On Liberty Global’s Horizon: The Cloud

Mike Fries, the CEO of Liberty Global, used part of Wednesday’s second quarter earnings call to talk up the MSO’s advanced video strategy, noting that the company is pushing ahead with tests on a new cloud-based interface for its Horizon video platform.

Liberty Global is testing the new cloud UI in Poland, and will next try it out in Chile, Fries said.

The cloud-based version of the Horizon interface, presently deployed as a resident set-top/gateway app, will lean on boxes outfitted with the Reference Design Kit, a preintegrated software stack that’s being managed by the RDK Management LLC joint venture. That J.V. was launched about a year ago by Comcast and Time Warner Cable.  Liberty Global became an official member of the J.V. in March

“We plan on putting this out way beyond Poland in various countries, and even in countries that we currently have already launched Horizon,” Liberty Global CTO Balan Nair said on the call.

And the UI isn’t the only element that Liberty Global plans to move to the cloud. It’s also going to move storage there, too.

“We…have a program in place right now with our vendors and the chip suppliers to build a really low-cost box to take advantage of these cloud technologies,” Nair said.

Comcast, which has built its X1 platform on the RDK, has begun to roll out a multiscreen cloud DVR in several markets, including Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media, now part of Liberty Global, has been testing TiVo’s network DVR platform.

Liberty Global is tapping a next-gen video strategy to stop video losses and to return the category to growth. In the second quarter, Liberty Global lost 72,000 video subs, its lowest second quarter loss in the category since 2006.

Customers on its next-gen service (TiVo and Horizon) grew to 2.9 million in the second quarter, up from 1.9 million in the year-ago period. That base includes 2.3 million TiVo subs in the U.K. and more than 645,000 customers on Horizon across four countries.

Another big focus for Liberty Global will be its analog-to-digital migration. Roughly 7.5 million are still on analog, versus 13.4 million that are getting digital. Digital subs generate more than twice the video ARPU than analog customers, Fries noted.

He said Horizon is resulting in a 20% churn rate improvement and that subs on that platform spend 30% more per month than its regular digital subs.

In the vein of Comcast’s Streampix service, Liberty Global has also begun to roll out a premium multiscreen streaming service of its own called My Prime. The MSO is offering it free to customers on its mid- and high-level tiers, and for €6.50 (US$8.71) per month for to those on its lower tiers.

Fries, who credited Netflix for exposing cable’s “massive functionality gap” at The Cable Show in April, said the average My Prime user spends four hours per week on the app, noting that 50% of entitled subs have tried it and 20% are  using it on a weekly basis.