ZappoTV: “The largest wave of disruption is still to come for the broadcast industry”

Jan van Ottele, co-founder of ZappoTV

Jan van Ottele, co-founder of ZappoTV

Jan van Ottele, co-founder of ZappoTV, on why TV is a difficult industry to disrupt, and whether over-the-top delivery can coexist with broadcast technologies.

Jan will be speaking at the OTTtv World Summit taking place in London on 19-22 November 2013. For more information and to register for the event, please visit

The internet has clearly disrupted the broadcast industry massively over the past few years. Why do you think that is?

I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. Of course, the technologies that we use in our broadcast facilities have changed a lot because of the internet, however the viewing habits of an average TV watcher have not changed to a greater extent.

The internet has disrupted the way in which we use our personal computer and mobile phones much more profoundly than the way we use our television. In my opinion, the largest wave of disruption is still to come for the broadcast industry.

Are the biggest changes now behind us?

Definitely not. The biggest changes for television are happening now. However, because of its traditionally much closed value chain, the TV is the most difficult of the industries that are ready for disruption (PC/phone/TV).

In the ideal world, a TV user would have unlimited access to content. He would have the ability to access any content that he wants at any time, no matter whether it is movies, series, niche, main stream, or user-generated content.

Also, he would use his TV screen for all sort of purposes without the use of any wired peripherals. The whole process of find/discover/recommendation would be flawless. And the whole package would come with an agreeable pricing that would be fairly distributed to content producers, technology providers and infrastructure providers. But, this is definitely not the case yet.

Can you tell us a little about where ZappoTV fits into this picture?

I started this business together with my business partner Neal Blaak in 2008. Our goal was to bring more diverse content to the TV. From my previous venture in online video advertising, I learned that a lot of great content is available on the internet, but there was no convenient way to watch all of that on TV.

Back in 2008, I was regularly watching a show from Revision3, Diggnation. One of my personal frustrations was that it was quite cumbersome to get this show on my TV rather than watching 40 minutes on my PC.

Our first project in ZappoTV was to build a set-top box for the US market. It had an ATSC tuner, a cloud based UI and a vast range of OTT content. It was a great box, but the hardware turned out to be a difficult business to get into.

Therefore, we changed our approach to software only. We decided to focus on software to play content from a mobile/tablet to internet connected TVs and media streamers. After a bit of development, I was able to watch Diggnation from my iPod touch on my TV, through a WD TV Live media streamer.

We used the UPnP/DLNA protocol to get this working. At the same time, Samsung, Sony and many other TV vendors began to incorporate the DLNA protocol into their televisions. So, the software we built worked on all these TVs directly.

At the moment, we have several apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play store that allow you to play all sorts of content to your connected TV. Some people use it to play their own videos (shot with the camera on their mobile) to TV, others play movies from their NAS or watch YouTube on TV.

At the same time, we now have a SDK available for other app publishers who wish to add the Play2TV feature to their apps. Two of the largest broadcasters in the Netherlands already signed up to integrate this into their apps.

This means that for catch-up TV, you can watch the video on your iPhone, but also beam it to your connected TV for playback. Much like Airplay on AppleTV, except that our SDK is available for the top-5 TV brands.

To what extent do you think OTT services can coexist with traditional broadcast offerings?

I think that eventually all TV services will be OTT. However, this is a process that will take (depending on geography) around 10 to 15 years. We need a lot more bandwidth and some mechanisms for managing quality of service for OTT.

So eventually DVB-C/T/S and IPTV will cease to exist because of lack of people watching mainstream linear TV. So in the next 10 to 15 years, it will be very interesting to see how the industry is changing!



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