Leading Lights Finalists 2015: Most Innovative Video Service

Like money, video still makes the world go around. While broadband may be the fastest growing technological force in the world, video is driving most of that growth and remains the premier subscription service.

As a result, cable companies, telcos, satellite TV operators and other service providers are rolling out new video services, features and apps at a quickened pace. In fact, despite the loss of pay-TV subscribers in the core North American market (or maybe because of it), conventional video providers are now cooking up new video products faster than possibly ever before.

In particular, traditional video providers are deploying cloud-based video services that can be easily changed, refreshed, enhanced and replaced to meet the ever-changing needs of their increasingly demanding subscribers. These services enable providers to compete more effectively with over-the-top (OTT) video rivals or, in some cases, actually leverage OTT services by integrating them into their larger video offerings.

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The Leading Lights award will go to the service provider that has developed and deployed the most innovative video service over the past year. The latest crop of entries range from two cloud DVR services to a streaming OTT video app to an OTT service platform.

In selecting the three finalists for this category, we looked for video services that have made strong early headway in the market, earned favorable reviews from independent third parties and/or created strong industry buzz with an innovative approach. We also looked for services from new entrants that are running up against the industry's natural pecking order, as well as services from established players that broke new ground in their market.

Here are the three finalists in the Most Innovative Video Service (service provider) category.

Comcast – X1 DVR with Cloud Technology (Cloud TV/Cloud DVR)
Following in the footsteps of Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) became the second major US cable operator to offer a network-based DVR service to its video customers when it launched its X1 DVR service in the spring of 2014. But it has not rested on its laurels since then, extending the service to numerous other markets and constantly adding new features and tweaks to it.

A big part of Comcast's migration to IP video delivery, the network-based DVR service allows subscribers using the MSO's X1 IP video platform to download recorded programming to as many as five TVs or other video devices at the same time. Subscribers can stream recordings onto their home WiFi network, as well as download select shows to mobile devices for viewing either inside or outside their homes.

Since introducing the service in Boston, Comcast has extended it to numerous other markets, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The long-term plan is to extend it right across the MSO's footprint.

The rollout of cloud DVR service by the largest US MSO is significant because it signals another shift away from the clunky, costly set-top boxes on which the cable industry has traditionally relied. Cloud-based delivery of DVR and other TV services promises to be a cheaper, more efficient way of bringing video content to customers. Cloud-based delivery also enables cable operators to reach a much wider range of set-tops and other video devices at the same time.

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MobiTV Inc. – Cloud-based Network DVR Solution
Like Comcast and Cablevision, MobiTV Inc. is positioning itself as an early player in the cloud DVR space. Based in Emoryville, Calif., the mobile video software specialist has also been refashioning itself as a more conventional video service provider by working closely with both service providers and tech equipment suppliers to deliver live and on-demand multiscreen video services.

In one of the most recent examples, MobiTV teamed with Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) last October to launch the large German telco's new streaming service. Known as "Entertain to Go," it delivers live and on-demand programming across video screens in and out of the home. Customers can also view personally-recorded programs on laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Available on up to four devices, Entertain to Go includes 40 channels and a wide selection of movies. The service offers customers ten hours of cloud storage with the additional option to purchase extra space.

MobiTV's network nDVR software solution is powering expanded cloud recording capabilities for Entertain to Go, allowing recorded programs to be stored in the cloud and played on any mobile device, anytime, anywhere. Since that launch, MobiTV has worked out a similar arrangement with SoftBank Corp. 's TV Bank, one of the largest online video providers in Japan.

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UPC Hungary – TV Apps on Existing (Legacy) Set-top Boxes
Going where few cable operators had gone before, UPC Hungary has emerged as an early leader in delivering OTT video services to its video subscribers after launching a YouTube app on some of its set-top boxes last spring.

A business unit of Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), UPC Hungary actually introduced an app store on its HD set-tops in May and then moved to extend access to all of its 1.5 million video subscribers by the end of last year. That includes not only customers with high-end boxes, but also those with legacy and even standard-definition set-tops. The app store features apps for more than 20 online services, including such notable ones as YouTube, Flickr and Google Maps.

Want to know more about the impact of web services on the pay-TV sector? Check out our dedicated OTT services content channel here on Light Reading.

In a strong early sign that Internet video services can be meshed well with traditional pay-TV services, YouTube is proving to be a big hit with UPC Hungary's subscribers. The cable operator announced last September that subscribers had flocked to YouTube since the service launched four months earlier. About half of UPC Hungary's pilot HD subs had already accessed the service, and more than half of those had returned for more.

What makes the UPC deployment especially interesting is how the company is delivering the online content. UPC Hungary was the first service provider publicly to deploy ActiveVideo 's CloudTV StreamCast platform, which turns the web content into a personalized video stream that can then be delivered to subscriber set-tops. This technical approach, which builds on the platform that ActiveVideo has already used to implement cloud-based user interfaces, allows providers to reach all subscribers with advanced guide features, not just those customers with newer set-tops.

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Let us know what you think of these most innovative video service finalists. Feel free to weigh in on the message boards below, suggest alternatives and make your case for your own personal favorites. We welcome your comments (especially if they're profound and not profane).

The Leading Lights 2015 winners and newest class of Hall of Fame inductees will be unveiled at the Leading Lights awards dinner, which will be held the evening of Monday, June 8, at Chicago's Field Museum. The star-studded soirée will follow a day of special workshops covering topics such as SDN, 5G and Carrier Ethernet for the Cloud that take place ahead of Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which this year is being held at the McCormick Place Convention Center on June 9 and 10. (Details and the agenda are on our show site, Big Telecom Event.)

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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