Orange Ready for the Next Big Challenges

Having established itself as a major Pay TV provider and pioneered multi-screen TV, Orange provides one of the best examples of how a telco can transform itself from a voice/data provider to a media company. The France Telecom brand also demonstrates the impact that video-over-IP has had on the TV industry in the last decade. It now provides a pointer to where the rest of the industry may move next as it looks to develop a converged backend for TV services that are currently running over multiple access networks, with the possibility that eventually all video services might be delivered as HTTP.

Luc Barnaud, VP, TV at Orange Technocentre, says the key differentiator for Orange in the TV market today is the way it can provide a complete TV experience. This starts by combining live and on-demand, with VOD, SVOD and catch-up TV still proving a strong consumer benefit compared to broadcast-centric network services, he notes. It also means offering services on the TV, PC, mobile, tablets and connected TVs. Finally, Orange makes its services accessible on the portable devices outside the home as well as inside. “Allowing customers to use their service on multiple screens in different places represents a compelling option,” Barnaud declares.

With the growing popularity of over-the-top video and the increasing penetration of connected TV devices, all service providers now need a strategy to both counter and embrace online video, and potentially monetize it. Orange is no exception. The company provides a content portal on LG televisions in France already, something that gives existing Orange customers and other consumers more opportunities to engage with the brand. It is also engaged with other device manufacturers.

Meanwhile, like a number of major telcos, the company will use its own CDN (Content Delivery Network) to ensure it has a stake in the delivery of OTT video (and the opportunity to improve the Quality of Experience for online services). “CDN infrastructure is a natural extension of our networks and service platforms and leverages our historical skills as an operator,” Barnaud says, pointing to QoS management, 24/24 availability and systems reliability among other core Orange competencies.

The company is also gearing itself to integrate Web-powered entertainment experiences into the IPTV offering more closely. Barnaud explains: “We have had a browser-based strategy for several years and can use our expertise to provide an enriched TV experience that can take advantage of content from the Web, like interactive TV ads connecting to third-party Web servers, and specific events that mix live and Web content.” He says Orange is currently working on a content recommendation solution that harnesses social networks, providing an example of how it can go further in exploiting Web content.

“Our approach to integrating Web services on TV remains very TV-centric,” he adds. “We aim to deliver relevant and tailored services to the customer. Today, the Web as we know it on PC is not easy to use on a TV. Our job is to select the right services and make them relevant on TV in terms of usage.”

Barnaud points out that overall, it is the guarantee of a premium quality service that sets Orange apart from today’s over-the-top services, however. He highlights the company’s end-to-end control of the content distribution chain and the associated services, from the content platform and portals to the end user device, including network elements covering CDNs, routers, DSLAMs and domestic gateways. In short, the company has the infrastructure to compete on every level, whether via broadband or the managed network.

One of the next big challenges for Orange, and one that will confront most major Pay TV operators in the next few years, is how to rationalise the service delivery that is now encompassing multiple access networks, managed and unmanaged video and an increasing array of devices. Barnaud reveals: “We are working on the convergence of our content platforms, starting with the unification of the content management and other service enablers. We are also working on the convergence of the content specific protocols that were previously different according to the screen and access used.”

With Orange’s TV service now available via FTTH and DSL, and live feeds coming over satellite and digital terrestrial as well as IPTV, the company is also migrating to a unique core platform for all its fixed TV services. Barnaud acknowledges the growing interest in the industry around the possibility that all video services across all platforms could converge around HTTP adaptive streaming, including for set-top boxes. He says: “Given the success of the protocols and formats that emerged from the web and IT actors, it is difficult not to consider that kind of convergence.”

He says the challenge, as a network and service operator, is to find the balance that delivers the benefits of open protocols and softwares and the performance, security and quality that is enabled by a good vertical, end-to-end integration of content, platforms, networks and devices.

By John Moulding, Videonet