Orange TV ahead of the tech game

Savvy enables content delivery everywhere, anytime

Time Warner and Comcast in June made waves in the U.S. as they promoted their TV Everywhere concept, linking Web content to cable subscriptions.

But France’s Orange TV was already ahead of the game, bundling satellite, Internet, PC and mobile platforms into a single offering.

For Orange TV, the TV arm of Orange-France Telecom Group, Europe’s third-largest telco, multiplatforming runs in its corporate blood. “Technological innovation is at the heart of our development,” says Herve Payan, senior veep, Orange Content Division.

Orange TV claims French firsts for video-on-demand for PCs (2002), broadband Internet TV (IPTV, 2003), PVRs (2005), subscription VOD (2006), catch-up TV (2007) and a world first for HDTV via IPTV (2006). Orange TV had 2.3 million subs mid-2009, one of the world’s largest IPTV bases.

Offering pubcaster France Televisions’ catch-up service, the ad-supported M6 Replay and TF1 Vision rental VOD, Orange TV drives France’s TV VOD market, Europe’s second biggest.

In pay VOD, Orange TV, France’s market leader, has

1 million-plus streams monthly, Payan says. On Orange TV, VOD viewings rose from 4.6 million in the first half of 2008 to 17.4 million in the first half of 2009, says Screen Digest’s Richard Broughton.

All content is available on catch-up. “Not many pay TV services in the world do that. That’s one of the package’s value enhancers,” Payan adds. Orange TV launched a satellite TV feed in July 2008. Fifty percent of French households can’t receive IPTV through conventional phone lines because of bandwidth limitations. Orange offered them a satellite/IP set-top box whose flash-memory module buffers shows for VOD. Orange TV now reaches 90% of this market.

Orange clients can download onto PCs and mobile devices. Payan says that this concept of any content anywhere anytime enhances customer perception of Orange TV.

With HBO, which has only a handful of output deals worldwide, the multiyear exclusive arrangement with Orange TV for pay TV programming over the air, via IPTV and mobile was “among the most robust granting of rights that we’ve ever offered,” says Charles Schreger, HBO president, worldwide programming sales.

Orange’s high-tech push does face challenges. Progressive download to rural clients takes five to 30 minutes, though compression techniques are improving.

In June, Orange broadcast the final of the French Open tennis tournament in digital 3D to cinemas. However, 3D TV remains a future technology. Orange still needs to “make a decision on what we want and when,” Payan says.

Many factors play in Orange’s favor. Gallic viewers are migrating from conventional terrestrial TV, and France is a big adopter of 3G mobile TV. Plus, Gaul is expected to have 2.4 million HD-enabled households by year’s end — fully a third of all those in Europe.