There Is A New Row Brewing…..!

By Matthew Walters –

Head and shouldersThere is a new row brewing between broadcasters and the platforms and its going to be a good one. We had a hint at it after the recent Fox/Dish legal battle.   It hit our shores here in the UK with the arrival of the EE box and its Replay Service in particular.  The next confrontation will come with the new Sky box later this year.  There have been strong hints that Sky are going to import a ‘Replay’ functionality that has proved popular in the Italian Sky box.  What all three examples have in common is that they feature the platform operator (who control the set top box), using the PVR to create a catch up function without the agreement of the broadcaster.

The EE box for example, stores the last 24 hours of your favourite 6 channels. But it doesn’t store them as a random stream of video. It cuts them up into nice programme chunks, gets thumbnail pictures and metadata for each episode and re-presents it to the user as a branded catch-up function. All without the agreement of the broadcaster.  The problem that the broadcasters have (beyond the problem of the platforms taking their broadcast content and repackaging it as on demand) is that the replay services (which play content off the hard drive) work so much faster, and so much better than the OTT players plugged into the boxes. This is part of a bigger realignment of PVR and VOD functionality.

PVR vs VOD – Two Sides of The Same Coin?

It used to be easy to tell the difference between PVR and VOD.  A PVR was  a bit of kit in my house that I recorded shows on and then watched them on my telly.  VOD was on-demand content stored in the cloud by a broadcaster that I watched on a desktop PC, a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

However, the lines between what can be considered VOD and PVR are fading fast.  Firstly, as the Dish and EE set top boxes have shown, it is possible for a platform to use the memory in a PVR to host VOD content (with or without broadcaster permission) and to present is as a locally hosted VOD service.  Sky’s movie ‘push VOD’ service has been doing this for years. There are huge advantages for the platform and the consumers.  The content works really quickly with no buffering, and it doesn’t make a costly call on the network if a viewers chooses to play a show.  As the new generation of ‘home network TV’ emerges then PVRs will increasingly be streaming recorded and hosted content around our homes.  PVRs are becoming media servers.

At the same time, with the arrival of ‘network’ and ‘cloud’ PVRs that offer the chance to record out on a remote hard drive, we can see that PVR functionality is travelling in the opposite direction. Raising the question of whether it matters where the hard-drive sits for a PVR service. Once again there are great benefits for the platforms and the consumers.  The platforms can offer great new service extensions (10Tb of PVR space anyone?) and the consumer can access their recordings from mobile devices while on the move.

In both instances, the loser is the broadcaster whose broadcast content is being stretched and moved and worked in ways never envisaged when the original broadcast contracts were written.  We are on the cusp of a new phase of how PVR and VOD interact with each other. In a second Decipher White Paper of 2015, we look at this issue in more detail. In particular, we:

  • examine the rise of “push” and “pull” VOD (PVR as VOD);
  • investigate evolving international examples of cloud storage offered by pay platforms (VOD as PVR);
  • analyse the blurring of PVR and VOD in the form of EE TV’s Replay feature and Dish’s PrimeTime Anytime functionality; and
  • identifying four industry challenges in this ever more converged environment, ask what this means for the UK TV industry.

We conclude by arguing that:

  • an endgame is on the horizon – a home television experience that is, cloud-enabled, PVR-focused, but with network VOD/PVR at its core. The cloud-enabled platform PVR will sit at the centre of the home television ecosystem, acting less as a piece of memory and more as a media server, serving live, PVR and VOD content to connected devices in different rooms and on different floors.
  • this is an exciting future for television content from a consumer viewpoint, but it is one that raises headaches of different shapes and sizes for different players across the industry.
  • difficulties include a platform connecting up its subscriber base, broadcaster resistance to an extension of PVR, the potential death of standalone broadcaster players, and an ever more complicated rights environment.

If you are interested in reading the full White Paper, please contact

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