February 25, 2015
UPC Hungary, the largest cable operator in Hungary and part of Liberty Global, is the first Pay TV operator in the world to deliver online video to its set-top box subscribers across the managed broadcast network. The company is making the complete YouTube Leanback experience (and not a sub-set of the YouTube catalogue) available via its QAM network, meaning that the new content can be made available to subscribers across its legacy STB footprint. The company did not require any new devices and estimates that the hardware (excluding cloud infrastructure) cost for the upgrade is EURO 1 per set-top box.
The triple-play provider has 910,000 video subscribers, 408,000 of which are digital cable subscribers who use a mixture of SD and HD set-top boxes and CI Plus CAMs to access video services. The YouTube service was made available last May on 200,000 HD set-top boxes, then extended to SD set-tops and is now accessible in 520,000 homes. The service uses the CloudTV StreamCast software from ActiveVideo in the backend to convert streaming video into ‘broadcast’ QAM streams and render the UI and video streams. Metrological also worked with UPC Hungary and YouTube on the interactive application.
Thin client ActiveVideo software was downloaded to the set-top boxes to send remote control key presses (e.g. up, down, left, right, Enter) to the cloud platform. When a user tunes to the YouTube channel they are connected to a cloud-based browser that points to the YouTube Leanback URL. When a video is selected, it is streamed from YouTube servers. This video can be passed through the UPC Hungary cloud platform or transcoded in real-time.
Because the video is being processed for QAM distribution to standard cable set-top boxes, there is no need to support adaptive bit rate (ABR) streaming video in the end-devices, or the DRM systems used by online video services such as PlayReady or Widevine. Instead, the content arrives in homes as MPEG-2 or H.264 video. The UPC service uses the existing HTML5 YouTube Leanback user interface that includes search as well as navigation.
The HTML5 is rendered in the cloud rather than on the device, which is another reason why the new service is available to the whole legacy STB population. The UI elements and the video stream that together make up the ‘picture’ that a user sees on their television set is stitched together into a single MPEG stream of video. To the set-top box this looks like a standard television channel. Any set-top box with a tuner and decoder can therefore display a fully interactive online video service in this way. The YouTube channel uses the same bandwidth as a standard VOD channel using QAM infrastructure.
UPC Hungary views the YouTube channel as a value-add rather than a revenue generator but is keen that customers should use their remote control and platform to enjoy content that they would otherwise access via laptops or tablets. After nine months offering the service, the cable operator has confirmed that YouTube viewing complements rather than competes with prime-time television, declining during peak evening hours. 68% of subscribers have now tried the service and of those, 83% have returned for additional views.