The HDMI dongle has been cast as villain in the story of traditional pay TV and broadcasting, but it may well emerge as a hero.
It started as a purely OTT device bringing online video via Wi-Fi to a standard TV, but is evolving into a more versatile hybrid enabling access to multimedia content from all sources, including broadcast and personal as well. This is a significant step since it chimes with market trends and consumer expectations in an increasingly multiscreen world. On the one hand, people are consuming more Internet-sourced content, both on mobile devices and on the big screen.
At the same time though live content still reigns supreme and mostly on the main TV, which continues to get bigger with ever mounting quality expectations. A global average of leading surveys, combining data from audience research bodies such as Nielsen as well as analysts, reveals that more than 85% of video consumption is linear and for some markets much higher. At the same time what is sometimes called secondary viewing outside the living room and the big screen is migrating away from TV sets to wireless connected devices, primarily smartphones, laptops and increasingly tablets.
These two findings have a combined corollary, which is that the secondary TV set market is collapsing, but also that sales of big screen TVs are holding up well. In effect the display real estate of consumers is becoming increasingly concentrated in the living room, with the big TV accounting for a growing proportion of their total screen surface area. So while there is a growing amount of on demand viewing on wireless devices, the TV remains the place where most of the valuable content is consumed.
This delivers an important message for traditional pay TV operators, which is that content is best monetized on a full-sized TV at high-resolution, but that this needs to be opened up to online sources. This is where the cast dongle comes in, as a convenient small form factor and low-cost device via which a TV can access not just the broadcast service but also OTT and other personal content. It is true there are some other requirements, like content security to protect premium assets, but this is precisely where a pay TV operator can score over pure play OTT rivals. A cast dongle as part of a pay TV package can give users the best of both worlds, all their favourite premium content as well as access to the wide world of the web.
It is also true that the cast dongle does bring a disruptive element and will at the same time help new players into the pay TV market. It has great potential for mobile operators in particular, who could find their way into pay TV through casting and be able to reach the big screen that way via subscribers’ handsets. This will become increasingly viable as penetration of higher bit rate 4G/LTE mobile services increases, although Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will have to invest more in backhaul infrastructure to cope with the increased load of unicast video traffic. They will almost certainly have to deploy some form of multicasting technology as well.
But wherever the content comes from, the dongle, such as the one developed by SoftAtHome, will reinforce the primacy of the big screen by providing a simple and low-cost way of delivering hybrid services.