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Cable/Video

Midco nears debut of new IP-based video service

Midco is testing a new IPTV service with employees and is on track to launch its next-gen video offering in a yet-to-be-disclosed market in July.

The new platform will be branded "Midco TV" and work on operator-supplied Android TV boxes and select mobile devices equipped with TiVo's user interface/user experience. Vecima is also on board to supply key video infrastructure for the new offering, including a CDN, video processing and transcoding systems.

Midco is a mid-sized operator serving some 400 communities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Kansas. The cable operator hasn't disclosed where the new service will surface first, but the plan is to introduce it to more markets in 2020, scale it out in 2021 to more than 50% of Midco's footprint, and then complete the deployment by the end of 2022, Bill Chatwell, Midco's director of video systems, said yesterday during a Light Reading-hosted webinar titled "Fast Forward to IP-Delivered Video."

Chatwell said Midco TV would offer a mix of standard and premium channels, pay-per-view, VoD, restart/catchup TV services and a cloud DVR. After an initial focus on iOS and Android mobile devices and operator-supplied Android TV boxes, Midco expects to support a bring-your-own-device model in later phases, he added.

Aggregating Midco's own video content alongside content from OTT apps and putting that into an integrated search and browse platform with voice-based navigation capabilities "is a huge part of the offering," Chatwell said, noting that self-installation and a preferred use of in-home Wi-Fi (rather than wired options) to connect the boxes will also serve as important pieces of the of the new product.

Midco, he said, expects the new install option to reduce truck rolls for new service additions by as much as 80%.

Transitioning to an IP-based video platform will enable Midco, which has been using hybrid TiVo-based devices for its legacy pay-TV product, to ease into a unified platform that is no longer limited to specific set-top box hardware, he added.

Midco will start with a cap-and-grow approach in its markets and lead off with the new product in new build-outs.

Though Midco is transitioning to an IP-based platform, Chatwell expects Midco to rely on QAM-based video for at least five to seven more years. But once that transition is done, Midco can recapture spectrum used today for QAM-delivered video and go with a full-spectrum DOCSIS platform for all of the operator's services, he added.

Like Midco, Millicom, a company that provides mobile and wireline services in parts of Latin America, is also moving ahead with a plan to transition to an IP-based video platform.

Millicom, which has a cable footprint of more than 11 million homes passed and also serves some customers on FTTP networks, has been growing primarily through acquisition and has been forced to manage multiple technologies and solutions – sometimes within the same market.

Millicom's current media/entertainment business comes the way of Tigo OneTV, a hybrid offering with linear and non-linear content, but the company views IP and the use of an app-based environment as a great technology and platform unifier that can bridge video services to the home and outside of the home.

"We do believe that IP is the future of content delivery and it will increase our reach and penetration in the markets," said Eduardo Donatelli, head of technology and video platforms for Millicom. "We are betting heavily on content delivery over IP."

Blending multicast and unicast
Panelists also weighed in on how multicast and unicast video will play together in the IP video transition.

Multicast will remain a must to keep capacity demands in check for popular channels, but operators will need to monitor and decide which channels – perhaps the top ten or 20 – that should be streamed as a multicast.

Those channels could be different from region to region and will need to be changed dynamically without impacting the user experience, Donatelli said. Millicom, he said, will be delivering more than 300 live TV channels on its platform.

Midco will launch its new IP-based product on a unicast basis, but will keep tabs on where it makes sense to use multicast as the offering scaled up, Chatwell said.

Boosting the economics of pay-TV
Migrating to next-gen video isn't just about slapping on a new coat of paint. It's about altering and improving the economics of pay-TV amid waves of new competition.

Kyle Goodwin, VP of product and innovation at Vecima, said operators are looking to IP as a way to reduce operating and capital costs using their bandwidth more efficiently and enabling a system that can support "infinite tuners."

Some of that also ties into cloud DVRs that can cut down consumer premises equipment (CPE) maintenance by 50% to 80%, depending on the operator, and open the door to a BYOD model, he added. Deployment data also shows that storage CapEx can also be reduced by 30% to 60% as an operator moves to local, consolidated storage and away from local DVR storage, said Goodwin.

Tapping into a unified infrastructure also puts operators in a position to take advantage of multiple streaming and encryption standards for a wide range of screen types, he added.

But shifting to a cloud DVR offering also comes with challenges as most of them, due to copyright rules, use a private copy model that requires massive storage – in the multiple petabytes for some larger operators.

Those cloud DVRs also require plenty of throughput as recordings are moved away from home-side boxes to centralized storage systems. But when everything is rolled up, the cost-per-terabyte and per concurrent recording is much lower than standard DVRs and those costs improve as the system is scaled to more and more customers, Goodwin stressed, later estimating that Vecima currently has about 15 customers with cloud DVR service live or in the trial phase.

On the user experience end of the IP video equation, a guide that can integrate access and search across the traditional pay-TV offering a multitude of OTT sources can help manage "content chaos" in today's ever-expanding video environment, explained Liam Bresnahan, senior director of product management for footprint at TiVo.

"Consumers themselves are often suffering from what we think of internally inside of TiVo as content chaos – 'Where is the right piece of content coming from that I would like to watch at the right time on the right device?'" said Bresnahan.

Consumers are "crying out" for a unified video experience, he added, citing data from a TiVo consumer study revealing that 72% of respondents desire a simplified way to access all of their content across multiple devices.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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