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OTT fever grips Europe

A wave of OTT-related announcements broke among Europe’s pay TV operators and broadcasters over the past week, mostly related to migration from existing IPTV platforms to gain greater reach and flexibility.

The most notable announcement came this Monday from The France Telecom Orange group, which has launched a new subscription package called “la nouvelle TV d’Orange”, as an upgrade to its existing IPTV service to prepare the ground for the challenges of OTT delivery to multiple screens. This involves migrating Orange’s existing 5.1 million IPTV and hybrid satellite customers to the new platform, a process which began in November 2011 and will continue through this year. The new platform brings an improved user interface combining VOD, catch-up and content discovery in a single EPG, along with a unified service platform designed to enable more efficient distribution to multiple devices in an OTT framework.

Orange was able to obtain the required technologies from within the France Telecom stable, with subsidiary Viaccess providing content security, while the service platform middleware including content discovery has come from another company in the group Orca Interactive. Subscribers from the existing three service categories, IPTV over ADSL, IPTV over FTTH and hybrid satellite/IP, will be converged onto this single, OTT-ready platform, with Orange claiming this to be the world’s largest IPTV migration project so far. This is almost certainly true, since Orange is one of the biggest IPTV operators in the world, with only three whole countries outside France, China, the U.S. and South Korea, having more IPTV subscribers in total.

Elsewhere in Europe, operators in all categories, not just IPTV, are deploying OTT to expand their footprint as well as enable their existing subscribers to access content on the move, or around their home on PCs, tablets or smartphones. In Spain, pay TV provider Prisa TV is extending its satellite service now called Canal+ via OTT to reach around four million potential new subscribers.

Meanwhile, there is a different flavor of OTT brewing in Italy, where leading broadcasters are collaborating around the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) MHP standard to deliver hybrid services combining digital terrestrial transmission of linear content with interactive catch-up applications. Italy is one of the leading markets for MHP (Multimedia Home Platform) and the associated GEM (Globally Executable MHP), which are two related sets of Java-based middleware specifications developed by the DVB. They comprise a platform-independent middleware package that separates broadcasting from content, and enables receivers to work with any service. In Italy, it means a consumer can access catch up services from different channels or content providers through their own portal, independent of the broadcaster. It also means receiver manufacturers can address multiple markets, rather than having to develop to the specification of a particular broadcaster or operator. This is assuming though that MHP has been adopted in those markets.

In another sign of the times for OTT, Stefan Jenzowski, head of multimedia at German electronics giant Siemens, declared that IPTV would soon be history and that the future lay with OTT. Speaking last week at the DVB World 2012 conference in Rome, Jenzowski predicted there would be more connected devices than IPTV subscriptions by 2014, and pointed out that in India there were now 600 million mobile subscribers, 50 percent more than for TV. He outlined how Siemens was adjusting its strategy to cater for the opportunities among mobile connected devices that were particularly exciting in emerging markets. In India, Siemens is collaborating with the large aggregator of Hindi programming Zee TV to produce a jointly branded OTT service called ditto TV.