IP&TV News rates BT Sport as one of the most engaging and trailblazing success stories of 2013. We have already enjoyed an exclusive interview with the Simon Green, Head of BT Sport, which focused on the strategy behind its rise, and now, to help complete the picture of what it took to go from not-existing to being a credible competitor with Sky in such a short space of time, here we talk to Alvaro de Nicolas, BT’s TV & Sport Chief Technology Officer, concentrating on the technical challenges BT has faced over the last twelve months, as well as its plans for 2014.
IP&TV News: Hi Alvaro. It’s obviously been a whirlwind year for BT. As the company’s TV & Sport Chief Technology Officer, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in 2013?
Alvaro de Nicolas: We have had many deliveries & results in 2013. The main challenge has been to dramatically change the pace of execution within TV. Early in the year we launched our own offering of Linear TV Premium channels in BT TV and then in June in YouView, making a strong statement regarding where we position ourselves in the pay-TV ecosystem in the UK.
Of course, the preparation for the launch of BT Sport took the most time and effort last year. Adapting our IT systems to be able to consume a huge amount of orders coming through in a very short period of time was one of the largest tasks that we had to deal with. It is like going from being a baker that sells roughly the same amount of bread every day to a high street shop rush the week before Christmas.
We augmented our IT capacity by 400%, integrated and upgraded the interfaces with all of our suppliers, and increased our website capacity by over 2,000%. We also increased our capacity to enable us to sign up more than 1m customers in less than a week, and built iOS, Android and the BT Sport website.
From a technical perspective, what innovations has BT introduced or integrated into its broadcasting that you’re especially proud of?
We are using Simulcrypt to reduce the bandwidth across our Multicast IPTV platforms in BT TV and YouView, which is one of the few implementations using Marlin. Then there’s our Smart Diagnostics capability in our BT TV platform, which makes our Set-Top-Box self-healing, improving both service and customer experience. And we have worked very hard with YouView to perfect the backend aggregation of the metadata.
We also, of course, did the first 4k End-to-End Broadcast of a live Rugby match from the UK during IBC from our brand new studio, built in only 18 weeks and the home of BT Sport. Among many unique points, our studio, located at the heart of the Olympic Stadium, is the largest LED lit studio in Europe which greatly helps reduce energy consumption.
In 2013 BT surprised everyone, more than once. What are your plans for 2014?
Continue to surprise! We have a lot of work to do to bring our platform to parity with a rapidly evolving industry in the UK.
We are working very hard to bring not only BT Sport but our wider TV proposition to more devices and make it easier for our customers to enjoy fantastic content.
We are also discussing working with content owners to improve the overall customer experience and make it easier for the audience to access content in many places and devices – for instance being able to record their favourite shows via web or phone lines, from any device, and play them back later anywhere, even without a PVR, and to increase the reach so that customers are not always obliged to spend money on aerials and satellite dishes.
What excites you most about next-generation TV services? What do you foresee for the coming years in the area?
I would like us to crack the discovery and User Interface issues. Finding a solution to fragmentation of devices (in Android, for instance) and lack of standards (in SmartTVs) will be key. HDMI Dongles (or “dangles” if they have a lead) can be the key to solving those problems while offering a low cost CPE alternative, thus lowering the Subscriber Acquisition costs substantially without compromising the experience, when coupled with a Network PVR service.
Does BT have any specific plans for developing its OTT and multiscreen services? Also, how much room is there for technical innovation within sports broadcasting?
Providing our customers with the easiest possible access to content is important to us. Giving our customers the largest possible choice in terms of content is the reason we joined YouView. In our model, the more content we can offer our customers at the best possible price, the more attractive we become as a proposition. This, coupled with the strength of a superfast Fibre network, can make the BT experience unbeatable. Both OTT and multiscreen have weak business cases when taken in isolation but are becoming hygiene factors – and their benefit is increased when they are part of a bundle.
As consumers, we are lucky to have some of the best sports coverage in the world; but this also makes us very discerning spectators. There are a growing number of companies doing very interesting things in sport, such as creating 3D from 2D cameras, Virtual Reality, 4K, etc. The key for me is that sports events should be produced differently to take advantage of the technology. For instance, a Wimbledon match on 3D will be much more impressive shot from the perspective of the player or in dugouts instead of the central Hawk-eye…
There’s going to be a strong BT presence at TV Connect 2014. What makes it such an important date in the diary?
It is well placed in the calendar after CES and around the time when many companies close their financial year and it is growing larger by the year. TV Connect is one of the most important conventions happening between CES and IBC.
Alvaro de Nicolas will be appearing at TV Connect 2014, 18-20th March. For booking and more info go here.