Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Digital TV Summit Day Two...

Here's my write up from Day 2 of the SA Digital TV Summit held in Bryanston, Johannesburg. The second day's Agenda went much deeper that the first day, although there was a no-show from the SABC on expanding the topic of Digital Migration. Nevertheless, I learnt quite a bit today as well as refreshing some other topics I don't get to focus on in my day-to-day work. We covered the following areas:
SA DTT STB Subsidy Rollout Plan
by Tabo M, DTT Project Leader, Universal Services & Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA)

USAASA is a government agency under the Department of Communications, responsible for delivering universal access to all ICT projects, of which the DTV DTT migration project is their biggest project to date. The aim with DTV project is to deliver the subsidy program, which involves subsidising all households of deserving subscribers. They define these households as "needy TV" households, in addition their aim is to facilitate job creation as a result of the migration project along with promoting the use of locally-based manufacturers.

The subsidy involves fronting 70% of the cost of STBs for areas impacted by DTT; and a full 100% of the footprint of households in the Northern Cape area that won't receive DTT, but receive the DTH alternative instead. Additionally, the cost of installation will be subsidised 100% (they foot the bill for installers) which includes the cost of dish/antennas is also covered 100%.

Five million households have already been accounted for, with the remaining 30 million households still being assessed. The qualifying criteria for subsidies has been developed and will be publicly available in December 2013. The Post Office will be the primary partner, working together to manage the overall delivery of the subsidy process. The Post Office will also be involved with the distribution of the STBs to subsidised households. Post-launch, they expect to be involved largely with data analysis on the uptake/distribution trends, and disbursement of funds for STBs & other payments (to installers, etc.). USAASA is only involved with the ordering of STBs for the subsidies; and managing the whole distribution chain thereof.

The eligibility criteria for households to be granted a subsidy: Must have a TV set, only applicable to SA citizens, Household monthly income less than R3200, Existing Social grants or already covered by SABC TV licence subsidy.

A lot of work has been completed to date: includes the qualifying criteria, data analysis and mapping for roll out planning, subsidy application form design & printing, training plan & roles of partner relationships.

Q: What is the cost of STBs?
Unable to talk about pricing as they're still waiting for RFPs to close.

Q: Is there any mechanism to prevent more than one subsidy claimed per household? For example, it is likely in areas such as Alexandria, there are many families to one household, is there a plan to deal with this?
Proof-of-address is one option. This isn't always possible in reality, so other options include working with local leaders and traditional leaders to act as verification. Another level of confidence is verification by installers.

Q: How is management of fraud being considered? Are there plans to link into existing fraud databases?
It is very difficult to plan or anticipate for this at the planning stage - will consider this idea, haven't looked into fraud databases as yet. A lot rides on the application made by the applicant.

Q: Subsidy includes installations & aerials. What is the cost projection for running these subsidies?
R2.5 billion was the original estimate - although a request has been made to increase this to R5 billion, current funds are available but they've applied for an increase in budget funding.

Q: Has the management costs of implementing the subsidy process been fully thought through? It involves the Post Office and other administrative tasks, that will surely incur costs?
This isn't 100% finalised yet.

Q: Do STB manufacturers sign a contract with USAASA for ordering STBs?
No, this will be done through Dept. of Communications (DOC), handled by procurement team who run the supply chain department.

Q: What planning has been done to train the actual households impacted by DTT? The technology is new, we can assume people will have difficulty reading and using the new EPG, it's complicated.
There is a plan for this. Ellies/Multichoice have worked together in preparing a training manual for installers. Installers will train members of households. In addition, they have concept of Community Development Partners who will work with the Post Office to support and communicate, raise awareness and establish training requirements.

The Connected TV - Research Feedback
by Sonja Breet, Managing Director, SoftArc Technologies

Sonja presented the results of her MBA dissertation research titled "The Connected TV: Aligning to the changing needs of the Broadcast Media Landscape to deliver value (Economic & Social". She talked through her findings, providing some interesting statistics at the time (2007), for example 1.1 billion households with a TV set equates to 1 in 4 people with TV. In places like Indonesia, even in low income households, people with rather get a TV that a fridge! 1 in 4 people have access to radio, 1 in 13 have TV, 1 in 35 had a mobile phone....Various conclusions from the research, but pointed to these main drivers: Convergence, the right to access content & information, demand for mobile TV apps and bridging the digital divide. Initial description of a connected TV could be basically a rudimentary PC, and STBs can be seen as close to a rudimentary PC, all that's missing is a keyboard & mouse...

I think most of the audience got drowned in too much detail around the research material to make much sense of the key driver behind the results, but I did pick-up one thing that Education & Learning opportunities will become more important as the world moves forward with connected TVs.

Sonja then demonstrated an interesting POC project involving bringing learning and interactivity to TV without the use of STB software but doing it through the headend, showcasing some of the products developed by her company. I found this section of the talk most interesting. The case study was based on Mauritius Broadcast Corporation (MBC) who wanted to promote learning through a TV channel. Sonja's product is an application that automates the display of educational content, dynamically broadcasting quality text and graphics overlaid with the video stream, with synchronized audio for the Learning Channel. In the demo, she showed a tutorial on Internet Explorer and Excel, and the resulting interactivity.

MBC had access to online training/educational material that was formatted for online learning. These existed as web pages, basic html tutorials. Sonja had to translate this material into a format suitable for video transmission, re-using the same images and content, but transforming the images as best as possibly for broadcast video quality. They also had to augment the video with graphic overlays like pie charts, response charts, ticker streams - all in real time. The tutorial video would have the tutor asking questions to the viewer, the viewer responding by SMS, results fed back directly to the system, where the viewer could see the responses in real-time, promoting the medium as interactive. Voting was also supported such that viewers would vote via SMS and see the results of the poll fill up in real time. This was all done through a headend system without localised interactive software in the STB. The technology was proof-of-concept only, IIRC.

Sonja sees potential in SA DTT migration to offer enhanced learning opportunities ("bridge the digital divide"), and would like to explore this concept further with SABC...

Q: Was this app done before the advent of DTT, were there related apps on the STB?
Yes, this was done before DTT - it was a solution managed entirely through the backend headend.

Q: This was instigated by Mauritius Broadcasting Corp. which holds similar aspirations of E-Government and E-Learning services which SA has been talking about. Is this the kind of services we should expect from DTT STB?
Response from UEC representative - No, not really. The STB won't be able to do E-Government services out-of-the-box, depends on the technology being implemented. Another response was that it is a possibility that government can implement push services through MHEG applications, like How-To type applications: How to apply for ID? But it is not clear about the specific requirements, like the ability to fill out forms and send out (there is no return path), or send application forms for copying to a USB stick, etc.

Insights from Discovery Network
by Caleb Weinstein, SVP & General Manager, Discovery Networks, EMEA

Cable gave us an insight into Discovery Networks presence in EMEA and their investigations into the ongoing trends of TV usage. Discovery have around 2200 clients across EMEA with 85 products being transmitted out of London, 21 channels in Africa, with 5 running in South Africa. Discovery's business model hasn't changed much since its inception from starting up in a garage by professor Johan Hendricks back in 1985, who set to resolve the lack of factual programs in the broadcast "We are in the business of helping consumers explore their world and satisfy their curiosity. We stick to our brand, we stay true to our promise, and our audience stays true to us".

Discovery is focusing on the next stages of TV viewing, Caleb breaks it up as the following: MultiScreen Viewing (two or more devices), Time Maximisation (People want to watch stuff now) and Social Media (sharing through Twitter & Facebook). They have also separated out two forms of viewership: Enthusiasts and the Tourists. Enthusiasts are viewers seeking out a deeper experience, not content with not knowing who the actors are, the enthusiast would search supplementary information sources to follow-up, to complete the experience. Whilst a tourist is someone who is really content with the standard viewing experience, a tourist watches a lot of different TV but isn't as committed as an Enthusiast. But it seems that their research presents that people can be both tourists & enthusiasts at the same time.

Discovery has been operating in Africa for the last 15 years and is currently the longest standing non-fiction channel in South Africa. HD content is becoming a larger part of their portfolio, aiming to reach 30 feeds by year end. They are also focusing on On Demand.

Caleb maintained that Story-telling and great content remains the biggest advantage. How is storytelling going to change in light of new technologies? What does it mean for binge-viewing? (Binge viewing is where people watch the entire episodes of a series in one sitting).

Discovery commissioned some research in EMEA, interviewing 5000 people and complimented the results from a UK study. 75% of internet users are under 35 years old, consuming content on demand. Younger people interact more with TV on demand than older people, young people don't understand the concept of linear/scheduled programming. However, linear TV viewing continues to grow, but on demand is being driven by the younger generation. South Africa had reported 530 000 tablet devices in use, but interestingly enough, SA has one of the lowest rates of watching TV online. In the UK, people are no longer talking about what's on their PVR, but are now talking about the latest on Demand item, Caleb made reference to BSkyB's rather expansive library of on demand content.

More stats: 46% of the 5000 people interviewed owned a smart phone.  21% a tablet. 74% of South Africans owned a smartphone and 31% owned a tablet. So Multiscreen viewing continues to rise, second screen being used increasingly to complement the first - although traditional TV continues to thrive in the living environment. Discovery notes that the user interfaces on mobile devices are much more simpler and easier to use than the interfaces on the traditional STB, for example: Navigating content through cover art and images works much better on a mobile device that a STB...

In terms of Time Maximisation, the study showed: 72% want to watch on demand. 61% of South Africans want to access their content anywhere, anytime - compared to 55% in Bulgaria and Ukraine. The problem with content providers however, is that they're still feeding the on demand library through linear feeds: first the content appears on linear, then it arrives on demand, mostly as catch-up services. But, most of Discovery content is really timeless, there is no follow-on from one episode to another, there is no seasonal attribute that demands it to be played out in a linear fashion (like the series Lost for example), so the folks at Discovery are trying to understand how to deal with this scenario.

Caleb believes the next revolution around TV is this: 66% of TV viewers interested in a device or service that could automatically record programs that could be of interest.

In terms of Social TV, 75% of SA respondents used social networks in the last 6 months. People want to see a mix of both expert and personal recommendations to drive viewership.

Finally Caleb touched on the difficulty of having to support VOD content throughout many parts of the world.  Compared to the USA for example, there are only two clearing houses that deal with 5000 cable systems. The systems are standardized which makes life much easier. Compared to the rest of the world, 45 Operators across the world use Discovery's VOD content, and almost every operator has a different technology platform. In EMEA for example, there are 7000 systems and not a single clearing house to manage it all. It becomes difficult and quite an overhead for Discovery to craft the same content, metadata, artefacts such as cover art, poster graphics, content formats for different systems. However they do try to maintain common branding for all their products, common logos and images, even though images will be different for different STBs. There is no standardization for On Demand formats, XML formats different, this means that you have to use different systems with different software for different operators. This means more administration time, more time for testing, QC checks, etc.

Q: Are there any plans to go directly to the consumer with your content, and bypass the PayTV Operators? For example, Discovery produce their own apps, etc?
Discovery have looked into the possibilities of this, but still maintain their core revenue and business model at this stage is to continue using the PayTV Operators, philosophy being keep it simple for the consumer. However, in other parts of the world they have relationships with the likes of Amazon & Netflix - but as for reaching consumers directly, it's not on the table...

Update on Namibia's DTT Migration
by Aldred Dreyer, Chief Technology Officer, Namibia Broadcasting Corporation

Aldred presented the status of Namibia's plans for rolling out DTT in terms of their Digital Switchover program. Overall, it seems like good progress has been made and there's less uncertainty with with migration as compared with neighbour South Africa. Namibia's market is small compared to SA (obvious), with 2.2 million population, of which half is under 16 years old (did I hear that right?), with only 260 000 active TV households. What is interesting however, is that the cost to implement this migration is about the same cost as for South Africa - makes you wonder on the value of ROI here...

The remit of NBC is to "educate, inform and entertain the nation". Currently have 1 NBC TV channel, and 10 local language radio channels. It seems that Namibians are watching much less TV than they were back in 2008, Aldred showed some graphs depicting the decline in viewership.

The push to migrate is coming from SADC (pronounced "sadek") targeting the switchover for December 2013, but NBC is actually targeting June 2015 as the final deadline, with 80% coverage reached? Aim is to switch on border sites first one-by-one to manage the interference issues. For parts that won't be covered by DTT, there are plans to use DTH to cover the remainder. Currently aiming to launch in Windhoek first (covering 500 000 population). The project held soft launch event in December 2012, Windhoek live in June 2013, NBC News channel launches in June 2013. The rest of channel line-up is being finalised. Retail price of the STB is still being finalised, waiting for approval from cabinet. Twenty thousand STBs arrived in November 2012, waiting at the warehouse.

The STB NBC chose was a pretty mid-ranged spec'd decoder, supporting HDMI & USB, also capable of web-browsing. Felt its best to be a little future proof because in Africa, unlike the rest of the world, people run their devices to the ground, no such thing as upgrading every three years. Another motivation was to increase Namibia's standing in the ITU rankings of countries with strong ICT strategy (they didn't do so well in the last rankings report). The technology NBC settled for was HbbTV compared to MHEG as they felt this gave them more flexibility and much easier to write applications compared to MHEG, skills supply is a problem in Namibia.

In terms of Go To Market and Launch planning, NBC have settled on a logo for the product and have early launch promotional videos in place. A website has been produced and will be launched at least two months prior to full public launch event.

Aldred closed with lessons learnt and guidance for others embarking on similar projects, his key messages:
  • DTT shouldn't be seen as a purely technology-driven project, it is a corporate-wide project requiring many parts of the business to work together and collaborate
  • Don't assume a "We know everything" attitude. Seek out independent advisors to help you navigate through the options available
  • Turnkey solution is to the answer to all problems. Seek smart solutions instead, by tendering for specific infrastructure items. No provider will be able to meet all requirements for turnkey solution
  • Don't under estimate the amount of planning required to execute the program
  • Project Management is a ncecessity and not an overhead or nice-to-have. A project like this requires massive amounts of co-ordination and processes
  • Government is not the only source of funding
Impromptu Discussion on DTT STB Readiness
Some members felt that the conference did not allow sufficient time to explore the STB readiness for SA's DTT project, that it required further discussion, so we had an impromptu fifteen minute discussion point on the topic, by having a panel from UEC and DiviTech.

Essentially the feeling from UEC was that we should be concerned about the STB meeting expectations in terms of functionality & performance, that the eventual STB that gets delivered will not fully realise the feature sets that some people are being led to believe (such as Interactive, Web Browsing, E-Learning & Connectivity). Concern that what's being promised is most likely not going to be delivered in reality.

The DiviTech camp also stressed that Risk Management has been lacking overall in the management of the STB project, that no real movement has happened since the trials from 2008, and every year that passes by, STB manufacturers have to keep upgrading their designs - at some point, decisions must be made, and it has to be done soon. People are just not aware of the risks involved and how meeting the 2015 deadline is being seen as an increasingly impossible deadline to meet...

Q: Why does the STB have to support a range of output modes, RF to HD, etc?
In South Africa, there is still a lot of old TVs out there, in the region of 100 000 - so RF must be supported as the lowest common denominator. At the same time, people are moving to flat panels, and therefore these inputs need to be supported as well.

Q: Is the current hardware specification as published by government seen as limiting in design? What are you saying that the eventual box will deviate from published specs?
The specification published is actually a recommendation for the minimum hardware requirements. It does not allude to details on web-browsing support, media playback through USB, etc. With people talking about connectivity, etc - it's starting to look like we'd need a more powerful, mid-range STB. The specific requirements are not clear anymore?

Q: What is meant by Return Path?
Return path is about linking back to the headend. It is a bidirectional channel. Depending on the connectivity it could open the box up to the internet, question then becomes who takes control of the experience? Box spec doesn't include an ethernet port. So the only avenue for return path is via the USB port using a 3G/WiFi dongle. However, spec is clear that USB isn't requirement for launch, neither is there an expectation for internet connectivity.

Audience: We have to manage communications better, keep people updated with the correct information. Minimum spec is applicable to the subsidised model, retail model STBs could offer more advanced features. What's making this project complex and long winded, is that there are multiple stakeholders involved. Contrast this with other PayTV projects, where Operator has vertical control over almost everything, State model is more horizontal - perhaps a hybrid model is needed here, where some central group is delegated control for driving through and taking responsibility for decisions?

Q: Will the User Interface be standardised and unified? If manufacturers are talking about different STBs for retail, who is going to own the support costs, like call centre queries, etc - if the UI is not the same??
The subsidised STB will implement MHEG stack that supports downloadable applications. SABC has produced a UI spec and will be in control of the EPG application. Manufacturers however have leeway to implement the native menus differently, most likely the menus will look different. In advanced STBs, the experiences will differ, no one has taken any ownership of this aspect yet - gray area.

Content Delivery Networks Overview
by Thomas Nestmann, Regional Manager, Vizrt South Africa

I really didn't get a sense of the message I was hoping for here, as I was interested to learn about CDN penetration into Africa, what the latest offerings are, and which CDN provider is making headway into Africa. I wanted to hear about Akamai and others, but instead got more of a marketing speel on Digital TV trends/stats than anything else, so I will be brief by capturing my notes here:

Presented few slides on market research, ending that the Internet will be consumed on mobile devices. Number of TV connections to Internet expected to reach 596 million by 2017, USA will have highest penetration of TV sets, followed by Norway & Korea. 25% of HDTVs shipped in 2010 were Internet ready with built-in Ethernet. African market is growing, seeing an increase in mobile connections and Internet penetration rates. 3D content is increasing in rest of the world but not yet in Africa. Africa has more people using mobile phones than TVs. Although Channels seem to be increasing, revenues per channels decreasing, meaning it's taking longer to make ROI on new channels.

Talked about threat of Apple TV & Google TV - as the next disruption to watch out for...

Finally touching on something that was relevant - the VizRT software platform that takes care of content to support needs of different devices, providing content on all platforms requires:

  • Multichannel and cross-publishing to web and mobile
  • Full featured content repository
  • Add graphics and video to your story
  • In page editing of web pages
  • Widget framework - with ready made building blocks
  • Open architecture based on Java and REST
  • Automatic tagging
  • Linking across other platforms and channels

1 comment:

  1. Can existing or future delivery of VOD be done via terrestrial broadcast (DTT) RF? Of course it COULD. Where is the software going to come from? How could receivers for broadcast DVB or ATSC be attached to existing devices? Ok, USB receivers are available, so that will work for some client tablets, phones, laptops. A web page could provide a client menu. Utilization of SMS can also serve as the client asymmetric back channel. Data usage caps need not apply to broadcast data. Just thinking out loud.