Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters.
Further evidence of Android TV’s continued rise in TV OS market share has come with endorsements from Bahrain Telecommunication Company (Batelco), the country’s incumbent telco, and Russian operator Beeline. Batelco has developed a TV application on its legacy AOSP (Android Open Source Project) set top boxes with a more powerful and intuitive graphical layout than before. Customers can now manage any multimedia content distributed over the Batelco IPTV network, which has about 2 million subscribers and over 200 channels.
Batelco has also developed an OTT application for both retail Android TV and Apple TV boxes with a subscription allowing TV viewers to access various services online. These include the StarzPlay SVoD service integrated to include a catalogue of English and Arabic content. The implementation was overseen by French software firm Vianeos, which already had experience deploying TV apps on various TV OSs, including Samsung’s Tizen platform, for Swiss telco Sunrise Communications.
These moves come at a time when Android TV is expanding rapidly on several fronts. There are three versions of the platform, the first one to be deployed by leading pay TV operators being Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which comprises just the low level Linux code base also widely used for mobile devices. For TV operators it gives full control over all aspects of the user experience but at the expense of heavy investment to develop a bespoke operating system, while also lacking access to Google services including the app store, which has become increasingly desirable for integrating OTT with the broadcast offering. For such reasons AOSP has only been implemented by a handful of major operators with the inhouse resources to tackle the project and before the demand for access to OTT content became so intense. Swisscom for example built its IPTV 2.0 service announced in 2014 on AOSP.
Secondly there is the flagship version of Android TV for pay TV operators that emerged from the original largely unsuccessful Google TV around 2016 and provides a much more sanitized deployment without requiring the same resources as AOSP but at the sacrifice of control over customization. This was quite widely deployed but was still criticized for giving Google too prominent a role in the user experience and mixing third party apps too freely with the operator’s own content. To address this deficiency Google then developed a third version, Android TV Operator Tier, where it took much more of a big seat and allowed the service provider to take full control of the experience. This has proved popular and been primarily responsible for the surge of Android in the operator OS middleware field since 2017.
Operator Tier is designed mainly for devices managed and distributed by a pay TV operator, primarily set top boxes. It has been widely implemented by operators, especially on the telco side, including AT&T as the flagship customer and also indeed by Swisscom as a migration from the original AOSP based platform. Most Operator Tier boxes boot up straight to the pay TV operator’s app, although crucially also providing access to the apps available through the Google Play store. In this way the operator can combine its own pay TV service with those increasingly popular third party apps its customers expect to have access to, without having to switch to another connected device or smart TV OS.
The third Android option beyond Operator Tier or the basic Android TV versions built for operators is the version for connected devices and smart TVs, as opposed to service providers. Google has deals with at least six of the leading smart TV makers on this front, including Sony and Philips, although not Samsung which has its own Tizen OS or LG which has WebOS. There are also off-the-shelf connected devices from the likes of Nvidia and Ziamoni that are based on this version of Android TV.
Android TV has been expanding on the back of smart TVs, connected devices and also service providers deploying the Operator tier. The latter has gained traction particularly with telcos but also some, mostly mid-tier, cable operators such as Sweden’s Com Hem. Google’s main motivation now is to gain scale and presence in the home, even if it is not as the primary service provider. Although Google does not have access to data about the pay TV operator’s own content consumption, it does have access to data about the apps in its play store and so would have a formidable base for its analytics and advertising services.
Overall, about 8 operators were using Android TV in 2016 but this soared over the next few years to approach 200 by the end of 2019. This has provoked response from rivals, including the RDK platform initially developed by US cable co Comcast for the cable sector, but since expanded to target all pay TV providers. However its successes have largely been confined to major cable operators, particularly in the US. Aware of the need to match the capability of Android Operator Tier to blend third party apps with broadcast services, Comcast struck a deal with Metrological, an application platform developer that integrates OTT video services and other content into the pay TV experience, around the time of IBC 2019. The attraction was that Metrological already had a pre-integrated app store package for RDK, which Comcast had used to build its X1 platform.
This made RDK much more competitive against Android TV, but there are still few signs of it making inroads outside its cable TV heartland. A bigger obstacle for Android TV could be the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China, given that a number of Chinese TV makers and CE companies, including Huawei, had adopted it for their devices, including smart phones. The tensions and especially indications they would no longer have access to Android updates, has galvanized Huawei’s efforts to strengthen its own operating, called HarmonyOS, which is now available on a smart internet-connected TV. Some analysts are predicting that this will sweep through the Chinese market and also become a major alternative to Android TV in other countries less squeamish about supposed security concerns or other factors.
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