Is Linear On Demand the Future? 3SS Is Betting on It
If telcos and ISPs are to survive beyond being a doormat for internet traffic into the home, they have to find a way to aggregate, slice, dice, and serve the myriad content available to consumers. 3 Screen Solutions (3SS) has developed a working solution for linear on demand that it says is the next stage of operator UX evolution.
The concept was first aired by the German STB and multiscreen UI/UX specialist in 2016. Now, partnered with Media Distillery and XroadMedia, 3SS is offering platform operators an end-to-end solution that plugs into Android TV Operator Tier set-top boxes and enables linear on demand (LOD).
LOD essentially pulls together programming from multiple live and on-demand sources and blends it into a personalised linear playlist. Content sources could be streaming services like Netflix or YouTube and other websites, mainstream TV channels, and broadcaster catch-up.
"We could see that linear on demand was the logical step that needed to happen when the two worlds of big screen TV and OTT on-demand services started to merge," says Kai-Christian Borchers, 3SS Managing Director. "When we talked about it 3 to 4 years ago, the penetration of TV OTT services was low and so LOD didn't get a lot of recognition. Now that Android TV is making such a huge impact in the market, those operators adopting it are finally tackling the challenge of taking down content silos."
The 3SS linear-on-demand experience features characteristics plucked from Netflix. "Netflix pioneered the binge watching behavior by stitching the next episode of a series onto the end of another, and then at the end of a season, automatically playing another piece of content relevant to that viewer's taste," Borchers says. "Imagine a collection of content, curated to the individual, taken from multiple sources and presented as a channel. That's linear on demand. To provide this service you need to have a deep link directly into content from third parties."
Media Distillery uses machine learning methodologies to recognize the visual and audio aspects of a video, including face, speech, object, logo, and text. This granular indexing of what actually makes up a piece of video enables user searches that 3SS says yield highly diverse and accurate results.
This tech is combined with XroadMedia's content discovery and personalization solution, which learns from users' selection patterns and history. Programs and clips from multiple content sources are presented as an integrated linear playlist as part of 3SS's 3READY UX solution, which includes voice control using 3READY Assistant. The combined linear-on-demand solution uses cloud-native technology.
"Truly personalized TV can only be achieved with granular user profiles and accurate content metadata," Borchers says. "With this new joint platform, multiple layers of high-quality metadata are made available in real time to help viewers find their desired content, thereby promoting viewer engagement."
There are hurdles to this approach, which 3SS acknowledges. "Ad-supported broadcasters will fight to keep their viewers within their silo (channel) and will resist anything that takes them away," Borchers says. "Now, you could launch a linear-on-demand service that did not include certain content providers, but we believe that in order for it to work everybody has to see benefit. There has to be a monetisation path for broadcasters."
Midroll ads would be less problematic but pre- or postrolls shown between content raises the question of who would share in that revenue or own the ad slot.
"These are questions we've not answered yet," Borchers says. "Right now, this is a technical concept. Technically it is working and we can demonstrate it. Customers will lend the concept much more weight in the market to drive this forward."
The LOD concept is analogous to Sonos, where the speaker company allows the user to connect several content music sources that they subscribe to—Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime, Soundcloud, etc.–and to compile and play playlists of tracks via the Sonos app regardless of their origin.
"In video we have the opposite trend where services compete to offer exclusive and original content," Borchers notes. "This kind of walled garden is making it even more cumbersome for end consumers to navigate. The key to LOD is an entry point and single sign-on where all a user's subscriptions are managed and curated."
Borchers thinks such a model is win-win for operator and consumer.
"From the consumer's point of view they are—or soon will be—feeling crushed by all these OTT services. The operator has the chance to create something for them that keeps them in their value chain or risk becoming a dumb pipe. In today's highly competitive marketplace, service providers need to increase stickiness of their service. As a super aggregator they can offer a frontend capable of elegantly navigating the user through personalized content choices leading to increased viewer enjoyment and loyalty."
3SS says operators are currently focused on getting their Android TV propositions live. "Once they've mastered this, they will tackle the next level, which for most cases is LOD," Borchers says. "I think LOD is more of a legal hurdle and not a technical one. We could see operators go live with this within two years."
Roland Sars, CEO of Amsterdam-based Media Distillery, says "It's time for TV service providers to deconstruct and re-sequence their content, to serve up right-size, on-topic personal experiences."
Recent 3 Screen Solutions deployments include Uruguayan cable and OTT service provider TCC. The hybrid AVOD/SVOD platform Joyn from ProSiebenSat.1 and Discovery is live with 3SS 3READY Frontend UI Framework. Other 3SS Android-based system deployments includes Swisscom TV 2.0 in 2014, since updated to Swisscom TV OS3, and Canal Digital OnePlace and Con Hem TV Hub, both launched in 2018. Most recently, Belgian telco Proximus launched Proximus Pickx to pilot customers in October 2019, featuring 3READY.
The new live linear channel being trialled in France could be rolled out internationally, including in the U.S.
Multicast isn't new, but CDNs, operators, and content publishers have finally caught up to the possibilities it offers for increased scale and decreased costs.
The UK's Sky has announced it will be the first operator to deploy the hybrid box, which will debut sometime later this year.
Companies and Suppliers Mentioned