warner Bros complete with TVOD, EST, and DTO functionalities. It has also designed and developed the TV interface based on Android STBs for Swisscom brand Wingo providing live TV, TV Guide and replay. For Zattoo, 3SS conceptualised and implemented a STB front end built on ABOX42 middleware and connected to the Zattoo playout system for linear OTT channels. It built a client-server web-application used by Netgem to manage all its VOD platforms.

For KabelKiosk, Eutelsat’s OTT/IPTV offering for cable operators (which in 2014 was acquired by M7 Group) 3SS carried out all the OTT Integration (integrating with Kaltura) as well as the PC front end and the integration of billing and VOD (integrating with ROVI). It has also recently worked with a major mobile service provider in the U.S. to implement VOD solutions for two mobile phone brands, the names of which 3SS can't share publicly.

With its HQ in Ludwigsburg (near Stuttgart), privately-held 3SS employs 150 people, of which 110 are developers based at "near shore" sites in Romania, Ukraine and Moldova which are less expensive and therefore one key to 3SS' competitiveness). It also has commercial offices in Switzerland, Germany and the US.

In the last six months it has begun to expand further afield. It has rebranded from "a geeky techie company" to a "much more professional look and feel" with Swisscom as its reference client.

"We did a lot of consulting with Swisscom in the beginning since they were not used to developing on their own from scratch," explains Borchers. "They'd worked with Microsoft Mediaroom (now part of Ericsson) but realised that being a small operator in a small country with less than 1m subs for IPTV was not a focus at Redmond. They needed a solution tailored to their local requirements. In addition, customer satisfaction was low and the (Mediaroom) licence fee was high. Swisscom were asking how they could be more independent of these large systems providers and be more flexible in release cycles. The answer was to try Android."

In two years 3SS developed a Android-based multi-screen solution that Borchers believes "sets a new benchmark at half the cost of other providers. Within three months we can bring new features to the STB and mobile devices for Swisscom, a cycle which is unheard of in the industry."