In a bold move for a company that's not a traditional service provider, MobiTV plans to power a service next year that will use an HDMI streaming stick -- or maybe a lightweight set-top box -- to transfer Internet content to the TV set.
MobiTV Inc. isn't saying who will be behind this prospective service. However, based on the way chief strategy officer Rick Herman describes it, it seems safe to say that a broadband or wireless provider would use the MobiTV solution to turn an over-the-top (OTT) video service into something that consumers can easily watch on a living room flat-screen TV.
The idea of delivering online video to TV screens is nothing new. In the US, companies are creating apps for the Xbox, the Roku, and various smart TV sets. However, many of these initial efforts are coming from service providers that operate their own managed infrastructure for TV delivery. The MobiTV approach could open up the business to new competitors.
MobiTV offers an end-to-end solution for video processing and multiscreen video delivery. Starting with live TV signals taken off a satellite, or a library of video-on-demand files, it transfers and encodes content for distribution across multiple platforms. The company has its own digital rights management (DRM) technology but also integrates with third-party DRM products. It transports the video to a content delivery network or, in some cases, houses the software directly within a service provider's infrastructure.
Though MobiTV has been all about mobile video for years, the company is now ready to take television full circle back to the living room screen. The technology works for any operator looking to deliver a multiscreen experience, but Herman told us its solution also gives operators that haven't been in the TV business a way to "start participating without trying to out-Comcast Comcast." In other words, the platform makes it possible for new players to try out new types of TV services in an economically feasible way. Competitors don't have to match Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s complete television lineup. They can wade into the television business more slowly and still support a product that consumers might want to buy.
For all that MobiTV's solution promises to deliver, there's also plenty it won't deliver. To cite two prime examples, the company doesn't make chipsets or consumer hardware devices.
On the semiconductor side, it has started partnering with providers to integrate its DRM technology at the chipset level. This is necessary for TV delivery in the home, because movie studios want hardware-based security when consumers are receiving HD-quality content. So far, MobiTV has announced partnerships with Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL) and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN).
MobiTV is also lining up industry partners on the device side. It has announced a partnership with EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS) for the set-top form factor. Partners for its HDMI stick haven't been disclosed.
The solution "comes in two form factors," Herman said. "There's an HDMI dongle solution… and we'll do a real lightweight set-top box." The solution, which will be called MobiTV Connect, will be offered as a white-label product to service providers.
If the idea of an online TV service packaged with an HDMI adapter seems familiar, it should. Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) is experimenting with this so-called set-top virtualization in Eastern Europe. Though the tests are still in the early stages, the business model has the potential to be very disruptive. It combines cheap hardware with cloud-based video delivery, which could make life very interesting for incumbent pay TV providers. (See Deutsche Telekom Tests Set-Top Virtualization.)
Nobody is suggesting that cable TV companies are going away. But the landscape is shifting as more content gets delivered online. With 2014 promising to be a big year for OTT video, MobiTV plans to be right in the thick of things.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading Cable