Just days after UK-based Sky introduced a trio of smart TVs powered by Comcast's software platform, video software specialist Vewd launched a similar "Operator TV" program for the European market with Vestel, an original design manufacturer (ODM) and a top supplier of TVs in the the region.
The baseline idea is similar: Give operators in Europe a way to integrate their own pay-TV services with over-the-top streaming options (and, possibly, over-the-air TV services) onto a unified platform that does not require a separate set-top box.
According to Vewd CEO Aneesh Rajaram, such a move takes strategic aim at various consumer and operator constraints that pay-TV providers face today. Consumers are satisfying their appetite for content by using multiple devices to access live and on-demand fare, but are also pining for ways to discover content and aggregate all of that content into a common platform. Operators, meanwhile, are seeing their video bases shrink as they attempt to stay competitive and relevant in the new video landscape.
Rajaram said Vewd Operator TV, a program that's been in the works for well over a year, will take aim at those issues by tying Vewd's software framework and operating system with TVs made by Vestel.
Operators, he said, will have multiple options. They can develop and sell white label smart TVs under their own branding, such as what Sky is trying to do with its "Sky Glass" TVs and Comcast is expected to do soon in North American under the "X Class TV" brand. Or operators can piggyback on Vestel's wide range of TV brand partners, which include names such as Panasonic, JVC, Hitachi and Toshiba.
Rajaram says those brands are just the tip of the iceberg, noting that Vestel also works with several that are more localized within Europe, such as Finlux (Scandinavia), Telefunken (Germany) and Bush (UK).
Combining Vewd's software with Vestel's hardware and TV distribution capabilities "provides an operator with a solution they'd otherwise have to invest in-house or over a multi-year [period]," Rajaram said.
Vewd did not announce any specific smart TV models, including screen dimensions and technology specs, that will be available through its Operator TV program early on, but the company expects to have a wide range of options available to its pay-TV partners. And while some operators will want to merely sell TVs with their services built in via traditional retail models, others might want to pursue subsidy models that package in subscriber fees – similar to the options Sky has made available initially in the UK with Sky Glass.
"The actual go-to-market for each operator will be different. The same formula cannot be applied across all of the regions of Europe," Rajaram said, noting that Vewd's piece of it will operate under a pure software-as-a-service model.
He notes that some consumer pockets of Europe might be willing to pay a higher premium for a smart TV than others, so Vewd and its operator partners will need to build that into their individual approach, he added.
"Operators will have the option to go to market as they see fit for their local subscriber base," Rajaram added. "We need to be flexible enough to accept that go-to-market [strategies] in different countries will be different. It won't be one-size-fits-all."
Rajaram said several operators in Europe have begun to evaluate Vewd's Operator TV program, and that activity around it began to accelerate in recent weeks. Vewd expects to start its first rollouts with operators in the latter half of 2022 and into early 2023, he said.
Vewd does not intend to limit the program to Europe. Vestel's capabilities extend well beyond Europe. Additionally, Vewd also has teamed its software with TVs from manufacturers such as Hisense and TCL.
Long live the set-top box
While programs such as Sky's Sky Glass and Vewd Operator TV all focus on retaining pay-TV subs with an integrated experience and obviating the need for a separate set-top box, Rajaram is under no illusion that the set-top box will suddenly fade into history.
"In terms of scale, will [these programs] replace 100% of the set-top boxes they are shipping today? Probably not. Probably not any time soon. Probably not in the next three to four years, even," he said. "Set-top boxes won't go away."
But he also believes that operators of all shapes and sizes need to develop a more formalized smart TV strategy, and to fit into that equation as more consumers adopt connected TVs and use them to sign up for pay-TV and other kinds of video services.
"It's a choice that consumers or subscribers have to be offered," if pay-TV operators want to retain subscribers and not lose them to various direct-to-consumer streaming options, Rajaram said.
Vewd, meanwhile, has its own range of set-top box options. For example, its Vewd OpX framework is tailored for set-top boxes that run Linux, Android TV or the Reference Design Kit (RDK), a joint venture of Comcast, Liberty Global and Charter Communications. Vewd has also developed Vewd Go, a white label streaming dongle.
- Vewd launches smart TV for operators
- Sky applies smartphone-like buy-and-swap model to new 'Sky Glass' TVs
- Comcast nearing launch of 'XClass'-branded TVs – report
- Comcast files for 'X Class TV' trademark in Canada
- Edge Networks taps Vewd to power Evoca TV user experience
- Vewd scores new deal for Vestel-made smart TVs
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading