February 19, 2018

Pay-TV in Israel Thrives on Open Technologies that Deliver Flexible, High-Quality User Experiences

Israel’s Sting TV, which offers an Android-based service and Cisco discuss the OTT market with Technicolor’s CTO Gary Gutknecht.

The pay-TV markets continue to undergo drastic changes, especially as new Internet-based, over-the-top (OTT) providers launch new services to compete with tradition offerings via cable and satellite technologies. Israel is no exception. Technicolor recently discussed the evolution of OTT in Israel with:

  • Yannay Politi, Executive Director Marketing & Content Manager at Sting TV – a subsidiary of “yes,” the Israeli satellite service provider -- that delivers new television OTT services to the Israeli market;
  • Simone Sassoli, Senior Director of Managed Video and Cloud services for Cisco, and
  • Gary Gutknecht, Chief Technology Officer with Technicolor’s Connected Home division.

Here is what they had to say about the state of the OTT market in Israel:

Q: Thank you all for taking the time to chat. Yannay, let me start with you. As a direct broadcast satellite television provider in Israel, yes is playing a huge role in delivering new TV services in Israel. Can you tell us more about how Sting TV came out of yes, and the work that Sting TV is doing today?

Politi: Sting TV is very much like a startup, and we are developing TV services in the fast-growing Israeli market. A lot of the companies that deliver mobile cell services have decided to get in the TV market, which is changing the dynamics of how TV providers use satellites and cable to become internet-based providers. The internet allows services to be more agile and more flexible than old-school TV, and also much cheaper. In order to keep up, and to, in fact, lead in the market, yes decided to launch Sting TV.

Q: From Cisco’s perspective, Simone, what is the market like in the EMEA region, especially Israel, for delivering new services from the cloud? How does Cisco’s platform support this trend?

Sassoli: Speed to market has always been important. Now it is true even more. In the case of Sting TV, because we were able to deploy from the Cisco cloud, we accelerated the overall integration of the solution and how we deployed the application. We had stringent requirements to meet. The Sting TV app had to be a self-install, and it has to be highly reliable. There are high consumer expectations for OTT. And while it may seem easy path -- and something that anybody can offer because of public cloud technology -- you have to actually worry about getting the internet protocol (IP) to be very efficient if it is to compete with broadcast quality transmissions. That is where Cisco has invested a lot of money. We truly believe that the IP-based video platform is going to make a big difference in how we are able to deliver broadcast-quality services over an OTT platform that we manage for our service provider customers. Another big part of the trend in the industry is that the OTT platforms do not have to be on the premises of - or operated by – our service provider clients like Sting TV.

Q: So, Gary, what is the imperative to ensure that there is technology in the connected home that supports usability but also a high-level of performance and a good user experience?

Gutknecht: We're seeing growth in the number of requests and demands for a set-top box that runs an operating system and user experience that consumers find intuitive and familiar. In the Israeli market, as in other markets, we're seeing strong demand for set-top boxes based on AndroidTV technology.

Technicolor has shown real leadership on this front with small and pleasing set-top box designs that are priced well, and also provide a familiar smart-phone/Android experience for consumers who like to control and curate their own content at home. This introduces unprecedented flexibility for operators and consumers: service provider can opt in their content, and consumers can add their own content. AndroidTV satisfies both.

Q: How is the idea of offering a service based on Android TV changing Sting TV’s relationship with subscribers? And how is it affecting Sting TV’s ability to deliver good service, foster good relationships with subscribers, and offer a compelling content experience?

Politi: If you look at the DNA of the Sting TV brand, it says: easygoing TV. The meaning of that is that we always tell them, “we're happy when you join us, and if you decide to go to a different provider, we're always happy to have you back.” It comes from a lot of confidence about our content. Sting TV is based on yes content, and yes is the best TV company because of its content and has been so for many, many years in Israel. It has a very good reputation.

However, we also know that we are in a new era of open TV. You cannot stay in the closed garden anymore. We know there are many choices available to consumers. Our mission is to keep giving them the best content we can, so they always want to come back to our content. But we have to do this recognizing that the 21st century customer is one that wants to be in control. With Sting TV, we give consumers that control.

Everything in Sting TV is plug and play. The Technicolor technology enables us to service the customer in an intuitive manner because it's very easy to use. A consumer can actually plug the box into a TV in less than a minute. This is very, very different from the devices people used to have in the home, when a technician had to come in and fix the TV. Now everything is self-service.

Q: As Cisco reinvents its relationships with service providers that moving into this OTT market, are there differences that you have noted in terms of how they develop and implement go-to-market strategies?

Sassoli: In a positive sense, it is very interesting to see what happens when people recognize that that video is just another IT application. It allows for a completely different way of engaging with customers, delivering services, managing services and customers, and focusing on other elements of the operational delivery of the service by having a strong data analytics capability.

This is different from the usual way of seeing something goes wrong, calling a vendor like Cisco, telling them that something is broken, and asking them to please fix it. Instead, we are today capable of offering self-healing systems. We can take advantage of many different methodologies – such as the agile methodology – and work very closely with the service provider operations teams. We are changing how we interact and with how we exchange information so that the service is always on, on the level, easy to install, and easy to maintain.

Another interesting point, one that Yannay [Politi] has mentioned, and that is very important with our partners at Technicolor, is the fact that an Android TV-based platform enables customers to make quick, informed decisions and launch new services, rather than be dependent on an 18-month cycle to develop a dedicated/proprietary box.

By contrast, this new way of combining hardware and an operating system allows for application-focused development of video that is much more modular compared to the old requirement of building an entire stack of technology – from the headend to the network, to the middleware, to the application, to the TV set, and everything else.

Now, we are in a truly web-enabled environment, in the best sense of the word. That's what we see that our customers really take advantage of, and it's dramatically changing the way we work with network service providers.

Q: How rapidly is the demand for a more open platform evolving for the devices that go into the home? Are you seeing that demand pick up with other service providers in other regions?

Gutknecht: We at Technicolor certainly are seeing demand for more open systems accelerate. It allows consumers to indulge in the “when they want it” mentality as they pick and choose their own content using state-of-the-art user experiences.

The ability to deliver in a new open ecosystem, with this idea of open collaboration, is really what our customers are looking for. That is why it is so important to for us to work with a company like Cisco in providing solutions to service providers like Sting TV.

Cisco brings a strong back-end delivery capability and certainly the knowledge of the user experience; Technicolor has the technology and partnerships to pull open solutions together. This is important, because it demonstrates that we are not just deploying a new set top box. This is a new type of ecosystem where network service providers can bring their own apps – as in the case of Sting TV – or allow their subscribers to download apps directly from the Google app store. This is kind of the best of all worlds, and we're seeing this more and more as our customers look at their future in video delivery. IP means a whole new way of opening and delivering content.

Q: Very interesting. So Yannay, where does Sting TV go from here?

Politi: Our aim is to bring new customers to the yes group, and we knew that a lot of yes clients might move from yes to Sting TV. Our main purpose, however, is to bring a new ball game to the TV market. You have to remember that a lot of young people have never been tied to any TV company. Many of them often downloaded or streamed pirated content because it was convenient to do so. One of our objectives is to bring this audience back to the TV market. In order to do that, we have to bring in American -- and other content – as well as the original free content that yes produces.