A suitable platform for providing a seamless user experience across multiple devices is an imperative for Pay TV operators. Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and Android TV have the possibility to be the turning point for the Pay TV market. However, it remains to be seen how well the operators adapt Android platform for their services. The key considerations for operators to choose the right platform rests on multiple factors.
Tier 1s with a high average revenue per user (ARPU) behavior may rely on aspects like the availability of solution across original equipment manufacturer (OEM) platforms, long term engineering support, ability to invest in custom solution to offer differentiated services, and a complete control on user data to decide whether to use Reference Design Kit (RDK), proprietary or Android in the longer run. Others may look for a Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution with pre-integrated services, requiring minimal customization for faster time-to-market. This is where Android TV-based solutions fit the best.
Going AOSP or Android TV
AOSP can be used by operators to achieve complete flexibility for building user experience. It comes with a good Media Framework, support for digital rights management (DRM) and other essentials but lacks useful features like TV App Store, TV Framework for 10-feet user experience, Guide etc.
Android TV is essentially an avatar of AOSP, refurbished with components specially needed to build a Smart TV experience device like a set-top box or digital TV. It has all the features of AOSP plus an elaborate TV Framework integrated with commonly used OTT apps. Other value-adds include support for App Store, Voice, Search, Recommendation, Gaming console etc. However, Android TV mandates that the operator engages with Google for their Google Mobile Services (GMS) license. And this is a major cause of concern for the operators as they fear losing control over to Google. The choice between AOSP and Android TV is completely with the operator.
Advantage Android TV
Android TV contains many features that Pay TV operators require to build their user experience across set-top boxes and OTT devices.
- It’s an evolved platform that provides a robust framework and essential building blocks to jumpstart the lifecycle of building a device-side solution. This includes media playback, content recording, apps management, user experience, developer tools, apps specific for TV, pre-integrated OTT apps like Netflix etc.
- It provides complete control for differentiated services aided by UI framework, Leanback support, WebView for HTML5 and a custom launcher which allows operators to create their own unique experience.
- Easy integration of Linear Broadcast TV (ATSC, DVB, ISDB etc.) and IPTV middleware into the Android TV framework.
- Android’s common code base methodology underpinned for managing market-specific variants for operators.
- It helps achieve a seamless cross device experience for consumption devices including Android Auto, Android Wear, phone, tablets, dongles, TV, and set-top boxes.
- Availability of Google Assistant for smoother IoT device integration and realizing Smart home user scenarios. The platform supports basic building blocks like NLP, ML, context awareness, and speech recognition.
- There is enhanced support for HDR, DVR, 4K Video, next-gen user profiles and voice controls.
- Robust security is enforced at OS level through Linux kernel, SE Linux support, Linux containers, Trusted Execution Environment by underlying SoC platform, secure inter-process communication, application signing and support for commonly used DRMs.
- Support for Direct Carrier billing in Google Play Payment platform, creates new revenue opportunities for operators to allow app purchases on their platforms. The business model for revenue share is open for agreement between Google and the operator.
- Plethora of apps - a key strength (and weakness) for Android systems.
- And finally, a large community of developers that provides a resource pool for Android-based development.
Android TV – Areas of Improvement
While some of these features provide a clear edge to the Pay TV operators, there are some technological (and other) drawbacks in subsystems which need improvement. Some of these concerns may hamper the adoption and deployment rate of Android TV.
- Android’s MediaCAS framework continues to evolve and doesn’t sufficiently meet digital TV content security requirements.
- Integration of Smart Cards, CI+ 2.0, TRMP, Downloadable CAS, CableCARD, Host-POD Interface into Android framework is still non-standard.
- Requirements of a few android services to be running in the system are in direct conflict with content protection requirements for UHD and SUHD content.
- Browser requirements for integration of interactive TV middleware like HbbTV and Ginga into Android TV System needs custom engineering.
- The ability to allow untrusted apps to be executed brings the risk of invasion into the set-top box and threatens privacy of user data. This also includes competition apps being allowed on operator-managed platforms to deliver services.
- Concerns on conflict between Google Search and operator’s own search engine and how results may be delivered to subscribers.
- Support for Open Backend APIs (OBA) and assets for integration with operator headend and video services is non-standard.
- As in any consumption device, user-specific data like viewing behavior, content popularity data, and social interactions of the user is very important for an operator to provide customized experience and improve their ARPU. There are concerns regarding Google’s usage of this data collected from Android TV system.
With the advent of Android TV and other similar open middleware like RDK for the Pay TV market, there is consolidation in proprietary middleware market. While telcos are showing more flexibility in adopting Android-based rolls outs, Pay TV operators are still heeding caution. AOSP and Android TV are definitely bringing a churn in the Pay TV industry and show discrete advantages that cannot be ignored.