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Streaming Video Alliance announces new specs

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The Streaming Video Alliance has announced two new technical specification documents from the Open Caching Working Group.

In addition, the Open Caching Working Group has introduced a new sub group for Edge Storage, led by Western Digital. The technical specifications were ratified by the Alliance Membership earlier this week.

The Open Caching Logging Specification includes the Open Caching System (OCS) technical specifications for logging data to help track data acquisition and the delivery of it to the end user.

Open Caching Service Provisioning Specification includes the functional specification of open-caching service provisioning interfaces enabling a CDN and a service provider (SP) to exchange information to enable the delegation of CDN content requests to the SP Open Caching system.

Both of the new specifications can be downloaded from the Alliance website here.

“We’re making significant progress toward educating and supporting the streaming video industry as well as putting the Alliance’s work into practice; this is another proof point in that journey,” said Jason Thibeault, Executive Director of the Streaming Video Alliance.

“In addition to the new technical specifications, the Open Caching Working Group is gaining traction in the second phase of the Open Caching POC and earlier this year initiated the first Open Caching trials.”

As the Open Caching Group expands, a new subgroup has been formed. The Edge Storage Subgroup will be led by Western Digital with the goal to create the functional technical requirements for storage and optimal architecture when streaming online video. “Download to go” features of OTT services are very popular amongst consumers, enabling them to fill their device with content that they can watch when not connected to the Internet. Currently, guidelines or best practices do not exist for offering such a service.

“We are excited to lead this new Open Caching Subgroup on edge storage,” said Enosh Levi, Director, Connected Home Marketing at Western Digital.

“We believe that storage at the edge of the distribution network, be it the home gateway or an end user mobile device, will be a critical component of video streaming and watching experience in the coming years. Now is the time to provide some guidance to the industry in how to architect online video solutions with edge storage components.”

Hulu’s live TV service launches on Amazon Fire TV

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Hulu’s OTT live TV service will be available on the Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick.

The service, which offers more than 40 channels of live TV, originally launched on five platforms – Apple TV, Xbox One, iOS and Android mobile devices, and Chromecast.

Viewers who watch on the Amazon devices will be upgraded to Hulu’s newly revamped user interface and will now also have the option to subscribe to the Hulu with Live TV (beta) plan, costing $39.99 (EUR34.25) a month.

The new interface offers streaming live channels as well as being able to personalise the service by creating a personal profile and picking favourite TV shows, networks and movies

Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick users can add premium add-ons HBO, Cinemax and Showtime to their Hulu subscription.

Hulu said they will continue to roll out to more devices soon.

Nervous response to BBC VR study

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BBC research into the virtual reality has found initially dim expectations turned into excitement about the medium.

Those with previous experience of entry-level mobile VR expected to be underwhelmed, while newcomers were unsure about the experiences they might expect.

Tim Fiennes, senior market analyst, audiences said this presents a nuanced marketing challenge. “The industry has difficulty communicating what VR experiences are actually like. Given the wide variety of technology which can determine the nature and quality of experience, setting the right level of expectation for audiences such that they don’t come away underwhelmed is tricky.”

Participants were asked to play with the technology a little everyday, and mostly they chose to seek out the thrills, such as horror or a rollercoaster, or other extreme experiences. However, they were unlikely to search deeper for what VR had to offer. One surprise to researchers was that participants used the units to watch 2D widescreen content in what was perceived to be the biggest screen in the house. This ranged from long-form scripted content through to YouTube music videos.

“Our emerging hypothesis is that headsets provide audiences with a rare opportunity to engage with content utterly free from distraction. The rise of the smartphone being rarely away from one’s side means that it can often be challenging for audiences to be fully immersed in any kind of activity,” said Fiennes.

One key area for areas where the content worked was through audience engagement. For example, a Cirque du Soleil experience resonated because the characters made plenty of eye contact with the viewer. And it was this sort of content that the sample enjoyed once the novelty of the rollercoaster had worn off.

And when the trial entered a new phase many of the units remained untouched. For seven weeks ‘natural usage’, where the only instructions given were how to operate the units, meant they became the last devices audiences would turn to. One female participant under the age of 44 sais: “It isn’t replacing any of my media habits… it’s not as easy: you have to get your phone ready, slot it into the headset and then find something to watch. Normally I can just flick on the TV and watch something instantly!”

Fiennes says there is a risk of sub-par experiences flooding the market and turning audiences off the idea of VR altogether. The industry, he says, has to work together for a consistent experience in hardware and software.

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Orange battles TF1 over carriage fees

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Orange is taking its dispute with TF1 to the French court of commerce, claiming the private broadcaster is misusing its dominant position on the viewers and advertising market.

TF1 is asking millions of euros from the various French distribution platforms including Orange, Free and SFR, who until now distributed the channel without paying the broadcaster.

Stéphane Richard, CEO of Orange, has constantly refused to pay for any channel that is available free of charge on all platforms.

In the past, Richard said the two parties have been talking about adding new services, such as re-start of programmes on the Orange set-top boxes, or a network-PVR service, but without any concrete results.

TF1 points out that in Belgium cable operators pay tp carry the channel, as does the new OTT platform Molotov. However, under French media law, TF1 is one of the must-carry channels, so Orange §has to carry the channel.

Interestingly, just this week in Germany a court ruled that public broadcasters ARD and ZDF have to pay distribution platforms, such as cable operators, rather than the other way around.

Vodafone holds steady in Europe

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Vodafone’s TV customer base in Germany stood at 7.7 million as of June 30 and was unchanged on three months earlier.

At the same time, its new ‘GogaKombi’ convergence offer continued to gain momentum, adding 90,000 households in the quarter ending June 20. In total, it had 0.5 million converged consumer households in Germany. Vodafone also notes that it gained 100,000 broadband households in the quarter, of which 65,000 were on cable and the remainder on DSL.

Meanwhile, in Spain Vodafone’s TV customer base declined by 24,000 in the quarter due to a temporary delay in the capability to offer TV to new households in its wholesale footprint following a new agreement with the incumbent; higher disconnections following the end of the football season; and its greater focus on premium packages.

Vodafone One, the company’s fully integrated fixed, mobile and TV service, reached 2.4 million households at the end of the period, up 538,000 year-on-year and 63,000 during the quarter. Convergent ARPA continued to grow steadily and churn rates are around half the level of households who take a single product.

Vodafone notes that in Europe 3.8 million of its broadband households are now converged (4.4 million including VodafoneZiggo), having added 0.7 million year- on-year, led by Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. Its average revenue per account (‘ARPA’) has grown steadily and churn rates are roughly half the level of households who take a single product. The company has 9.6 million TV households in Europe (13.5 million including VodafoneZiggo), which is broadly stable year-on-year.

Vodafone had group revenues of €11,474 million in the quarter ending June 30, or 3.3% less than the reported figure a year earlier. In Europe, they amounted to €8,299 million (-4.8%).

Commenting on the results, Vittorio Colao, group chief executive, said: “We have made a good start to the year in Europe, where our commercial momentum remains robust, and growth accelerated across AMAP. Although competition in India remains intense, service revenues stabilised compared with the prior quarter. Our substantial investments in network leadership, an excellent customer experience and even greater ‘more-for-more’ propositions for customers are enabling us to monetise strong demand for mobile data. We are gaining profitable market share in broadband, and a growing proportion of our customers now take our fully converged offers. Our world-leading Internet of Things platform contributed to another quarter of solid growth in Enterprise. In addition, we are executing our ‘Fit for Growth’ cost efficiency programme in line with our plans. Overall, this performance gives us confidence in reiterating our outlook for the year.”

Content portability rules now in place

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Rules surrounding the right of the consumer to view pay-TV content in any European territory have been officially approved.

Regulation (EU) 2017/1128 entered into law on Thursday and will become officially enforceable as of March 20, 2018.

It means EU citizens can use online services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify and Deezer while in another EU country for holidays, studies or business.

Access is limited to online services such as films, TV series, music, games, or sporting events, which they have paid for in their home country, and does not include cross-border reception of satellite-delivered services.

However, public service broadcasters, which are financed by broadcasting fees, may decide to enable its subscribers who are temporarily present in a member state to access and use the online content service on condition that the provider verifies the subscriber’s member tsate of residence in accordance with this regulation.

The regulation provides for a residence check and data protection. Online content service providers may take “effective and reasonable” measures to verify that the subscriber has not permanently moved to another EU country as required copyright licenses may differ between countries.

The European Parliament approved the rules last May.

42% of Dutch homes have a connected TV

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According to the Media Standard Survey (MSS) conducted by Kantar TNSInterne 42% of Dutch households have their TV set connected to the internet.

88% of households have digital television, and a tablet is present in two out of three households.

The number of households with direct internet access via television (Connected TV) is growing sharply from 37% in the second half of 2016 to 42% in the first half of 2017. In 15% of households there is a media centre or dongle on the TV, such as Apple TV or Google Chromecast..

88% of Dutch households have digital television on one or more devices. This percentage of digital reception remained at the level of the second half of 2016.

Half of the households (50%) have a digital connection through the cable. 18% percent of the households have digital connection over the internet (IPTV). In 11% of households fibre is found as source of digital reception.

DTT reception via KPN Digitenne is slightly down from 6.4% tp 5.6%, while satellite DTH reception is also down from 3.9% to 3.3%.

Households with analogue reception on one or more TV sets are further down from 22% in the second half of 2016
to 18% in the first half of 2017.

35% of households have a hard disk recorder connected to one or more devices. This percentage is comparable to the second half of 2016. 25% of Dutch households have one Hard disk recorder integrated into the set-top box.

In 78% of households there is a laptop and in 45% a desktop computer. The number of households with a tablet has risen from 63% in the second half of 2016 to 67% in the first half of 2017.

RRTV awards AMC licences, fines Nova

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The Czech National Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV) has awarded four licences to AMC Networks Central Europe.

Three, for Sundance TV PE (Pan-European), Sundance TV FR (France) and AMC Channel RU (Russia), are satellite licences and the fourth, for the new channel Sport4 Chechia and Slovakia, is for special distribution systems.

Separately, RRTV has fined the Czech national commercial broadcaster TV Nova a total of CZK800,000 (€30,687) for two breaches of Act No 23 governing product placement. Both were committed in late 2016.

Chris Dziadul Reports: Discovery/Scripps – a Polish perspective

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Discovery Communications’ acquisition of Scripps Networks Interactive could have far-reaching implications for the TV industry in Poland.

Should a deal be reached – talks between the two parties are still ongoing – it would create a truly powerful player in the Polish market, where Scripps already owns TVN, and arguably change its entire dynamics.

Earlier this week, the Polish press interviewed a number of industry players to get their views on the possible effects of such a transaction. Marek Sowa, a media expert and former head of UPC Polska and Agora, said that it would have implications for broadcasters such as Polsat and TVP, as well as strengthen the negotiating position of Discovery/Scripps with content providers. It would also make the entire market more resilient to political pressures.

Witold Grabos, a former vice chairman of the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), meanwhile argued that the Polish market would find itself in trouble, given the strength of Discovery in such areas as rights to the Olympics.

On the other hand, Dariusz Dabski, the president of TV Puls, said that the future of the TV market in Poland would ultimately be determined by new legislation currently being prepared by the government.

Another perspective was provided by Piotr Bienko, the head of the sales house Codemedia, who pointed out that the two companies already cooperate in Poland, with TVN selling airtime for Discovery channels.

In my view, these are all relevant arguments. What should really be borne in mind is that Poland currently finds itself in a difficult situation politically and is in many respects a divided nation. The TV industry reflects those divisions, with TVP toeing a pro-government line and TVP and Polsat voicing their opposition to it.

Earlier this year, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, spoke about the need to introduce regulatory controls in the media. These would in all likelihood include a limit on the level of foreign ownership of commercial broadcasters such as TVN.

However, this ‘repolonisation of the Polish media’, as it has been described, would arguably not prevent Discovery/Scripps from being a hugely important player.

YouTube TV launches in 10 new markets

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Google’s OTT TV service YouTube TV expanded into ten new markets, including Dallas, Atlanta, and Washington DC .

The service is streaming live local programming from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. YouTube TV is available in 15 metropolitan areas across the US, making it available in over a third of the country.

YouTube TV originally launched in five cities on April 5: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco, and was first announced last February.

The company is facing competition from other OTT streaming services (which the Americans call virtual MVPDs), including Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu and fuboTV.