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Beware the Android TV Revolution
The pluses of Google's platform should be approached eyes wide open by operators, says 3 Screen Solutions MD Kai-Christian Borchers
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If rumours that Alphabet is renaming its mobile apps and API platform Google Mobile Service (GMS) to Google TV Services (GTVS) are to be believed, it would underscore the idea that mobile is no longer the net giant's sole focus and that it is increasingly eyeing TV as a critical space.

It would certainly put the seal on an extraordinary last few months for Google's smartphone-to-interactive TV OS Android, which has received a dramatic surge in interest among operators.  As many as three quarters of video service providers either have an Android TV or Android Open Source Project on their technology roadmaps, according to a recent survey by Ovum (commissioned by security firm Irdeto).

Conditional access system (CAS) and user experience (UX) developer Nagra recognises Android TV as a "serious player" in the space traditionally dominated by specialist middleware providers but warns of security issues inherent in the open software.

Meanwhile Kai-Christian Borchers, managing director of German multiscreen software provider 3 Screen Solutions (3SS), says demand for Android TV "is really picking up... we are questioned constantly by operators about this topic."

That's a change from a year or two ago where Google's agenda seemed to be to more overtly control the home screen. "Operators weren't signing up because Google were dictating what the operator needed to do in terms of what TV channels and features needed to be include, how the home screen had to look - that the identity of the home button was Google branded," Borchers told Streaming Media. "Now [Google] has softened dramatically in the direction of the operator allowing operators to maintain their branding and their content where they want it rather than pushing Google to the front."

Among the benefits of Android TV for operators are the availability of new features and services, faster time-to-market, an attractive user interface, and cost efficiencies.

"Google are really revolutionising the TV space because they bring the way a web company thinks into TV," Borchers says.

"The agility and speed of development which Google executes on the web is transferring to TV for the benefit of operators. When you look at project run times when building on legacy middleware platforms it is typically well over 12 months but Android TV reduces this cycle and reduces costs for operators."

Plus, Android TV comes with a raft of pre-integrated apps—seen by many as the future of TV—among them Amazon Prime, Netflix, and of course YouTube.

"It is crucial for any operator to have these lighthouse VOD services demanded by end consumers," said Borchers.

He also claimed that security concerns around the software "were almost non-existent."

Google's web-centric approach to development clearly is finding favour among operators, but they should still be wary of getting into bed with one of the biggest data miners on the planet.

"For all the many benefits [of Android] you have to look under each stone and be aware that Google might at some point change the way it does business with operators," says Borchers.

Google might re-orient its business model, for example, by getting more involved in advertising on the big screen just as they dominate online.

Since Google is in the business of gathering data, it could conceivably collect measurement data from services running over its platform as a strategic weapon to launch rival services.

"They could kill your TV service by changing the rules of the game rule such as moving the YouTube app front and centre," said Borchers.

After airing similar comments earlier this year, Borchers says he received personal assurances from Google that not only had it no intention of doing so but that it was not even gathering such data. "Honestly, nobody knows in which direction Google is going in the future," he says. Usually you don't get things for free. With all the benefits to operators there must be something in it for Google. The operator just needs to be watchful."

3SS Deploys on Nordic Cable

3SS will deploy its new multi-device OTT front-end solution 3Ready on a cable network in October. The Nordic operator will implement the front-end solution on its set-top-boxes.

3Ready, which launched last September, is designed to speed deployment of multiscreen services. Borchers says that 3SS began working with the Nordic operator in March – meaning deployment will have taken six months.

Other benefits of the 3Ready solution include enabling an operator to combine VOD with linear TV (Lean Back 2.0 or Linear on Demand, as Borchers calls it) by pulling content out of silos into a playlist which becomes the viewer's own personal channel.

The first customer for the solution was Hamburg-based OTT service bobbles.tv in-conjunction with SES-owned MX1.

3SS is taking space at IBC 2017 for the first time to promote the product.