In recent times, Google has begun to make serious, some might say game-changing in-roads, into the middleware market. It has convinced many operators that it has no plan to collect their data other than what’s relevant to advertising and the security implications of adopting an open system – while not to be dismissed – are being eased too. So much so that Android TV (Operator Tier) is arguably the middleware that is on the fastest track to growth.

“This time last year there was a lot of debate among operators as the market educated itself about the benefits of Android TV contrasted with that of traditional middleware,” says Frank Poppelsdorf, Vice President, Product Management, Irdeto. “Entering IBC 2018 it’s clear there is a very big difference in terms of people getting into real projects and focussing on the practical issues of implementation.”

Analyst and researcher Rethink TV registers around 70% of operators globally investigating Android TV as a serious option. Provided Google continues its open approach, Rethink forecasts 99.2 million Android TV devices will ship through pay TV operators by 2022.

The main factors driving the trend are content, capex, and time-to-market. To give subscribers what they expect, operators can either laboriously add the major OTT apps onto their set-top box using proprietary middleware, or they can get it for free on Android TV. It comes with fancy features such as voice control which would otherwise be a huge investment for an operator. What’s more, with rapid launch so critical for survival, Android TV offers an ease of integration that bespoke routes can’t match.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer for all bar some of the largest tier 1’s which may have heavy investments in alternatives, notably the North American saturation of RDK.

So far has the market shifted towards Android TV that it’s fast becoming a strong option for many operators. But such a view glosses over the necessary integration of the software with key hardware and a customised UI needed to differentiate and secure each operator.

Android TV can be built into hybrid DTH, DTT, cable and IPTV boxes, as well as into pure OTT boxes, so that it can emerge around any of the main pay TV technologies. Selecting the right chipset and engineering the right level of security into your system is by no means trivial. It requires a properly configured DVB stack to control the broadcast components. And it all has to reliably function with DRM/conditional access.

That’s where Poppelsdorf’s talk of ‘practical issues’ comes in.

“We have a solution for pay TV operators wanting an advanced hybrid set-top box,” he explains. “We offer this through partners or working directly with us. Deploying the same from scratch will take easily 12 months or more which in today’s fast-paced market is not good enough.”

Security remains a concern no matter which middleware you are operating on. Google has taken some steps towards securing Android TV, but there are still steps that operators must take to protect their service, platform and data. It is therefore important to work with the right security partner who can assist in adding layers of security on top of Android TV, to ensure operators can build a robust, futureproof STB platform. The Android TV platform does a lot of the middleware’s ‘old’ job itself but there are many aspects of Android-based integrations that the operator has to understand and manage.