Interfacing With TV’s Future

A major challenge that programmers and other content players face is how to reach a wide range of mobile and TV-connected screens without having to reinvent the technology for each platform.

One company that has stepped into that breach is You.i TV, an Ottawa, Canada-based firm that has developed a unified codebase that helps its partners extend a bridge to iOS and Android smartphones and tablets and PlayStation and Xbox consoles, as well as Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, and Fire TV devices, and even certain smart-TV platforms.

You.i TV, which counts Time Warner Investments among its top financial backers and Turner as a key client, is also baked into a direct-to-consumer platform for content providers developed by Comcast Technology Solutions.

Related: You.i TV Aims to Streamline Video’s Shift to Multiple Screens

Next TV editor Jeff Baumgartner recently spoke with Jason Flick, You.i TV’s CEO, about how the company helps partners deal with the ongoing device fragmentation challenge. An edited transcript follows.

NTV:What are your top priorities for the rest of 2017 for the business itself or at the product level?
Jason Flick: The goal is still this glass-first approach, helping our customers that own all the services [reach] the platforms that they need to get to. Scaling the business is still our top priority.

The other area that’s interesting for this year is about monetization. If we’re presenting ourselves as owning the glass for them and building that layer that customers interact with, one of the big things is monetization — TVOD [transactional video-on-demand], SVOD [subscription VOD], AVOD [advertising VOD]. Is it about selling subscriptions or selling tickets? We’ve done [work with] sporting teams where their main focus is on tickets. How that money flows is changing drastically and quickly.

Related is collecting the data piece. We collect data pre-normalized … but you have to be able to action it somehow, and we let them consistently do that.

NTV:Explain how you can support a wide range of screen types and platforms using a single codebase? How do you go about finding the similarities between them while adapting for the technical nuances?
JF: Fundamentally, the way we’ve done it, the OS [operating system] is used to abstract the hardware because it’s so fragmented today. The hardware under the hood is identical everywhere and the OSs are causing a fragmentation. We wrote the lion’s share of an OS. That’s how we’re able to get on every [platform].

There are differences for sure. Xbox is a good example. They have a snap-to grid mode, so we automatically do a best-effort snap-to grid for your app, so you don’t have to do anything.

But our code and your code complies natively on every platform, just like video games do. If there are new things available — Apple gives you exclusive access — and we predominantly deal with the tier ones, so they are getting this early access to features on the platform. You are natively running on that platform, so they can still make all of those calls.

We also talk directly to their stack … and that gets us our performance and that gets us our cross-platform. We’re really a graphics layer.

NTV:Your approach reminds me a bit of the notion of middleware in the old set-top box world. Is that a fair characterization?
JF: Middleware is a bit of a dated term. I view it a bit differently. The media companies that come to us are saying we need to own the stack. They are going to build the stack with the encoding and their authentication and they’ll collect the data. Data is huge now.

I view us as that last piece of the stack. If you want to own the stack, we’re that last mile that no one thought you could really have a stack, and yet we’ve done it. Getting the same codebase on almost 11 platforms now, there’s no one else doing that.

NTV:You support about a dozen platforms. Has that part of the video world improved or become more difficult in terms of fragmentation?
JF: To me, the players are known right now, but every year or so a new one gets added. The other factor that’s difficult to work in is that each demographic has its own preferred platform. We’re on our third big international deal and the platforms internationally are even more fragmented.

This fragmentation is going to continue. I don’t think we’re going to see a harmonization because the OSs exist to create business models. I don’t see everybody sitting back and saying, ‘I’m going to let Google own that,’ or ‘I’m going let Samsung own that.’ No very large company is going to sit back; they’ll continue to battle for the glass.

I think you’ll see more OSs. [Nintendo] Switch is one I’m excited about … Hopefully, we’ll be able to announce support for it sometime soon.

NTV:After a somewhat slow start, Android TV seems to be picking up a lot of momentum and adoption with video service providers. Have you also seen an increase in interest in Android TV from your partners and clients?
JF: We support it and we support Amazon Fire TV, which is based on it. I think you’re going to see a continual increase in [adoption].

I’m surprised also to see a bunch of these casting devices come out … and those are not working. A, it’s not a great experience unless you have a device to cast to; and B, you have a device that is plugged in. Who at 7 p.m. has enough battery left on their phone to cast for two hours? And you can’t collect data. Everyone is desperate for data right now and being able to monetize, sell you stuff and create better shows and know you better…not in a nefarious way, but to make better business models. That trend is dying, which means, automatically, that Android TV is getting some pickup.