Philo Trials Tech That Lets OTT-TV Subs Synchronize Their Viewing

Las Vegas -- NAB 2019 -- Philo is working on a way for OTT-TV consumers to congregate virtually and synchronize their viewing of both live, linear channels as well as on-demand content.

Philo, a virtual MVPD that offers a package of entertainment-focused programming, has a trial of its synchronized viewing service underway, though there are no announced plans on when the technology might be rolled out commercially to subscribers, Ben Chambers, Philo's chief technology officer, said here during a Light Reading-hosted session titled "Getting to OTT 2.0."

"We think TV is inherently one of the most social mediums out there… We want to bring some of that into our product," Chambers said during a fireside chat with Alan Breznick, Light Reading's cable/video practice leader.

He said Philo has developed a prototype, tacking it on top of the adaptive bit rate technology that Philo uses to stream video to its subscribers.

As an example, he said the feature will enable spouses that are binge-watching a TV series to enjoy a new episode together, even if one of them might be out of town.

Philo has developed an internal version of the feature and is working on enhancements that, for example, would enable synchronized viewers to message each other in the app as they are viewing the show.

There's no solid timeline to get synchronized viewing rolled out, but Chambers said one challenge is to figure out how to make the feature work on TV-connected streaming platforms such as Apple TV boxes, Roku players and Amazon Fire TV devices. Those platforms typically require OTT services to use software templates for their user interfaces, making it a challenge for them to add on new features such as the one Philo is developing for viewer synchronization.

He noted that Philo is exploring the use of smartphone-based mechanisms to establish synchronized viewing sessions between multiple people.

Separately, Chambers also discussed Philo's strategy to steer clear of high-priced sports and news services in its OTT-TV service packages, which start at $16 per month for a lineup of 44 channels that includes A&E, AMC, Comedy Central and Discovery.

Sports and news nets drive the lion's share of the costs in the content world, and Philo's data showed that there's a good portion of the consumer market that is looking for an entertainment-focused offering that delivers high value.

And, he said, Philo is complementary to other OTT services that do offer news and sports content. He said Philo has found that a subset of its base also subscribe to other virtual MVPDs. FuboTV, a sports-oriented OTT-TV service, and YouTube TV have proven to be among the most popular ones that consumers combine with Philo, he said.

That also jibes with some OTT-focused consumer research presented this morning by Tony Gunnarsson, principal analyst, media & entertainment, at Ovum.

"Pay-TV is evolving to OTT," he said. According to Ovum research covering various global regions, more than half of all OTT video subscribers across take multiple, concurrent subscriptions, with an average of 2.25 paid services per user. Gunnarsson said added that the notion of "self-bundling" is radically changing the composition of video households.

"We're definitely seeing that," Chambers said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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