Why Ditching Set-Top Boxes Could Transform CTV in France

Bbox Smart TVFrench TV operator Bouygues Telecom a few weeks back announced ‘Bbox Smart TV’. The new offering, developed with Samsung, cuts out the set-top box entirely and delivers Bouygues’ IPTV (internet protocol television) service directly into Samsung smart TVs via an app.

Bouygues says the change will be simpler for consumers and provide a better user experience. But the move also has the potential to spur the growth of the French CTV market.

As VAN reported last year, the state of OTT in France has always been somewhat unique, due to the high penetration of IPTV (internet protocol television, typically delivered by a telco), estimated to reach nearly 60 percent of households with a TV set.

But IPTV’s success of IPTV has come at the expense of OTT platforms which are popular abroad – the likes of Roku and Apple TV, both of which have yet to take off in France. And Bichoï Bastha, chief ad tech officer at Dailymotion, told VAN that smart TV apps are far less common in France than in the US or UK. This is due in part to the fact that many IPTV users access their TV content solely through their IPTV set-top box, even if they own a smart TV.

But Sébastien Robin, an OTT and AVOD consultant, believes that Bouygues Telecom’s new offering could help spur greater uptake of connected TV apps and services in France. “For the first time there is a real incentive for French people to care about and understand connected TV as we know it in the US and UK, where you can access TV channels and apps like YouTube and Netflix all through a menu on your TV set”, he said.

If Bouygues Telekom’s consumers are using their smart TV menus to access regular TV content, they’re far more likely to find and watch other CTV apps available on their smart TV. This point was alluded to by Bouygues Telecom’s deputy CEO Benoît Torloting, who said the new offering would give consumers access to “even larger universe of content services”.

And the change could also open up new opportunities for smart TV platforms like Roku. Like Bouygues Telekom, Roku and Google license their CTV platforms to smart TV manufacturers, but they’ve had little success in France as most consumers will just plug their set-top box into their smart TV and access all their content from there.

But if French audiences become more accustomed to receiving TV directly through their smart TV, users could come to appreciate the value of products likeRoku as alternatives to France’s four pay TV giants – Orange, SFR, Free and Bouygues.

Opportunities for broadcaster apps and advertising

The new product opens up opportunities for France’s traditional broadcasters too, although these may largely fall outside of CTV.

Up until now, French broadcasters haven’t been allowed to develop CTV apps under the terms of carriage deals they struck with the telcos. Whilst broadcasters have historically let telcos carry their channels for free, they have recently started asking telcos for payment. The telcos agreed, but in return the broadcasters have agreed not to develop CTV services which would compete with telco-owned products.

But even with these carriage deals in place, the removal of set-top boxes could benefit broadcasters. Firstly, developing advanced services for IPTV is difficult due to the fact the four pay TV operators all use different set-top boxes. So broadcasters and publishers have to develop separate apps for each model of set-top box.

Cutting out the set-top box helps eliminates this problem and the associated costs. “I think this only means good things for broadcasters, because it probably creates more opportunities for broadcasters to provide their services on TV sets independently of which connection is used by the TV,” said Vincent Grivet, chairman of the HbbTV Association.

“The benefits to broadcasters will likely also apply to services like Salto [an upcoming SVOD service developed by French broadcasters TF1, M6 and France Télévisions],” said Grivet. “From Salto’s point of view, you want to reach every TV set. For IPTV homes with set-top boxes, you need to install your app on that set-top box, but then you need to develop many different apps for all the different set-top boxes. Without the set-top box, this will be easier to do.”

And there could be more opportunities for targeted TV advertising on offerings like Bbox Smart TV.

“It will be easier for broadcasters to deploy their services to all TV sets, and that includes targeted advertising,” said Grivet. “It opens up possibilities for broadcasters to do targeted advertising using, for example, HbbTV-TA [a specification for targeted ads on linear TV using HbbTV], even to IPTV homes.”

And Sebastian Robin added that smart TV makers like Samsung could contribute their own automatic content recognition (ACR) data, to be used for targeted advertising. “It will be interesting to see how the deals are worked out for who sells the advertising, and how. It could be that Samsung’s data and Bouygues Telecom’s customer data are both used for addressable advertising”.

Will the other operators follow Bouygues’ lead?

Bouygues is just one of the four major pay TV operators in France, and by itself it is perhaps not big enough to radically change the state of CTV in France. But it seems likely that the others will follow in its footsteps.

SFR recently launched a new offering which bundles a Samsung Smart TV as part of its triple play package (which bundles TV, internet and telephone service). This deal still includes a set-top box, but the Samsung relationship suggests the relationship could be a first step towards phasing it out.

And others have hinted in the past that the set-top box’s days are numbered.

“I remember Orange’s CEO and chairman Stéphane Richard presenting a set-top box a few years ago, and saying it was likely the last set-top box he would ever present,” said the HbbTV Association’s Grivet. “So this idea has been floating around for a few years.”

“Firstly, set-top boxes are expensive,” he added. “And they probably don’t have such a good reputation anymore, consumers see that they’re not great for the planet, and they’re quite complex. Five years ago having a Free set-top box in your home was trendy, that’s not the case anymore.”

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