HbbTV Operator Application: provide a set-top-box like experience directly on the main TV screen!

Nowadays, most of the TV consumers use CTVs as opposed to “non-smart” TVs to watch linear TV content. In order to watch non-linear content through functionalities like Start-Over, Catch-Up TV, and Video on Demand, the use of an interactive application providing IP streaming is generally needed. Such streaming applications are widely available and downloadable either directly on the CTV using either HbbTV or an app store or via a set-top box device connected to the consumer’s Smart TV. This hybrid type setup offers an almost ‘all-in-one’ TV experience.

For the final user, however, this setup presents a number of challenges. First of all, having multiple applications present on the CTV, both broadcast-related or independent, requires the user to find the right up, tuning a channel or browsing the app gallery, or to perform repeated searches within each of their applications in order to find the content they wish to watch. It also requires a considerable amount of interaction via the CTV’s remote-control unit, most of which is limited to a small number of buttons or, in some cases, with basically no buttons (e.g., colored buttons). The most common remote-control interactions are switching applications, navigation, etc., all of which are further complicated by the differences in UI and UX across their various applications. Secondly, where a set-top box is being used to run interactive applications, there is no getting away from the fact that it is an extra device requiring extra cables and, most of the time, inevitably an extra remote control in order to interact with the set-top-box. Moreover, the final user still has to deal with the challenges of searching for content across multiple applications, added interaction via remote controls, and varying UI and UX.

For the TV operators, especially network or content operators offering Pay TV services via an IPTV/OTT set-top-box to its end users, the supply of hardware brings additional costs and challenges related to technology, specification, financing, sourcing, distribution, and after-sales support. Additionally, operators offering support for third-party applications on their set-top-box have also the burden of maintaining those applications throughout both the app and set-top box’s lifecycle.

In addition to this, it has to be noted that in the past years it has been registered a dramatic change in the consumer viewing behavior. This change does not only impact the device used for watching TV content, with a new mix made of the main TV screen and other screens like PC, tablet, and smartphone, but it also affects the type of consumption with a new mix of linear and on-demand watching. Moreover, the on-demand watching via new online services such as Youtube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ is rising, and some customers are less willing to pay for “traditional” TV subscriptions. In the light of this changing viewing behavior, TV Operators, in both horizontal and vertical markets, will continue to be relevant, provided they will allow consumers easy and seamless access to any content on any device with a consistent user experience.

In this context, the HbbTV Operator applications (“OpApps”), provide a useful tool to address the challenges presented by the market and, at the same time, offer an opportunity to TV Operators to enhance their reach (ideally, they could target the whole horizontal market) while reducing complexity and costs, preserving a consistent operator TV user experience and opening the door to new services.

An OpApp is an HbbTV application, thought for Pay-TV and Free-to-air TV Operators, that controls the device where it is installed and presents the Operator’s services using the same UX and UI.

The OpApp is permitted to run as a virtual set-top box on the supported CTV device, it is not required to be downloaded from applicable application stores. Instead, it is offered to the end-user to download during the first time set- up (“FTS”) and, where selected, is installed as a virtual input on the CTV and made accessible via the source button on the TV’s remote control. If the user decides not to download the app during the FTS, the app remains downloadable from the home screen UI of the TV or from the TV Operator Conditional Access Module. Once installed, the OpApps are permitted to start automatically on bootup/waking of the TV where it was the last used input of the user. The OpApps are also permitted to use additional buttons on the remote control that are currently not usable by standard Smart TV apps, thereby further benefiting a single device approach.

The OpApp includes all the main functionalities provided by vertical set-top-box:

  • Electronic Program Guide – EPG;
  • VoD and Catch-up;
  • Channel list and program info,
  • Device UI (volume, HDMI control, settings, etc);
  • Other HbbTV functionalities.

In addition to this, the OpApp offers extra features like CAS messaging and, at the same time, creates a basis for enabling services like audience measurement (both on broadcast and broadband), user profiling, targeted advertising, and other operator-based services.

With the OpApp the TV Operators can reach the final users, directly on their CTVs, offering the same or even better experience than they currently do through the vertical set-top box.

In conclusion, the enhanced technology brought by CTVs to final users, together with the changing viewing behavior, are challenging traditional TV operators. The use of an OpApp addresses these challenges and brings new opportunities both for the industry and the final users. In fact, on one side, it reduces the costs for TV Operators in the supply and maintenance of hardware while enhancing the potential number of reachable devices and, on the other side, it grants a simplification of the TV experience for the final user, while enhancing the offer given through the usage of a single application.

  • International Business Development Manager at Kineton. Terminata la laurea in ingegneria si è specializzato nel mondo Media TV, dopo un percorso lavorativo in Tivù è stato assunto da Kineton per lo sviluppo del mercato internazionale.

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