Three weeks ago I was invited at NTT DATA Operation Center in Iidabashi where I had the honor to meet Mr. Futatsugi, the CEO of mmbi, who presented us a demonstration of their new mobile video service, to-be-launched 1st of April 2012. The service is called NOTTV and it is a perfect cocktail of live TV and on-demand media, powered-up by advertising and social networks. It will revolutionize the Mobile Media and the way it is consumed, as we know today.
A bit of background
Mobile networks are getting congested mainly because of the video traffic, in Japan as well as everywhere else in the world. The video consumption on mobile represents more than 50% of the total bandwidth used. Telcos are acquiring frequencies to cope with this trend but this is most likely not sufficient. Telcos have also started to add a broadcast layer to their existing networks, as they have realized that unicast only cannot serve this growing quest for video services – especially as the hunger for them is growing exponentially fast.
As a sign of times for example Verizon in the US is aggressively acquiring frequencies from cable companies. The same trend is happening in Europe where the Telcos are shopping for 4G licenses, most recently with Orange in France. Many of tier1 carriers are also testing broadcasting technologies, like IMB and E-MBMS, to enhance their networks and equip them to handle video more efficiently. In fact, E-MBMS alone could be a game-changer, representing itself as a very efficient broadcast component for LTE networks. We will most likely see some trials in the next 2 years.
NTT started their preparations already few years back, as a R&D project. Their goal too was to off-load video traffic from 3G and 4G, by using broadcast. Today we are at the eve of the NOT-TV launch, a matured and seasoned commercial service, including linear live TV, Push VOD and FileCasting content, in all Japan, starting in April 2012. The NOT-TV platform is a 500M$ project, run by mmbi (Multi-Media Broadcast Initiative) which is a joint venture between NTT DoCoMo (60%) and several major TV broadcasters.
TV versus NOT-TV
Don’t get me wrong: Mobile TV not a new concept in Japan. In fact, Mobile DTV is already hugely successful and is available on 75% of all handsets sold there today (Referring to the Mobile DTV standard ISDB-T One-Seg, equivalent to the DVB-T2 in Europe or ATSC-MH in the US). Not to mention NTT DoCoMo’s Pay TV service at 3G, called BeeTV. It too has almost 2 million subs paying 3$ per month for content that is only available at this platform.
Both represent a symptom of the core of the problem: The people want to select themselves the content to watch, when and where. Linear broadcast and 3G TV represent TV stations idea on what they assume the viewers want to watch.
And this is where NOTTV serves its curveball: The main component of the service is in fact the content offered via Push VOD and FileCasting, guaranteeing folks a chance to have their content place-shifted and time-shifted.
A large catalog of content is pushed - and refreshed - to the devices all day long. Most of the content will be produced exclusively for the service by major Japanese broadcasters, such as Fuji TV. As a result, the end-user will have hundreds of high-quality full-length videos, clips and trailers, games and magazines, pushed to their device, via broadcast. The content gets cached on the device on background – and once it is there, it can be consumed wherever and whenever the end-user wants to.
The service will be priced at 4$ per month and an additional price-per-event-fee is charged to the end-user signing for selected live sports events or concerts. Mmbi is also introducing a clever idea to the business model mix: If the end-user buys something which is above $4, they will get their monthly subscription fee waived, as it is deducted from the price of the bought goods.
The NOTTV service does have live TV channels too, even though one could describe the line-up being quite moderate: The service includes only three (3) live TV channels: The main TV channel has talk shows, dramas, TV shopping and live interactive games, the second one runs local and international news on 24/7-basis and third channel is dedicated to live events such as sports and concerts.
About the demo: Look and feel
The demonstration we saw was running the mmbi app on a Samsung Galaxy Android Tablet. It was recently introduced at CEATEC in Japan.
The UI is really vibrant, rich in images and metadata like long synopsis, several genres per programs, trailers, cover images, etc. Video too is of high quality, encoded in h264 at 30fps. Metadata also is encoded in very efficient and compressed format.
In landscape mode, the video is displayed full-screen, corner to corner. When you flip the device into a portrait mode, the video stays on the upper-third of the screen and the bottom-two-thirds are presenting additional information related to the content (e.g. cover images of the movies or description of the episode etc.).
The bottom part can be also used to browse the extensive content catalog, while one still keeps watching the video. For each piece of content there is also the trailer, cover image and programming info about the show, all cached for the immediate viewing. All this gives a very pleasant user experience, as there is zero waiting time that bothers the user. Also the navigation is very smooth and there is no connection loss, as all content runs fully off-line.
In portrait mode, the bottom part of the screen is also used to interact with the social networks: tweets, check-ins, and Facebook updates are one key stroke away, and they are contextual. The end-user is able to recommend content they enjoy - or hate – which gives a feeling of being part of the content creation, during e.g. a live event.
Overall, the user-experience is very fluid, full in pictures, highly interactive - and very, very addictive.
Why one of the world’s biggest carriers doing broadcast then?
The real revolution of the service is indeed that all the content distribution is done over a pure broadcast layer. This allows NTT DoCoMo & mmbi to deliver the content very efficiently to all subscribers for both Live TV and On-Demand content.
The service scales smoothly and will be able to support the millions of subs NTT DoCoMo wants to attract, at no additional network cost. The overall service is build on top of a 6 Mbit/s and this bandwidth is allocated for the service 24/7 -basis.
As Mr Futatsugi said, “the service is called NOTTV, because the service is almost like TV but it is Not-TV! it combines the best of broadcast (efficient content delivery) and telecom (social network interaction)”.
By mixing social network, live TV and on-demand media, NTT DoCoMo will attract eyeballs to its offer with original content. NTT DoCoMo plans to deploy a breath-taking 50 million devices in the next 5 years.
Thanks to the broadcast layer, NTT DoCoMo will save in their infrastructure costs as consumption will be shifted from 3G/4G to broadcast. And as NTT DoCoMo has announced that they will move away from unlimited data plans, this will create an additional incentive for users to subscribe to the new service.
NTT DoCoMo expects its mobile data revenues to grow by 48% in the next 4 years. For them NOT-TV represents both a way to revolutionize NTT’s video services and the chance to focus their precious 3G/LTE bandwidth on core services like VoIP and mobile internet.
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Via Claude Seyrat