At IBC 2018, set-top box (STB) vendors attempted to demonstrate in earnest that the box was no longer just a video gateway. One vendor – Arris – believes it is now a misnomer to call it an STB; it should rather be considered a "smart media device" (SMD). In a climate where revenues from traditional services are drying up, their ambition is to help telcos become smart home service providers. It is thus no surprise that the manufacturers were testing the waters at IBC with an array of features within the home video gateway that, until now, have been associated with dedicated devices of their own.
Before delving into that, one of the key takeaways from the vendors was content discovery. Not only is cross-catalog search critical and voice search considered standard, but contextual voice search is now being heavily pushed, in which users can have a casual (or almost casual) conversation with the box to filter and refine searches. So instead of a user searching by saying, "Find comedies," they can search by saying, "Find comedies from the nineties starring Jim Carrey." In essence, this is a greater depth of artificial intelligence (AI) within voice AI. As Ovum believes voice AI will become mainstream, contextual voice search will be a big part of that. Tivo and Arris were among the vendors demonstrating this at IBC.
Sagemcom said it was experimenting with voice recognition in order to tailor ads to the viewer according to their age, gender, and other preferences. This would require an even deeper level of sophistication in technology, and collaboration with ad providers across linear and online services.
Sagemcom also demonstrated a relatively more natural "hand gesture control" service, which has some advantages over voice control, especially in noisier environments – and also disadvantages, such as proximity, receptiveness, and concerns about privacy, as it requires a camera.
Arris also boasted a visual feedback service within the sound bar, albeit in its concept phase, whereby the STB, or SMD, would not only talk back to the user, but also show visuals on the TV screen. Typical services that could host visual feedback would be: smart health services, in which a user wears a device that connects to the SMD and the TV screen gives instantaneous feedback if the user's blood pressure or heart rate reaches abnormal levels, for example; smart security services, if there is a breach of the home's perimeters; a smart thermostat; a baby camera; and smart metering of utilities such as energy and water. In addition, as demonstrated by Technicolor, a baby camera and lighting could also be controlled with microphones connected to the SMD.
With its device doubling up as a smart speaker, Arris claimed that the combined smart features of its minimalist SMD were cheaper than devices used in their individual capacities, i.e. an STB and smart speaker, and that service providers can charge for the privilege of having such a smart box.
Technicolor is working to allow operators to collect analytics from user behavior around the house in order to find new methods to monetize services and provide services to end users. An example of this would be in energy consumption, giving customers the opportunity to reassign various electricity-heavy tasks to periods in the day when tariffs are cheaper, and another would be in what type of video content is most viewed and by whom. Technicolor argues that companies such as Google and Netflix are collecting all the user data, but operators are left blind, so the vendor is trying to help operators by relaying that crucial data back to them.
Technicolor also showcased its work on
integrating Internet of Things (IoT) control into the STB, with microphones strategically placed around the house connect to the box
partnering with startups of advanced AI solutions to deploy face detection and mood detection, customizing video content and smart home settings (such as lighting) accordingly
offering multiple language streams of one program to multiple head speakers from one video hub, enabling multilingual audiences to simultaneously access one program from the same device
converting STBs into Wi-Fi repeaters, to boost the range of broadband connectivity.
Ismail Patel, Senior Analyst, TV and Consumer Technology