Sunny Outlook for Cloud UIs

April 2, 2014
There has been a lot of talk among cable operators about unifying user interfaces (UIs) across de...
There has been a lot of talk among cable operators about unifying user interfaces (UIs) across devices and about giving consumers a satisfying way to discover video content, read and post reviews and otherwise interact, even if they are sitting on the sofa and watching a big screen.

They are competing with the Netflixes and Hulus of the world, yet the MSOs are hampered by legacy set-top boxes that do not have the horsepower, CPU or graphics processing to enable a next-generation experience, said Sachin Sathaye, VP of product marketing for ActiveVideo.

"An option is to upgrade set-top boxes with modern set-top boxes, but they can cost $300, and even then, the set-top box rollout is very slow," Sathaye said, noting that technology is changing faster than the boxes can be developed and distributed, with the next iteration of HTML5 or OpenGL and 8K video already topics of discussion.

"By the time you are rolling out UIs, the device will be obsolete," Sathaye said. "(Actually,) the device is obsolete the day it is shipped .... This is continuously a goal which you will not meet."

One solution for ending the cycle is to render the UI in the cloud, convert it into a video stream, and send it as video to a QAM or IP set-top box. The same UI, no matter how fancy the graphics, could work on the operator's set-top boxes across the board.

"For the pay TV operator, it is important to have a consistent brand. How can they complement the existing set-top box upgrade strategy?" Sathaye said. "(With a cloud-based UI), you can take the same interface and deliver it to the existing (subscribers) as a consistent experience."

An ACG Research study indicated that a cloud-based UI could have an 83% lower total cost of operation over five years, compared to a device-specific set-top box solution. Another benefit is time to market. Traditionally, making a UI change as small as altering the font, could take 15-20 months, Sathaye said.

Alternatively, with a cloud-based UI, changes can be delivered with "web speeds." For example, when Ziggo, based in the Netherlands, launched its VOD service, customers complained about the fact they could not rate content. Because it used a cloud-based UI, Ziggo was able to develop and roll out this feature in 15 days, Sathaye said.

"Ziggo was not able to just respond to the requirement, but able to monetize this feature by directly increasing revenue," Sathaye said, noting that the company has reported increasing ARPU by 6% since the launch of the cloud-based VOD UI in March 2013.

In another type of application, Deutsche Telekom's T-Labs has tested the concept of streaming the UI to a low-cost HDMI dongle, among other things. One idea for using this type of application would be to then give it away for free, akin to AOL's strategy with user CDs, Sathaye said.

"The consumer takes home (the dongle) and connects it to an HDMI port," Sathaye said. "If they like (the service), they use it. If they don't, they throw it away .... You can bring down the subscriber acquisition cost."

Monta Monaco Hernon is a free-lance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].