For both new and established TV operators rolling out OTT services, the set-top box (STB) is arguably the single most critical network component. Beyond its traditional technical role, today’s STB is literally the window to your subscribers, through which you can engage, entertain, and interact.

In a crowded market, user experience is a key differentiator. Your STB facilitates this user experience. This is why operators are investing massive efforts in choosing the right hardware and middleware for their STBs.

Whether you’re upgrading an existing service or ramping-up a new service and seeking an end-to-end hardware-software solution – middleware is the key to service delivery, user engagement, and revenue-generation.

Here are a few questions you should be asking before choosing middleware for your STB:

1. Does it facilitate engagement?

In today’s app-rich, information-rich world, users expect an engaging, interactive and feature-rich experience. The STB middleware you choose needs to facilitate the extension of content consumption into an interactive, engaging experience with a strong basis in social media (see more on this below).

Moreover, since you know your customer better than anyone, you should have full control over what they see and do, not a third party. Make sure your STB middleware enables you to deliver provider-specific engagement. And make sure you can do it on-the-fly – without long external programming cycles or long lead times. Even better, choose middleware that offers a full-blown SDK, so you can leverage your in-house technical teams to create and rapidly roll out your own engagement tools and applications.

2. How agile is it?

To compete, your service needs to rapidly adapt to changing standards and market demands. You need to be able to aggressively yet seamlessly roll out innovative new services. And you need the freedom to make changes on-the-fly – fixing bugs as they’re discovered, and tweaking services based on market feedback.

To this end, the middleware you choose needs to be completely and organically modular. Changes and upgrades to middleware components should not be major maintenance events. Adding or modifying features and fixing bugs should be drag-and-drop activities that are as simple as upgrading a mobile phone app.

3. Is social media built-in?

Effective personalization depends on a micro-accurate understanding of who each user is, what they like, and who they trust. Luckily, this data is readily available on social media. The trick is to effectively marry social identity data with user viewing data to create content-oriented social engagement. For example – you should be recommending content based not only on past viewing habits, but on what a given user’s friends are watching too. You need to enable users to share their content experience with friends, in real time.

To ensure optimum user engagement that leverages available data from all sources, make sure your STB middleware natively supports the major social media platforms.

4. Is it Android-based, and is it TV-friendly?

Popular, state-of-the-art, always maintained and up-to-date, and used on billions of devices worldwide – there’s little need to explain the technical advantages of the Android operating system for STB middleware.

But Android also offers some awesome content, user experience and engagement benefits. Subscribers today are used to a high-end user experience on their tablets, smartphones, and other devices. They expect a clean UI, smooth animation, and the intuitive functionality that defines a superb user experience – on any device, including their STB.

However, it is important to keep in mind that all Android implementations are not equal. When choosing Android-based middleware, make sure that it’s fully-adapted to the TV ecosystem, not just superficially ported. For example, a touch-oriented interface doesn’t work with standard STB and TV remote controls. The STB user interface needs to be polished and very easy to use – make sure the middleware vendor you choose has both expertise and experience in developing Android for the TV environment and not just experience developing Android for phones and tablets.

Moreover, your Android-based middleware should have the approval of leading TV industry DRM providers, and the middleware vendor should have proven experience in deploying Android in western markets and large-scale OTT deployments.

Finally, mass-market STBs need to be cost-effective. The Android middleware you choose should run over a lightweight hardware spec that will help keep your service competitively-priced.

Middleware can make or break the STB user experience and your service as a whole. Good middleware with a proven, successful, deployment track record is key to user adoption and service uptake. For more information about how Comigo can help you roll out a truly differentiated and uniquely engaging user experience, please click here.

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