Monthly Archives: March 2012

Sky to launch pay-as-you-go OTT service in the summer

UK pay-TV operator Sky is to launch a new OTT service called Now TV this summer, which is set to compete in the UK with existing Internet movie platforms such as Netflix, Lovefilm and Ultraviolet (of which Sky is a member).

The new brand will be distinct from Sky’s, although it will be positioned as ‘powered by Sky’. The operator’s CEO, Jeremy Darroch, said in a speech to the Media Guardian Changing Media Summit 2012 that it would be available on a wide range of devices and offer instant access to “a range of high-quality Sky content, with no install and no contract.”

Movies will be the first content to be made available, expanding to offer sport and entertainment in due course. Customers will be able to pay monthly for unlimited access to Sky Movies or rent a single movie on a simple, pay-as-you-go basis.

The range of connected devices covered will include “PCs, Macs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, games consoles and connected TVs.”

Although Darroch only narrowed down the launch-window for Now TV to “later this year” in his speech, the site where customers can register their interest specifies a summer launch.

Danish T2-Lite trial goes for all-mobile channel offer

Details have emerged about some of the technology choices adopted for the Copenhagen ‘T2-Lite’ trial, for which Danish operator Open Channel was awarded a licence in August last year.

The trial, which launched on January 1st this year and could run for up to three years, uses UHF channel 39 in Copenhagen, and claims coverage of more than 700,000 households.

In contrast to the BBC R&D trial last year, which squeezed a T2-Lite channel designed for mobile reception into the gaps between a fully-fledged HD service transmitted in standard DVB-T2 mode (now dubbed ‘T2-base’), the Copenhagen trial consists entirely of T2-Lite TV and radio channels carried on up to 16 Physical Layer Pipes (PLPs). As their name suggests, each of these can be regarded as a separate data-pipe with its own bit-rate and robustness characteristics, a notable feature of the second-generation DVB DTT standard.

Open Channel’s calculations show that configured in this manner, a T2-Lite multiplex can match the data-rate offered by a DVB-T one (see table below), yet still offer good mobile reception (unlike DVB-T as generally configured).

Stationary reception DVB-T 20 – 22 Mbit/s DVB-T2 37 – 40 Mbit/s
Mobile reception DVB-H 10 – 13 Mbit/s DVB-T2 Lite 20 – 25 Mbit/s

Source: Open Channel

The difference between the T2-base multiplex data-rate (40.2 Mbit/s in the UK) and that of a T2-Lite mux (20-25 Mbit/s) is explained by the fact that the PLPs within it are configured to be much more robust for mobile reception purposes, so run at lower bit-rates (the DVB-T2 spec sets a maximum of 4MBit/s for PLPs when T2-Lite is used).

But that in turn means that they can easily be captured by fixed aerials, too: in other words, the same channel offer is receivable on either living-room displays fed from a fixed rooftop antenna or handheld devices equipped with a T2-Lite tuner (the DVB predicted last September that soon, all [DVB-] T2 chipsets will support T2 Lite).

These channels will, of course, not be HD quality, but that has to be set against the fact that no separate (expensive) mobile TV network needs to be constructed.

One of the interesting assertions made by Open Channel is that DVB-T2 Lite is not only suitable for mobile TV. It is, the company says, “also highly suitable as the future standard of digital radio in place of DAB & DAB+ [...]. With the DVB-T2 / T2 Lite profile you get 2.7 to 3.7Mbit/s capacity (~ 40 / ~ 55 HE AACv2 radio stations) compared to the DAB / DAB+ 1.1 Mbit/s capacity (~ 6 mpeg1 layer II / ~ 16 HE AACv2 radio stations) with the same propagation model.”

Intel: a new breed of ‘virtual cable operator’?

The Wall Street Journal has reported that Intel is developing an over-the-top video service for US consumers, apparently positioned as a ‘virtual cable operator’ which would sell US TV channels nationwide in the manner of a traditional pay-TV ‘bundle’.

The vehicle for the service would, according to the WSJ, be an Intel Internet-capable set-top box.

The news is intriguing for several reasons: it was not that long ago that Intel was reported to be abandoning efforts to sell its processors to manufacturers of connected TVs, a strategy it launched in 2007.

Intel did say at the time that it would maintain a presence in the set-top box market, where it has met with a measure of success through deals with Comcast in the US and Liberty Global in Europe. Those agreements have been tempered, however, by the recent loss of its high-profile deal with Google TV, which has now chosen to go with the ARM-based Marvell Armada 1500 chipset instead.

Intel’s move may, in fact, be a reaction to this.

Of greater significance, perhaps, is the notion of a ‘virtual cable operator’, which runs against the apparent trend towards distributors being disintermediated by the Internet.

In fact, farncombe was arguing two years ago that a new type of intermediary online player was required to make the OTT video sector more efficient and economic.

Farncombe postulated at the time that there were two possible models for such intermediaries:

  1. In order to differentiate themselves from their competitors, they would invest in exclusive premium content on their own account or with a partner; or
  2. They would regard their strength as lying within their role as “commodity” providers of access to multiple content providers, and would not seek to invest in the video platforms themselves or in “direct” content agreements.

Although it’s not yet clear whether Intel intends to invest in premium content, it appears to be following the first model rather than the second.