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Vision247 Expands IPTV and CDN Business
On the verge of making its first business acquisition, internet TV solutions provider Vision247 discusses marrying the failsafe approach of traditional playout with the huge opportunity in OTT delivery.
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UK TV and IPTV solutions business Vision247 is about to add a European-based IPTV solutions provider to its portfolio and also plans to build out its CDN worldwide.

“Our current business is pure OTT, but there's a definite opportunity for us among ISPs and telcos looking for an IPTV play,” says CEO John Mills of the acquisition deal expected to be announced in the next couple weeks. “The costs to enter the market are high for telcos and ISPs when they have to procure and systems integrate all the different elements. We think the solution we are acquiring has got real potential. As an IPTV platform it's very strong with excellent catch-up TV and server side PVR technology built-in. You put that with our pure OTT capability, our head-end, monitoring, and 24/7 management and billing facility, and we can offer a turnkey solution.”

It's not the only aggressive move for the six year old company which this financial year posted £2 million profit [$3.2m] on revenues of £12 million [$19.2]. Parent Vision Holding also operates out of Dubai with revenues of around £6m [$9m].

“We focus most of our business on live channel distribution by procuring transit from London, however we are just about to embark on creating six regional CDN POPs, with the first in Asia, then the Middle East, West Coast U.S, Africa and inside China," says Mills. “The idea is that a local facility would include our downlink  and encoding capability so we can marry our CDN with intra-regional traffic to deliver video in that region, rather than downlinking channels and routing them back to London for encoding as we do currently.

“Everything we've done to date has been as a privately without any external finance which meant we could only proceed at a certain pace,” says Mills. “Now we see a growth opportunity from regional infrastructure hubs and also with reseller partnerships.”

Vision247 already has several contracts with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, including delivery of its channels over the top to DTT platform Freeview HD and to the company's 15,000-strong worldwide in-room hotel network.

“We are looking very closely at the opportunities in China during 2013,” says Mills. “There is a big move afoot to migrate TV from local cable into IP.”

The company was launched [by chairman and CTO Matt Vidmar] as Playout 247 in 2007 as a file-based broadcast playout operation. Its range of ancillary facilities, such as live studios, monitoring, and signal delivery, were augmented by a fibre network hooked into the UK's main uplink providers Arqiva and Globecast.

It has since rapidly expanded to employ over 70 staff with offices in the U.S, China, and South Korea and added significant IPTV capabilities, including building streaming media apps for Samsung and LG smart TVs and others for Boxee and Roku.

“Matt and I believed in the growth of OTT as a delivery mechanism for TV, as opposed to the network oriented IPTV of Homechoice,” says Mills, a former commercial director at IPTV operator Homechoice (now part of ISP TalkTalk). “We created an online video platform [branded Xtreme] as a broadcast quality delivery infrastructure targeting OTT distribution.”

Traditional TV Foundation

Crucially for Vision247 the OVP is integrated with the firm's traditional TV facilities. “OTT TV needs to be treated in the same way as satellite and cable-delivered TV: full 24/7 monitoring, total redundancy,” says Mills. “With satellite you create a H.264 or MPEG2 signal for the channel and monitor it back off the satellite but in an OTT environment you could be supporting 6-7 different broadcast protocols in four different bitrates so you end up with 20—30x the number of streams to quality check. Our infrastructure goes all the way from acquiring and encoding channels to content management via Xtreme [including CMS, subscription systems, and billing interfaces] and integrated with our own Content Delivery Network.”

The CDN’s control room and main off-line infrastructure is located in Vision247’s broadcast centre, adjacent to British Telecom Tower in central London. A new encoder and server, launched earlier this year, is claimed to lower the delay to just 5 seconds.

“We believed in developing the core tool kit because we want in-house control,” says Mills. “For example, if people want to launch channels OTT instead of just redistributing one that exists on satellite our platform is geared up. We think that is the way the world will go. When you have three billion connected TV devices expected to be shipped by 2016 this huge audience potential is matched with the growth of an OTT ‘open market’ broadcasting platform where content owners can also broadcast, not just existing channels or network owners.”

Given this trend, Mills questions whether the app model of content delivery on Connected TVs is one that consumer's really want. “People still want channels, particularly if you can deliver a channel in a way that allows fully integrated catch-up TV and even future picks from the schedule. Since we already do playout, we are well positioned.”

Indeed the Vision TV network, which launched a year ago, was expressly designed to utilise Vision247's technical infrastructure, with a business acquiring a commercial licence to deliver channels in a vertical market – that of Freeview HD.

Among the 70 OTT channels and packages Vision TV brings to Freeview HD via the EPG are: international language broadcast from TeleFrance, HellenicTV, Polska+, TeleTurk; sports TV station Sports Tonight; the U.S. Christian TV (bringing together Christian broadcasters Revelation TV and SonLife Broadcasting Network) and horse racing channel Racing UK.

“We aren't dreaming of taking on Sky for the mass market of entertainment and sport,” says Mills. “We have in-house technology and the contacts to aggregate packages of channels for these communities into different business models, from subscription to FTA to a model where the content providers pay carriage.”

Despite early success Mills says the Vision TV network “is not quite where we want it to be. It's still early days and we are doing all this legally rather than downlinking a channel and reselling it. The Freeview HD installed base [currently 4.5 million] is predicted to top 10 million in the next few years and naturally a percentage of those will be from a very diverse population.”

Vision247 is also moving the service cross platform. Already launched on Roku, it has submitted apps to iTunes and to Android stores for replay on tablet devices.

“We are not content to rest on our laurels; we have got to keep growing,” says Mills. “The internet is becoming a totally viable medium for broadcast media but who is in the market for its distribution? On the one hand, you have the old guard like Arqiva, Globecast and RRSat who have established commercial relationships with thousands of broadcast channels. Then there are the large CDNs who recognise that distributing video is the number one driver of traffic but perhaps don't recognise that delivering TV is different to delivering software packets. You drop a single frame of TV and people will notice.

“We are sitting in the middle and will continue to develop breadth and quality of offer to work with those at both ends of the spectrum.”

Vision247 white labels an OTT service for Globecast, for example, and it has an interesting new relationship with Arqiva, since the UK's largest broadcast infrastructure provider acquired OTT provider Connect TV last month.

Vision TV channels were initially delivered to Freeview thanks to a technical partnership with Connect TV which provided the broadcast applications, Freeview data and MHEG engineering to provide the linking and rendering on screen while Vision247 supplied channel acquisition, streaming, metadata and CMS.

“All the services on Freeview HD until now have been sold by us - now we are providing a service to Arqiva,” said Mills.