Co-Op CEO: MobiTV Deal a ‘Game Changer’

A New Agreement between the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) and MobiTV that’s focused on helping tier 2 and tier 3 cable operators migrate to internet protocol video signals a fresh approach for the co-op.

Rather than a relatively simple “hunting license” that gives a vendor the green light to go out and cut deals with NCTC members based on pre-negotiated terms, this latest deal factors in additional nuances that also forge a much deeper business relationship than normal between the co-op and MobiTV.

“We’re very vested in helping Mobi[TV] get to critical mass,” NCTC president and CEO Rich Fickle said.

“We’re not going to be passive about this one. We’ll be very involved and supportive,” he added, noting that NCTC has been keeping programmers up to speed on the plans.

The new deal, which Fickle called “a game-changer in some ways,” also includes an entire section covering collaboration elements between NCTC and MobiTV, such as product roadmap and how support issues are managed — components that typically are not common to the supplier agreements that NCTC has done in the past.

The NCTC said it expects to lock in similar types of agreements down the road, but it simply has more skin in the game on this one.

“You have to drive scale,” Fickle said. “And with the shift of the larger [multichannel video programming distributors] taking a lot of R&D in-house, you have to find ways to make it worthwhile for supplying companies to invest in the tier 2/tier 3 market. We feel that it’s important that we make commitments to help those companies justify this investment.”

The NCTC-MobiTV deal is nonexclusive, and could see other suppliers eventually join the mix with similar offerings for co-op members.

NCTC also has a relationship in place with Evolution Digital, a Colorado-based company that’s also focused on helping independent cable operators migrate to next-generation video services. And it has forged deals with two over-the-top TV providers — Sony’s PlayStation Vue and fuboTV — to outsource a pay TV service that NCTC members can offer to broadband-only customers.

MobiTV’s Right Connection

Fickle said NCTC reviewed about 20 companies in this IP video transition area, but found that MobiTV “was moving faster … and demonstrated a hunger to work with [NCTC] members in a more collaborative way.”

Central to the new deal is MobiTV Connect, an operator-managed, IP-powered, app-based platform that enables MVPDs to deliver services on a range of connected devices rather than pricier traditional set-top boxes. It also gives those MVPDs a platform that can support their own pay TV app alongside a broad mix of Netflix, Hulu and other popular OTTdelivered apps and services.

MobiTV’s platform, which leans on MVPD distribution rights with programmers, currently supports iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, Amazon Fire TV sticks and boxes, Roku players and Roku TVs, Apple TV, certain Android TV smart TVs and players (including the Nvidia Shield), and most web browsers.

And rather than delivering TV into the home, MobiTV’s platform is designed for the video to travel on the cable network as a managed service — a closed transmission — that doesn’t use the open internet.

Fickle said it’s important to tap into that retail ecosystem because it will vastly reduce set-top costs for NCTC members. Several larger members of the NCTC have been using a TiVo-based offering, but the economics don’t always add up for smaller operators.

“The smaller guys within the membership really struggled with those kind of economics,” Fickle said. “We believe that what we’re doing with Mobi probably has its initial greatest appeal to some of the smaller operators that did not launch TiVo, primarily for economic reasons.”

The NCTC-MobiTV agreement has a bit of a head start. A handful of operators that are also NCTC members are already working with MobiTV: DirectLink, Citizens Fiber, USA Communication and Hickory Telephone.

Those operators signed directly with MobiTV before the NCTC deal was consummated, but they all have the ability to opt in to the new agreement, Fickle said, adding that another 20 or so operators have shown “high interest” in working with MobiTV or have been waiting for the new agreement to be completed.

For the MobiTV relationship, Fickle said NCTC has also engaged with some “additional resources” (including in areas of network engineering) to help co-op members with their IP video transition plans.

And because the new platform will rely heavily on WiFi to deliver video signals around the home (rather than Multimedia over Coax Alliance technology, for example), NCTC is also starting to line up other partnerships with hardware and software suppliers that can bolster and optimize those in-home WiFi networks.

NCTC hasn’t announced any deals in that area yet, but “we’re talking to several of them,” he said.

On the content front, NCTC is also holding discussions with OTT content providers that target specific genres or niches that might be interested in forging distribution deals with the co-op’s membership.