Com Hem Claims World First Major Android TV Operator Tier Deployment with Help from 3SS

Com Hem, Sweden’s largest cable operator, has revealed that Germany’s 3 Screen Solutions (3SS) played a key role in project development and systems integration for its TV Hub, a hybrid set top box (STB) based on Android TV. 3SS also supplied its 3READY Android TV client with custom launcher to control the STB.

Having just gone live, Com Hem claims that its TV Hub is the world’s first major deployment based on the Android TV Operator Tier designed to combine a fully customized experience with integrated Google TV services. This is of interest given that some operators have seen the Android TV Operator Tier as a two-edged sword. On the one hand it enables them to give their subscribers full access to Google Media Services, including the huge content offering available from Google Play Store, as part of the hybrid service. There are also in-built user engagement options with advanced interaction methods like Chromecast and the Google Assistant, which enrich the experience at very little cost for the operator.

The downside is that it allows Google into their subscriber base with ability to promote its own services and products as well as gain valuable data, with loss of control over which apps and services are accessible on the Google Play Store platform. There is even the possibility of advertising and accessing competitors’ services on the platform, which has at least persuaded some operators to pause and take stock before jumping right in with the Android TV operator tier.

For this reason, some operators have been leaning towards the alternative lighter option provided by Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which can also be extended to support full hybrid broadcast-OTT services. It does this while allowing operators to maintain full control of apps and services being made available through the Google app store.

But there is a big downside here too, which is that the operator has to develop its own custom launcher development and perform its own integration of multiscreen interaction and user interfaces like voice interaction. This brings significant costs and delays, while potentially exposing the service to vulnerabilities if it fails to keep up with updates. Indeed, development cost and time to market were cited by Com Hem itself as reasons for taking the Operator Tier route. There is also the issue of meeting user expectations for unfettered access to the Google app store if rival operators have gone for the full Operator Tier option.

For this reason, the smart money is on most operators swallowing their misgivings over Google and going for the Operator Tier as Com Hem has done, to deliver the most complete user experience. Naturally there are still some significant challenges, which for Com Hem included developing Android TV UHD-4K user experiences for subscribers to two technologically discrete and separately branded services, Com Hem Play and Boxer. Com Hem Play broadcasts via DVB-C cable, IPTV and OTT, while Boxer transmits in DVB-T terrestrial TV and OTT. The offering is being delivered to both of these groups through a phased rollout, serving a total of 1.4 million Swedish subscriber households.

Another aspect of the development was that it had be as fast as possible while maintaining rigorous compliance with SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), which is an increasingly popular experience-based software development framework designed to accelerate and optimize system deployments. This entailed regular workshops chaired by 3SS to help Com Hem engineers build closer relationships with technology partners, facilitating interactive information exchange.

A few other vendors are also offering Operator Tier Android TV Launcher, such as Sweden’s video app vendor Accedo, which launched it at IBC 2017 as part of its Studio Pay TV edition product. Accedo points out that while this does open up operators to third party content they still have the power to prioritize their own content and channels.

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