Peter Simpson, Pace: “Maybe we need dumb screens and smarter boxes”

Peter Simpson Pace

Peter Simpson

IP&TV has a lot of time for Pace, and also for its Product Marketing VP Peter Simpson, whose bags of enthusiasm and passion could give some indication of how Pace remain  at the forefront of digital TV technology. Peter’s going to be speaking at a lot of upcoming events, including TV Connect, AfricaCast and TV Connect MENA. On the verge of this veritable world tour, we thought we’d touch base with him, and talk OTT, multiscreen, STBs and Ultra HD

IP&TV: For years now we’ve been hearing the same ongoing debate about OTT and what it is and where it’s going. Do you think an answer to the question, and the future of OTT itself, is finally coming into view? Where do you see OTT going, and what are the wider implications of this trajectory?

Peter Simpson: Viewers greatly value having all of their TV viewing in one place that’s easily accessible and available on every screen – whether that’s live, recorded, catch-up, on-demand or interactive. This is business as usual for pay-TV operators and what we’re seeing already is operators embracing OTT into their propositions – either directly into their home screen portals and guides, or as add-on services. As an example, even though Netflix has aspirations of becoming a content provider, Virgin Media in the UK has integrated Netflix as an on-demand managed service directly within their home portal – both Netflix and Virgin Media gain as viewers have a more complete experience. The debate around OTT and broadcast is not really an issue about either/or – it’s both, as a viewer would you rather go to several places to piece together your favourite content or just one ?

We’re seeing a lot of different applications of multiscreen at the moment. It can seem as if almost everyone has their own approach. What are the main consumer benefits to multiscreen (and social) from your perspective?

Recent studies on TV viewing seem to indicate a consensus of predominantly live TV, with a little bit PVR, a bit less catch-up/start-over …  and finally OTT.  If we dive into OTT specifically we see that over two thirds of viewing is on second screen devices and this is growing – primarily driven by the rapid adoption of tablets. However, whilst these studies acknowledge that the majority of today’s TV viewing still happens on the large screen – the dynamics have changed.

Whilst viewing their main screen content, users are also active on their tablets, laptops and smartphones; this may be via direct engagement to prime screen content (e.g. using an interactive application hooked to a reality TV show or via the operators second screen application), or indirectly coupled to what’s being viewed via their social network circles. Today’s TV experience has moved from being a time constrained broadcast to a continuous dialogue and engagement between the viewer and their favourite content – they are almost taking part in the action!  People want to be involved all of the time and wherever they are, whether inside the living room, on the train to work, in the office at a break and so on – that is, on all their devices and in the context of their usage behaviour on those respective devices. This is a massive opportunity for operators and content creators alike – stickier, more engaging and pervasive – i.e. read customer greater loyalty and revenue potential.

Pace’s reputation for breaking ground with STBs is very strong. What are your thoughts on the STB/connected TV debate?

Pay-TV is fundamentally about delivering a managed service – compelling content, a great user experience and above all a high quality of service. The STB (or gateway) gives the pay-TV operator their point of presence in their customer’s home; it bridges the incoming access network with the home network – reliably delivering video to one screen or many; it gives the operator the means of securing content and assuring revenue collection of what’s been viewed; it allows them greater visibility of their users’ viewing habits and favourites; most importantly, it gives the pay-TV operator control and ownership of the users’ experience.

SmartTVs will be exploited by pay-TV operators as simply another screen (i.e. subscription adder), but without control over their own network, service and experience delivery they will not give up the STB; that is, SmartTVs represent an incremental revenue opportunity – they are a viewing end point versus a services delivery and aggregation enabler – the STB gives pay-TV operators the opportunity of revenue from  multiple screens and multiple services. An STB media server also solves some of the limitations of delivering high quality content across today’s Internet by content caching and transcoding. Maybe we need dumb screens and smarter boxes. 

Finally, Peter, what are your thoughts on Ultra HD? Is it likely to be more widely available sooner rather than later?

IBC 2013 demonstrated that Ultra HD is technically viable – cameras are available, H.265 eases bandwidth and delivery constraints and HDMI 2.0 ensures 60 frames-per-second viewing. More importantly there is no doubt about the benefit to the end user – the images are just stunning – it really is just like being there!

Ultra HD momentum certainly seems to be building with figures highlighting that market demand will grow rapidly over the next few years: recent predictions from analysts are that Ultra HD TV shipments will reach 22 million units in 2017 whilst a CEA report reveals that Ultra HD TV shipments in the US should increase from 57,000 this year to 450,000 in 2014 and 1.2 million in 2015. The 2014 Football World Cup will be an important showcase for the technology and provide the industry barometer reading re adoption. What will be the tipping point for Ultra HD take-up? …most likely the 2016 Olympics. Brazil is going to be an exciting place over the next few years for sport and TV lovers alike !

Peter Simpson will be at next month’s TV Connect MENA, the only major TV event in the Middle East and African region linking key TV providers in the connected TV delivery ecosystem. He will also be appearing soon at TV Connect and AfricaCast 

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