Middleware has been identified as the ideal platform level solution to provide Value Added Services (VAS). A Middleware platform shields the difference between the hardware (chipset, tuner, memory etc.) and OS (RTOS, Linux etc.) of a STB & provides a framework to realize a uniform platform for development and operation of VAS. It can be foreseen that along with the wide application of the middleware platform, Value-Added Services (VAS) will experience an explosive growth. However, there are also some challenges for the operation of Value-Added Services brought by the growth of service type and volume:
Middleware may undertake unified deployment of the service, and how do you deploy the service to satisfy the user?
The operator deploys several VAS but the usage ratio is quite low. How do you make the user understand and use the Value-Added Service?
Increasing amount of services puts forward higher requirements on security and controllability of the platform, such as the payment service. This kind of service may bring convenience to the user and huge benefits to the operator. However, since it involves the security of the user's property, how do you implement this service without a guarantee?
In view of above-mentioned problems, it is indispensable to have middleware as the operation platform to support Value-Added Services. The new requirements for middleware are:
1.There should be a uniform deployment platform for the network with operator branding
2.Middleware needs to positively demonstrate the front-end service to the digital TV subscriber.
3. There should be uniform management and control of Value-Added Services to guarantee service security.
As a result of the above proposition, the middleware platform should provide service deployment, service recommendation and service management and control tools to successfully deploy VAS. Middleware solution “Tornado UX” from Corpus Media Labs is a good example of such VAS software. This article will analyze and explain the operation support strategies of these major elements of VAS software.
I. SERVICE DEPLOYMENT
DIFFICULTIES IN SERVICE DEPLOYMENT
The deployment of traditional Value Added Services is accomplished by STB integration, which is complicated in operation and slow in service deployment speed. Further, errors may occur after STB upgrades. In contrast, a Middleware platform can rapidly and uniformly deploy the service. However with a large number of diverse VAS, service deployment is somewhat restricted.
Firstly, as the number of VAS increases, the limited capability of the STB will strain the STB.
Secondly, there are many new VAS products on a digital TV platform such as games and e-books. Unlike modules such as CA and EPG, these products are not necessary to be deployed to every user but only those who want the service.
We need a new service deployment mode to solve these problems. Digital TV's Middleware platform is relatively a new development for VAS. However, in telecommunications, VAS deployment is quite mature. Hence we use a telecommunication platform as a reference to realize the new service deployment for digital TV.
FEASIBILITY ANALYSIS OF APPLICATION STORE
The 'Application Store' as mode of service deployment, is a mature concept on the telecommunication platform. The latest report by Gartner estimates that globally, the volume of online app downloads were 17.7 billion in 2011. The revenues for downloaded applications and application advertising exceeded US$ 15.1 billion, a 190% increase that the 5.2 billion in 2010. Clearly the market is huge and growing rapidly. There are many similarities between digital TV's middleware platform & an App Store platform.
Open SDK: Middleware is an open platform. Its API interface is open to third-party developers (VAS suppliers). An open middleware platform is the most critical decision for the operator. With an open API interface, several companies can join the application development team, and create a wide variety of applications.
Uniform Terminal Platform: On the middleware platform, third-party developers can ignore the STB and directly use the open and standard SDK kit and API program interface provided by the operator. Besides, the screen resolution for digital TV is very uniform & quite similar to the Apple terminal. Developers of other platforms such as Android, often have to develop terminal programs for mobiles phones with different resolutions. In contrast, the uniform terminal resolution for TV greatly shortens the development time and effort.
Large Number of Terminal Users: By end 2010, there were 88,296,000 digital enabled TV households in China. User quantity is a major factor to attract developers.
It can be seen that an application store based on middleware is a quite feasible for deploying VAS. It fundamentally involves only product release and user download, while its mature & reliable operation is the key for its success.
OPERATIONAL SCHEME OF APPLICATION STORE
In the following part, this article puts forward a feasible operation scheme for an application store with an aim to set up a development team, profit model, product pricing and service type.
DEVELOPMENT TEAM BUILDING
Initially, the main development team should be the operator and the middleware company who are strong in R&D and understand the platform well to develop abundant applications to induce the user to use the Application Store. When the user has become familiar with the service deployment mode of the Application Store, it will naturally attract third-party developers, significantly enhancing the number of applications created.
PRODUCT PRICING and PROFIT MODEL
A major feature of the Application Store is that it may reflect the popularity of the product through the download volume to provide the operator with a pricing reference. The pricing strategy of the operator should be flexible so that the price is determined according to the popularity and development difficulty.
The product should not be too expensive and some products should even be free. The free product should be different from the charged product in function and performance. There are 3 types of free products: product with comparatively weak function or performance; trial version of charged product mainly for recommendation; application product that may bring continuous profit to the operator when used. The operator collects certain charges from the user for downloading the product and shares the profit with the developer in a pre-defined ratio. This is the profit model of Application Store.
Currently, other than some of the most basic services, most services may be deployed by the Application Store, such as games, music downloads, cartoons, e-books, education, social communication, information etc. These can fully exploit the high-resolution picture and high quality sound available on Digital CATV, to attract the user.
Middleware platform utilizes the application store to deploy the service. The application store not only deploys the service but also maintains service usage statistics and handles service download management. On one hand, the Application Store entitles the user with certain options and the deployment is quantified; on the other hand, it continuously attracts the developer and induces new services.
II. SERVICE RECOMMENDATION
ACCURATE MARKETING CONCEPT OF SERVICE RECOMMENDATION
As the operational platform for the service, middleware should also provide operation support & service recommendation to help the operator.The recommendation mode of the service recommendation platform can recommend the service according to the TV program watched by the user to gauge the user's impulse to use the service. This will help to accurately market the service.
SERVICE RECOMMENDATION SCHEME BASING ON THE PROGRAM CONTENT
The operator may establish proper marketing strategies through the service recommendation platform to increase advertisement revenues and increase the use of Value - Added Services.
Advertisements are always the primary revenue stream for the TV & broadcast operator. A good service recommendation platform should contain many advertisement forms. There could be more than 10 forms such as Start-Up Screen, Subtitle, Superscript, Audio Broadcasting in the background, Pop-Up Menus and an EPG interface to enable the operator to broadcast the advertisement more flexibly. Besides, in order to make the advertisement more directed, the advertisement should be associated with the program content. The advertisement should be deployed as pictures, animations, video, java games, and websites. The specific mode of advertisement is to be decided by the operator according based on the local operation environment and the user feedback.
PROGRAM-ASSOCIATED INFORMATION RECOMMENDATION
Program-associated information recommendation may recommend program associated information to the user. For example, in a football match, the platform may provide the user with a list of the team members, historical achievement and news before the match.
ASSOCIATED VALUE-ADDED SERVICE RECOMMENDATION
Recommendation of request service based on the TV program has been mentioned above. Similarly, the service recommendation platform may recommend various Value-Added Services associated to the program. For example, when the user is watching a shopping channel, the platform may display the logo of the online mall and the entry notice for the user to enter the mall by a click to enjoy online shopping.
III SERVICE MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL
Service offering can be made absolutely transparent and transactional. All aspects of VAS workflow like content acquisition, packaging, distribution and monitoring can be managed through middleware services. Leveraging on cloud based infrastructure, it will also provide geo independent control to all stake holders.
Last but not the least, middleware will provide the platform for the operator to bring in operational efficiency and increase ARPU through realization of VAS centric business models. It not only acts as a driver for growth incrementally by enabling more services to be delivered through the conventional one way broadcast medium but also will bring in disruptive services offering through OTT and multi screen delivery medium. With content, metadata and associated services exploding at phenomenal rate, it will act as a lever as well to balance and sustain dynamic characteristics in both business and technology.