The TV business is in constant flux and pay-TV operators face new multi-service challenges as they try to adapt to increasingly demanding market changes and customers who consume TV and video content on an ever-expanding array of devices inside and outside the home.

What’s more, the arrival of multiscreen TV and the connected home has made a reality of long-heralded convergence. But while consumers may now access TV programs on their tablets and smartphones and share experiences via social media through their smart TVs, convergence is still really only in its infancy and has a long way to go.

Case in point: these different screens do not automatically and seamlessly connect with each other and, in general, they are not designed to work together because each one has a different reason for being in the ecosystem. As a result, the connected-home environment is characterized by two qualities: complexity and fragmentation.

And so we are all faced with a complex world of media technology where multiple audiovisual entertainment services are delivered across different kinds of networks, using different operating systems and communication protocols, different kinds of devices with different forms of content protection.  New services are constantly being offered via Apps or devices that often add to or compete with other devices, a complexity further exacerbated by the advent of the “Internet of Things.”

This, of course, creates headaches for consumers and many business challenges for pay-TV service providers. Consumers are faced with both the inexorable challenge of configuring and managing various devices and the need to be able to access and consume a plethora of media from all of them as simply and effectively as possible.  Alas, it is not so simple!

But the reality is that pay-TV service providers face competition from Internet-based OTT rivals and need to make themselves increasingly relevant to their customers’ digital lives by extending their TV services to these other screens that enter the home mostly uncontrolled or unmanaged by the operator.  This makes it difficult for service providers to get the maximum benefit out of the rapid growth of "second screen" devices while everything remains so fragmented.  They need to blend more Internet-based offerings together with their own services to create a coherent, relevant and more user-friendly environment.  

Beyond middleware

In this context of complexity and fragmentation, a technological solution is clearly needed to enable service providers to join all the dots and thereby provide an integrated TV experience to their customers across different networks and services to different screens and devices.

This requires much more sophisticated software than was ever the case before. Conventional TV middleware is no longer good enough for this function as it had been built with only TV services in mind.  While the term "middleware" is still widely used across the pay-TV sector, NAGRA believes that it is no longer adequate to describe the much more complex and wide-ranging software needs of the new multiscreen, multiservice, and hyper-connected TV environment.  This is why NAGRA has put forward the word “connectware” for its latest enabling technology, a term which puts the emphasis clearly on connection and on the role a centralized technology can play in making sense of this complex environment.

Connectware represents a completely new category of solution, designed for convergence, which takes the stability of broadcast, adds the velocity of Internet development and deployment, and involves new models to support the Internet of Things. As a result, service providers are able to deliver and monetize new services and applications within a media-rich home environment that is increasingly complex, increasingly connected, and increasingly social.  Furthermore, with big-screen TVs and with more screen ‘real estate’ on the horizon (such as 4K Ultra HD TVs) combined with companion devices, there is much potential for a ‘centralized service’ in the home – a command-and-control center of sorts that can be adopted to ease the complexity and make invisible the problem of fragmentation.

So NAGRA’s OpenTV 5 connectware is not merely the latest generation of OpenTV middleware – far from it!  While it shares the OpenTV name, OpenTV 5 has been developed from scratch rather than upgraded from an earlier product.  The technology has been engineered with the strong pedigree of NAGRA’s digital TV expertise, adding the principals of open-source components with the use of GStreamer, Webkit, Javascript and HTML5.  Furthermore, in its modular architecture, OpenTV 5 has the additional software components and  protocols required to ‘connect’ other devices offering full support of smart and connected home technology standards and specifications to make a reality of the Internet of Things.

OpenTV5 connectware constitutes the cornerstone of JoinIn, NAGRA’s blueprint reference architecture for the connected home. Whether implemented in a simple net-top box, a hybrid set-top box or a media server, OpenTV5 connectware comprehensively addresses the content-propagation use cases a service provider needs to conveniently embrace the ever-growing array of devices in the consumer home.

It would have been easy – and conventional – to have described OpenTV 5 as "next-generation middleware," but this would have underplayed its importance and its revolutionary potential. And that potential lies precisely in the fact of connection, in drawing all these different elements together.

The ingredients of an effective connectware solution can be summarized as follows:

  • Connectivity must be simple: user-tested and scenario-tested;
  • It must be able to deploy connected-home scenarios quickly;
  • Innovation must be fast: There are new possibilities for revenues and higher customer satisfaction with rapid development enabled by a Linux-based, multi-process operating system that supports HTML 5 with a JavaScript framework;
  • Operating and bandwidth costs must be lower: services should be able to be upgraded on existing infrastructure;
  • Service providers must be able to concentrate on offering new services to a wide array of devices across different types of network without having to worry about the ‘technology.’ In this way, they can really bring the multi-service model to life and maximize revenues through the new business models that the converged environment enables.
  • Specifically, connectware should allow the creation of targeted, personalized user experiences, experimentation and new business models, along with the delivery of true multi-service, modular and secure offerings.

More than just a name

OpenTV 5 connectware goes way beyond anything that previous generations of middleware have been able to do. It is a new category of solution and as such merits a new term to describe its many functions. With connection at the heart of everything it does – connecting devices, networks and operating systems, and enabling consumers to connect with each other – connectware really does describe perfectly its fundamental role at the center of the new connected-home multimedia ecosystem.