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French telco takes on US rival Netflix... with whose dongle?

Orange FT plans streaming service around 'new' HDMI stick – report

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There were never going to be any prizes for guessing that the first user for Chromecast rival “Cast”, introduced by SoftAtHome in March, is likely to be Orange France Telecom.

SoftAtHome's dongle was put together around the integration requirements for Orange’s IPTV service, integrating set top chips and software. So when we heard this week that Orange was planning a streaming media that would take on Netflix in its home country, we put two and two together and assumed it was the Cast product SoftAtHome had already shown us.

The fact that the planned new service is referred to as "Orangecast" makes it sound even more likely.

One of the claims that SoftAtHome made of the product during its initial release was that it could support a full conditional access system on the stick, mostly because it had taken a Broadcom chip, the 7225, which already has a number of hardware roots of trust built into it, and used that as the basis for the dongle.

We are now hearing from local papers such as L’Express magazine that it also has a Wi-Fi chip built in for picking up the OTT video service around the home.

L’Express reports the French economic development minister talking about the device in one of his speeches. He told the world that the new product would use the Orange Cinéma Séries VoD service as well as French and international free-to-air channels, music from its Deezer streaming service and that it may also offer games. The French government has made a fuss about Netflix deciding to operate a French service from outside of France in order to avoid rules that inhibit OTT services.

In France, VoD companies are barred from streaming films until three years after their cinema release, and also have to hand over 15 per cent of revenues to the European film industry and 12 per cent to French filmmakers. By setting up outside the French borders, Netflix has avoided this, but has already found that it has ready-made OTT competition in France, and this is heating up.

Vivendi’s existing Canal Play service will be joined shortly by French supermarket chain Leclerc launching an OTT version of its Réglo TV service, and now Orange appears to be scrambling to get out its own OTT service.

At the same time, Orangecast will let Orange focus on TV customers outside of its own immediate IPTV footprint, such as those who buy broadband from Numericable and SFR.

It will be interesting to see how Orange prevents this from cannibalising its own Livebox-based IPTV service, especially if it is priced down at the Netflix pricing level of around €10 a month. One way is to sell it outside the Orange brand, for instance by using its low-cost ISP subsidiary Sosh.

Interestingly, Orange has already put a similar VoD service on Google’s Chromecast, which only came out in March, and has a partnership with SFR to cross-sell this. If Orange does opt for the SoftAtHome device, then it will be able to get far more up-to-date content than that available on Chromecast, due to its stronger inherent encryption capability.

The article in L’Express Suggests Orange may even begin selling the content outside of France. We would expect it to follow in markets where it has an IPTV offering already, because it already has content rights there, such as in Poland and Spain, but we would expect the rights issues to slow it down for a considerable time outside those regions. Given that it relies on access to programming like HBO’s Game of Thrones, it will find those rights all tied up in other markets for years to come.

The beauty of the French telco using the SoftAtHome HDMI stick is that it will work with Android, Apple’s Airplay, Miracast and with encrypted premium content.

In the past, SoftAtHome has managed to offer set tops built around Linux which will run Android Apps, so that their operator customers are not enslaved to the Google vision by actually using Android, but have the benefits of using Google Play.

It also uses a version of Dial developed for Broadcom chips (Dial is the discovery and launch protocol designed by Netflix, YouTube and Sony) made famous in Chromecast, but does on a non-ARM chip. Cast can take streams from any Real Time Streaming Protocol source, but also from any Adaptive Bit Rate streaming service and may even support progressive download.

Copyright © 2014, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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