European cable-TV operator Liberty Global has shuffled its strategy around the hybrid Horizon platform to extend reach of its advanced premium services to multiscreen devices and legacy set tops in the home. For secondary devices in the home, the operator has confirmed it will launch a small, stripped-down Horizon box to stream TV, DVR and VoD from the main Horizon box to other rooms in the home over Wi-Fi. This fulfils a promise made at the original Horizon launch at IBC 2012 to extend full-service support in the home to second TVs and other devices such as tablets and PCs.
The more significant announcement was that Liberty Global will extend the reach of the Horizon TV experience to subscribers via legacy set tops with the help of Active Video’s CloudTV software. This move raised eyebrows because it appeared to contradict the original strategy of rolling out the Horizon box to enable interactive and hybrid services combining broadcast and Internet content that are not possible with a traditional set top. That, after all, is what Liberty Global’s recently acquired subsidiary Virgin Media has been doing in the UK with its hybrid box co-developed with TiVo.
But the move to embrace the cloud to enable a Horizon-like Quality of Experience, in principle for all its subscribers, is at least partly a recognition of advances in the capability of cloud TV technology. But it may also reflect misgivings within Liberty Global over its Horizon strategy, especially in light of continuing technical and design problems with the platform.
At the CTAM (Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing) Europe summit in Barcelona, Liberty Global’s director of strategic marketing, sales and customer care, Peter Dorr, owned up to problems with the Horizon platform, admitting that consumers were experiencing too slow navigation with too many clicks to negotiate. Other problems included the UI being too dominant, with difficulty moving back to previous channels, and unfriendly keyword entry for the search function.
These problems are all fixable and mostly have been addressed in the new version called H2 released early September. The operator is also sending out 270,000 new remote controls with revised functions and a QWERTY keyboard on the reverse. “This is another example of what the flexibility of the box allows us to do,” said Dorr, putting the best face on the issue.
More radically, though, Liberty Global seems to have been rethinking the whole Horizon strategy away from the concept of a dedicated high-specification gateway toward cloud delivery in combination with smaller boxes. Dorr indicated that Horizon might become more a brand and a service that would be extended to a variety of platforms, including public Wi-Fi outside the home.
Dorr suggested the whole cable industry could collaborate to create a universal cable Wi-Fi network across Europe with a single login, enabling free Wi-Fi across international boundaries for cable subscribers. As a pan-European operator with services in 12 European countries, Liberty Global would be best placed to lead such a charge.