Minerva Networks, founded in 1992, is one of the original pioneers of IPTV. Based in California, with over 250 deployments worldwide, the company claims to have the most widely deployed platform for what it now calls TV-over-IP, which increasingly blends pay-TV with other online video services. Minerva recently acquired TVBLOB, an over the top television platform provider based in Milan, to extend its capabilities to offer customers solutions for deploying television services across multiple networks and devices. Mauro Bonomi, the founder and chief executive of Minerva Networks, spoke to informitv about his views on the future of television.
“We are one of the IPTV pioneers,” said the founder of Minerva. “IPTV was once in competition with legacy cable services. Now when we talk about what we do we say we are all about TV-over-IP,” he said. “This involves the type of tools that every operator, including cable operators, will eventually embrace. Cable operators are embracing IP technology for the first time on a broad scale to offer IP services to a variety of devices both within their network and outside their network.”
Initially, initiatives like TV Everywhere enable cable operators to extend their services beyond their legacy network to various connected devices, like smart phone and tablets. The next phase of this transition will be to deliver an entirely internet protocol service to the set-top box.
The distinction has historically been made between delivering video services over managed or unmanaged networks. The rapid proliferation of powerful new display devices, like tablets, combined with new technologies like adaptive streaming, means that service providers are increasingly able to offer television quality services to secondary screens over unmanaged networks.
Minerva sees the opportunity for traditional television service providers to embrace internet protocols to counter the threat of over the top services or even partner with new entrants. Essentially, this means offering managed services over both managed and unmanaged networks to provide a unified consumer experience across a variety of devices. Furthermore, it means that incumbent operators can extend their reach beyond their established service areas.
Netflix is cited as an example of an over the top service that has disrupted the traditional industry model. “I have Comcast at home and my TV experience is not as fresh as the Netflix experience,” he remarked. “Netflix is the big player that really shook up the legacy type of solutions. The value proposition and the fact that it is available on so many devices made it very appealing to many consumers. We are seeing operators reacting to that and launching video on demand services that will give Netflix a run for its money.”
That raises the question of whether traditional service providers would ever partner with a brand like Netflix to integrate it within their own offering. “We see some of the smaller operators in North America that would be very happy to partner with Netflix and integrate it to provide a unified experience to the consumer,” he said. The problem, as is so often the case, is rights. Apparently the Netflix service cannot be delivered to a device that is deployed by an operator for rights reasons, although the distinction between an operator set-top box and a third-party device is going to be increasingly difficult to make.
Rights are similarly an issue for network based digital video recording. “With more confidence in security we will see a relaxation over the restrictions on timeshifting of programming in the network,” he said. “In some geographies we already see that as being possible. So we see a lot of network based DVR in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Give it a couple of years and you will see more and more timeshifting in the network. It is an inevitable trend.”
Despite the concern about so-called cord-cutting and the fear that consumers will abandon traditional pay-television platforms, he points out that the number of subscribers is still growing over all. “If anything, we see a churn from cable and direct to home to the new providers like AT&T and Verizon, in favour of operators that offer more advanced services.”
Minerva is naturally optimistic about the service provider model, given that its market is platform operators.
The Minerva xTVFusion platform addresses traditional set-to boxes but also smart phones, tablets, and other consumer electronics devices. Minerva believes that services blending legacy pay-television services with online video, available across a variety of wired and wireless connected consumer devices and displays, will be a compelling proposition.
“What people want is a better television experience and the question is who is going to provide that experience to consumers, over the top players or innovative service providers,” he said. “In my book, the service providers have more knobs to turn. They have the networks, the billing, the ability to support consumers, and in many cases they have deep pockets.”
Equally, Minerva sees the proliferation of different devices and displays as an opportunity for service providers to offer a coherent user experience across many different screens.
“Consumer devices can be seen as being orthogonal to the role of service providers.” He explained: “Think about it. As a consumer you may have a variety of devices: an Apple iPhone, an Android tablet, a Samsung connected television. With all these devices from different vendors there is a major role to be fulfilled by someone that really makes all these devices play together and provides a common experience to the consumer.”
So what of the future? Where will television be in ten years time? The chief executive of Minerva admits that it is tough to look beyond two or three years, but he suggests: “Television will not all be about watching a television set, it will be a visually rich experience that I will be able to enjoy on a variety of devices.”
How much of that viewing will be delivered over internet protocols? “I’m an optimist,” he said. “The majority of content will be delivered by IP. The future of television is IP and even without a crystal ball I am very confident about that.”
Mauro Bonomi, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Minerva Networks, was speaking to William Cooper of informitv exclusively for Connected Vision