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Mediaroom loses first customer in BT


Published: 3 February, 2012


Back in 2004 we pictured Microsoft Mediaroom taking over the pay TV world, today we think more in terms of Apple, Google or Netflix making inroads into the content realms, and see Mediaroom as a small technology play, that has become more than just a little static.

This is what is behind British Telecom's decision to get out of Mediaroom and go off in a new pay TV direction of its own. The decision was taken about a year ago, and the switch will happen any time now, but has not been made public - except by us.

BT controversially refused to launch a fully-fledged IPTV service in 2006, instead deciding to offer a system which used IP only for VoD delivery, on a hybrid device which also accepted Freeview DVB-T linear broadcasts. The launch of BT Vision went back to consumer research it carried out in the 1990s, which said all anyone wants are movies on VoD (shades of Netflix). So as the rest of Europe introduced full multicast IPTV from 2000 on, BT only offered this hybrid, but bizarrely chose Mediaroom set tops and software, who's real strength was in multicast.

Other Mediaroom customers are be far more entwined in the Microsoft code, and rely on its multicasting support for things like rapid channel change, an important early differentiator over cable. But they may soon begin to see through the limitations of Mediaroom, pushing Microsoft to abandon or at least radically update its strategy.

Now BT plans an ambitious over the internet upgrade to 575,000 existing customers, dropping Windows CE for a Linux variant, and taking a local a browser and middleware stack from Oregan Networks and a new cataloging system and user interface from Australian TV software house, Massive Interactive, who provided much the same for Telstra's Big Pond service.

BT has written the client apps itself and will used Microsoft Windows Media DRM in the system, alongside Nagravision which has been added by Pace for the paid services on Freeview, such as Sky Sports. Later the system will slowly upgrade to Microsoft Playready.

The problem at the heart of the decision has been the way the BT service is very VoD focused, but the proprietary and unvarying UI of the Mediaroom implementation has meant that only a handful of VoD options can be shown at any given time, when BT has amassed 6,000 VoD options.

The answer is to introduce a brand new recommendation system which will offer different VoD options to each subscriber based on past viewing habits. This will be based on software from The Filter, another UK company that has music legend, Peter Gabriel, among others, as an investor and adviser.

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