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Making TV Set-Tops as Agile as Smartphones

Jeff Baumgartner

As the features and functions of the TV set-top box get tucked into the cloud and become software-driven, the set-top is starting to adapt and evolve as fast and as much as the smartphone.

Rather than making small, minor changes that could take several months to get deployed on the set-top box, the software-as-a-service approach promises to enable the deployment of more significant apps and services every few weeks. That sort of cloud-based model has become the foundation of platforms for such big MSOs as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s X1, but it's also being extended to other, smaller pay-TV operators.

Espial Group Inc. claims that its SaaS model, powred by Elevate platform, is starting to gain traction following last week's deployment announcements with WideOpenWest Holdings LLC (WOW) (for its "Ultra" TV service) and TDS Telecom . Others on board with Elevate include Conway Corp. , Hiawatha Broadband and Eagle Communications. (See Espial Rolls TDS Into Its Video Cloud and Buckeye Signs Elevate SaaS Agreement With Espial.)

As a software-driven platform, Elevate is an upgrade from the original Whole Home Solution technology it acquired from Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) in mid-2016. That solution involved software that was primarily set-top-focused and much more "static" in nature, according to Espial CEO Jaison Dolvane. (See Arris Ends Dream of Set-Top Software Riches.)

"With a software-based platform, you're looking at something that is kind of evergreen," said Dolvane. He likened it to iOS and Android in the sense that new iterations can open the door to new features and capabilities in a "cadence" that occurs every few weeks. "At the core of it, that's where we're moving with all of this," he noted.

It's up to the operators to decide which features and new components to enable with Elevate. But Dolvane said they all have the option to deploy new interfaces (for set-tops and mobile devices), integrate a greater range of OTT service, tap into the platform's data analytics engine to drive and target promotional offerings, and tie in Alexa-powered voice control.

The move should also enable those service providers to shift to a device-agnostic model. In addition to hybrid IP/QAM boxes from suppliers such as Arris, Espial has also equipped Elevate to be compatible with operator-supplied IP-only set-tops and web browsers, along with app-based retail streaming devices that include Roku and Android TV players and connected televisions, Apple TV boxes, and smartphones.

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These are all coming about as pay-TV providers of all sizes are looking for an edge or to at least stay relevant in the cord-cutting era and as consumers expect their content to be available on just about any screen. (See Cord-Cutting Pace Slows in Q2.)

Read more about pay-TV's pivot to the cloud:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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