Multi-screen: Yes, No, Maybe, How?

The red light district and coffee shops that line the canals of Amsterdam took a back seat this past weekend, as 50,000 industry professionals flocked to the Netherlands for the IBC 2012 conference.

I had the opportunity to represent Northstream as part of a program called “rising stars”, where a variety of key note speakers and panels covered relevant media topics. Between me walking around the massive exhibit and attending the training program, many common themes and issues emerged again and again…

The main theme of the conference (and what was most interesting to me) was the emergence of multi-screen video solutions and specifically the rise of 3rd party apps versus the traditional set top box.

The general consensus is that 3rd party apps will eventually take over traditional set-top box distribution, the only question is “when”? In many cases 3rd party apps are simply unable to meet the cost efficiency and scalability of set top boxes, especially in many countries in Africa. However, the idea that 3rd party applications will allow producers of content to become independent of networks and cable operators is not terribly farfetched.

With a very complex multi-screen ecosystem, implementing a solution with a good UI, in a cost effective way that is available to the masses is easier said than done. Let’s have a look at the different players trying to push their own multi-screen products onto customers, shall we?

1. Broadcasters are telling people to use their 2nd screen app that they create in house so they can keep 100% control of the customer
2. Independent companies are trying to sell apps to broadcasters thereby making them a bit pipe with no value added
3. Samsung and other TV manufactures are creating their own smart TV and multi-screen solutions directly into the TV sets
4. Telecommunication companies are creating their own platforms for multi-screen delivery of content
5. Set top box manufacturers are coming up with their own innovative solutions which they then try and sell to operators

Within these five examples there are thousands upon thousands of companies with their own unique service offering and views toward multi-screen. Other themes such as social media integration, cloud use, security, formatting, and more come into play.

Needless to say, the emergence of multi-screen is inevitable, but as it stands, there is no clear front-runner and it is very unclear as to which solution is going to prevail on the battlefield. It may even be the case that there will be no single “winner” per se, given the vastly different needs from different customers. This may therefore leave room for multiple solutions going forward. While I think some of the current solutions will naturally “die off” as the market becomes more defined, I believe there will definitely be more than one core solution adopted by most of the multi-screen users. Perhaps a duopoly or triple-play (in terms of solutions) will emerge.

The multi-screen path has major bumps in the road ahead but the revenue and customer experience potential it holds for all sorts of operators is undeniable. Given that “everyone and their grandma” are forging full speed ahead in this race, each case needs to be examined individually to see if it makes sense from a strategic and customer experience perspective. It is a field that requires constant monitoring and is something we are exploring here at Northstream.

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