The Future of Television is on the Horizon
Liberty Global announced the long awaited launch of its Horizon TV product. Using the tag-line of “Endless TV” – the product takes the television experience to a new level by bringing together traditional broadcast TV along with online/on-demand content as well as personal content. Additionally, it provides a true multi-screen experience – meaning in addition to watching programming on multiple device types – you can also transfer whatever program you are watching (live or on-demand) seamlessly to another device.
The service provides a sophisticated user interface with 3D graphics, that is displayed transparently over the current channel along with a recommendation engine that will search and discover content across all of the inputs – currently broadcast, previously broadband or available via on-demand.
Finally, the service offer an app store that allows users to access content from the Internet, such as Netflix, YouTube, etc.
The service was originally announced in 2010 with a launch date in 2011. At last year’s IBC show, Liberty provided more insight into the service including a sneak preview of the gateway (sealed under plexiglass with bright lights so you could not even take a photo). In addition, they announced it was going to trial in the Netherlands in 1Q12.
The service will be live on September 21st, with UPC Switzerland launching within 60 days, followed by Ireland in 1Q13 and Germany in the first six months of the year.
Little has changed with the product in the past twelve months, with the exception that the number of live streaming channels has increased from 60 to 80.
Product & Partners
The delay in the service launch is likely due to the large number of partners that make up the Horizon platform and service which include the following:
Video Gateway: Samsung with an Intel Atom CE Media Processor, four GBE interfaces, 6 DVB-C tuners and 500GB of storage. The gateway will allow 4 simultaneous recordings. There is also a three-hour review buffer that runs across recently viewed channels, from which users can also set recordings.
Home networking is accomplished via coax and MoCA (Entropic) as well as WiFI (Celeno Communications). The gateway also supports the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) platform, which allows for automatic discovery of devices, then making them visible on the screen so that the customer can see which ones are connected.
As of today, a customer will need one of these gateways for each television set – however, Liberty indicated they would be launching a thin-client device that would allow streams to a secondary TV.
The middleware and user interface are provided by NDS, while the recommendation engine comes from ThinkAnalystics. NAGRA is providing encryption, SeaChange handles the back-office for video-on demand.
The ability to transfer the TV experience to various devices has been made possible by IOKO’s enterprise service platform (acquired by KIT Digital in 2011), while the second screen app was developed by Intellicore.
The content management system (which enables Horizon TV Online – also announced September 7) is a joint development of KIT digital and thePlatform. The browser was designed by Empathy Labs, while the app store and widgets were designed and developed by Metrological.
UPC Netherlands is offering two packages: 60Mb/6Mbp broadband + Horizon TV for €39.50 per month (1st 6 months) or 120Mb/10Mb + Horizon TV for €47.50 per month.
According to Liberty CTO Balan Nair – demand has been greater than expected with the current inventory of devices sold-out, nonetheless, they are going to make this the standard set-top box going forward.
Setting A New Benchmark for Multi-Screen
From a competitive perspective – Liberty joins the ranks of Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Shaw that have launched IP Video Gateways. However, the Horizon platform goes a step further than its’ fellow MSOs, providing an unparalleled product in terms of the user experience, performance, and device reach.
Although this wait for technology delayed the launch of the product, a more personalized experience was crucial – with CT Nair stating that users wanted the service to be aware not just of their own personal tastes but also to make decisions based on relationships at the content level.
This is differentiation is illustrated by its recommendation and navigation capabilities that looks across all media – linear cable channels, on demand libraries, personal devices, selected apps and online sources. Additionally, the recommendation engine is tied in to the EPG so that, when browsing, users can be given suggestions of channels to watch, appearing in little video insets, with the option to either watch now or record for later viewing.
And while not necessarily innovative, either an iPhone or iPad may be used as a remote control – providing added convenience to users.
Liberty Global has often been a market leader in terms of technology implementation – from introducing telephony services long before its competition – to rapidly introducing DOCSIS 3.0 across its network.
Perhaps most importantly, Liberty is offering its customers an entertainment experience that leverages its broadband infrastructure to provide the right blend of Pay-TV programming with OTT – eliminating the need for customers to deploy yet another device or subscribe to another service and which hopefully results in high customer satisfaction and retention.