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OTT heats up in Germany

Germany has become Europe’s hotbed for OTT deployments, with the arrival of Sweden’s cloud TV service, Magine TV, coinciding with announcements from several of established pay TV operators.

At the same time, satellite platform operator Eutelsat has launched a wholesale OTT package as an extension of its existing KabelKiosk service, which is a "head end in the sky," now combining cable, satellite, IPTV and OTT delivery in a hybrid offering for content, delivering to multiple screens.

The KabelKiosk platform comprises ingest systems from Harmonic, CDN technology from Broadpeak, the Microsoft Play Ready and Marlin DRMs, video on demand software from Rovi and EPG from PPS, with Tvinci providing the online support with its OTT 2.0 platform. It brings DVB broadcast together with IP and also the HbbTV hybrid standard now being widely deployed across continental Europe with Germany leading the way.

Eutelsat claims that KabelKiosk enables second-generation OTT, meaning that it can deliver premium content with acceptable quality of service and scale efficiently to large numbers of users. The scalability is achieved through a combination of Tvinci’s OTT software and Harmonic's ProMedia Origin HTTP streaming video server as well as its MediaGrid shared storage system. Together, these components enable independent scaling of storage capacity, bandwidth, and streaming capability, which are essential for cost-effective deployment of OTT across large numbers of users, devices and content sources.

One of the potential advantages of OTT, enabled by the Tvinci platform, is the ability to target individual users with recommendations and adverts.

“OTT 2.0 enables our customers to deploy personal pay TV services,” said Tvinci’s VP for Solution Sales Adina Eckstein. “It allows them to manage end users individually because they have their own log-in and serve them appropriate recommendations.”

Eutelsat KabelKiosk is pitching OTT both for standalone services and also for TV Everywhere extensions to existing IPTV or cable TV services. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Magine is using a similar cable TV in the sky approach for its standalone OTT service, which has just been announced in a beta version in Germany three months after its inaugural full commercial launch in its home market in March 2013. This is a combined linear TV and catch-up package incorporating cloud based PVR, supporting streaming to smart TVs and iOS devices without needing a set top box. This sets the service apart from other European OTT services, such as Jazztel in Spain, that also offer a range of good linear and on demand content, but require a dedicated set top box.

Yet, while Magine grabbed the headlines for its boxless approach, Magine believes its principle differentiator lies in its content catalogue. In Sweden, this includes content from public broadcaster SVT and private broadcaster TV4, as well as international channels CNN International, BBC, Eurosport, National Geographic, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. It was particularly important to get the content right in Germany as Europe’s biggest and faster growing pay TV market, according to Magine’s chairman Michael Werner.

“Germany is a vital territory for us and we are looking forward to working with the country’s top content providers,” said Werner.

Magine considers the user experience in terms of search, discovery and control of the service to be vital secondary differentiators, after content. Here, it has got off to a good start in Sweden with positive reviews for its search and discovery mechanisms that combine a standard EPG grid with powerful search to drill down into channels for catch-up or on-demand viewing. Most channels are held for at least seven days in the cloud and many for 30 days.

Then, the fact that the mobile and TV apps connect to the cloud means that Magine users can control their TV from a tablet or phone, along with the regular TV remote. Synchronization with the companion device is achieved by scanning a QR (Quick Response) code, a two-dimensional barcode initially designed for the Japanese automotive industry, displayed on the main TV.

Germany’s established pay TV operators have been responding by first introducing TV Everywhere and then at least contemplating standalone OTT services. Incumbent Telco Deutsche Telekom, the country’s largest IPTV operator with 1.6 million customers for that service, has been planning standalone OTT to reach beyond its existing broadband footprint for new customers, with the aim of then converting them to its own bundled services and upselling them to premium TV packages. As part of that strategy, Deutsche Telekom has just spent €500,000 on seed funding for start-up, which has developed an app template enabling video playback on different devices.

At the same time, DTH operator Sky Deutschland, with 3.4 million customers and 54.5-percent owned by News Corp, has been encouraged by its own research finding that multiscreen viewing coupled with VOD on non-TV devices has lowered the average age of new customers to 39. It has gained ground among the 18-30 age sector considered a crucial target because of the amount of time young viewers spend on screen and potential for long lasting customer relationships. The operator has attributed part of this success to new content such as its Sky Sports News channel tailored for viewing on smaller devices, comprising multiple broadcasts in small chunks during the day.

It is true that Sky Deutschland’s acquisition of additional rights for Bundesliga football matches has also played a part, but, in any case, its multiscreen success has caused it to consider launching a standalone OTT service outside its existing satellite subscription, avoiding the need for a dish. This would replicate its UK sister company BSkyB, which has an OTT-only subscription service called Now TV, available on a pay-as-you-go or pay-monthly basis. This gained Sky 30,000 new OTT-only customers during the first quarter of 2013, although with some of these just on a pay-as-you-go basis, it cannot all be considered part of the overall pay TV total.

The UK, though, is an advanced market in OTT terms given widespread use of the BBC iPlayer catch up service. Nevertheless, it looks as if, in Germany, the major operators will be compelled to take the risk of cannibalizing their existing customer base by launching OTT only offerings.