VOD player eyes SA debut

An ambitious new player in South Africa’s television industry, Discover Digital, hopes to launch both transactional and subscription-based video-on-demand services to consumers this year. By Duncan McLeod.

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A new South African video-on-demand player, Discover Digital, plans to give broadcasters a run for their money by launching both subscription-based and transactional video-on-demand (VOD) services, as well as content kiosks, aimed at a broad spectrum of consumers.

The company says it has developed the infrastructure required to launch its service and has already conducted numerous tests of its system. It is actively looking for content, including securing sports rights.

Co-founder Stephen Watson tells TechCentral in an interview that the company has already completed the “hard work” of designing and building a set-top box and is now developing applications for smartphones. It has also acquired the necessary facilities in a data centre in Sandton, Johannesburg.

The middleware for the set-top box has been developed by Ireland’s Digisoft.tv. The box will include an integrated DVB-T2 tuner that will be able to receive unencrypted free-to-air digital terrestrial broadcasts. It will also have an Ethernet port, allowing consumers to connect it directly to their fixed broadband lines, as well as Wi-Fi to allow wireless connections to fixed broadband in situations where using Ethernet is not practical.

Watson says the set-top box will also have an active USB port, allowing those without fixed broadband to connect a 3G dongle. Though consumers are unlikely to use 3G to stream large volumes of content, the dongle will turn the user’s television into an Internet-connected “smart” device.

Discover Digital has invested in “adaptive bitrate” technology, which means it is able to offer streams where the quality of the video is adjusted on the fly to match the user’s available broadband speed. This is particularly important on mobile networks, where users can easily move from a 4G/LTE to a 3G connection, or even from a 3G connection to a slower 2G data link.

Linked to the planned “over the top” video-on-demand services, Discover Digital intends installing advanced content kiosks in convenience outlets around the country, where consumers will be able to rent content on demand and download it to a USB stick that they can watch on their TVs when they get home. This, Watson says, is important for people in the lower living standards measures who can’t afford uncapped fixed-line broadband connections. They’ll be able to supplement their digital terrestrial viewing with this content.

The company also intends offering a simpler product, without the DVB-T2 tuner, which consumers will be able to simply plug into a spare port on their TVs. This option will be aimed at current pay-TV subscribers who simply want to be able to access Discover Digital’s over-the-top services without the terrestrial component.

Discover Digital hopes to provide the service in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent in partnership with telecommunications operators on a “white label” basis. But it is also planning to launch its own branded product that will be offered directly to consumers.

The company has concluded its first sports content deal in anticipation of the launch of Internet television services in South Africa, acquired the streaming, download and electronic sell-through rights to South Africa’s premier national motorcycle racing category, the Monster Energy SuperGP Champions Trophy.

It has also signed agreements with international content aggregators to offer what Watson calls “typical mainstream content”.

Although MultiChoice’s SuperSport has signed up most of the major South African sporting codes, Watson hopes to chip away at the market, convincing sports suppliers to offer their packages through over-the-top providers like Discover Digital. “Sport has to be a key part of our content strategy and we have to tackle it bit by bit,” he says.

Watson’s partner in the business, Gary Buskin, says Discover Digital has the capability to stream live content, which will open up a new market for sports rights holders looking to increase their audience reach beyond the traditional broadcast space.

“The deal [with the SuperGP] forms part of our strategy to build a strong international and national sports portfolio for our customers. The advancement of Internet television is inevitable and sports content will form an important part of any operator’s content catalogue.”

Discover Digital, which was founded about two years ago, has so far been self-funded by the founders. However, Watson says they “won’t rule out a big brother coming on board” at some point.  — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

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