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September 19, 2019

Comcast has content aggregation in its sights with Metrological acquisition

By GlobalData Technology

US cable company Comcast has acquired Dutch company Metrological, whose cloud-based application platform integrates over-the-top content into the pay-TV experience. 

Comcast’s move highlights the growing opportunity for carriers to create go-to hubs for customers who want all their content collected in one place.

Though not officially announced by Comcast, news of 14-year-old Metrological’s acquisition leaked out at this year’s International Broadcasting Convention exhibition and conference (IBC 2019) show earlier this month in Amsterdam. 

Metrological has been working closely with RDK Management, an open-source consortium managed by Comcast, Liberty Global and Charter Communications. RDK (Reference Design Kit) is a set-top box software stack that powers cable TV platforms such as Comcast’s X1 and Cox’s Contour in the US, Shaw’s Free Range TV in Canada and Liberty Global’s Horizon in Europe. 

RDK integrates the Metrological App Store into cable TV set-top boxes, enabling carriers to offer Metrological’s library of more than 300 apps to the viewing public. The lineup includes market-leading video apps such as Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video plus local and regionalised apps. 

This app library has helped RDK compete against Android TV, which is available in retail products and has an Operator Tier version that also enables the integration of OTT content access via the cable TV set-top box. 

Chasing a single interface

Now that Comcast has bought Metrological for an undisclosed amount, the latter’s employees will report to Steve Heeb, who is vice-president and general manager of licensing and strategic development at Comcast as well as president and GM of RDK Management. Bringing Metrological and RDK even closer should help traditional pay-TV providers that use RDK’s software position their service platforms as one-stop hubs for entertainment and information, with growing libraries of OTT apps and unique regional content complementing their usual viewing fare. 

Content aggregation is seen as a key weapon in the battle against video application fatigue, which some would argue does not exist, at least not in the sense that customers are frustrated by having too much choice. Rather, it appears consumers love having access to lots of apps, especially free ones, but they desire a single interface that allows them to open their multiple apps and easily find the specific content they’re looking for. 

This need for unified, interactive app access will only grow as new direct-to-consumer services, such as Disney+, Peacock and HBO Max, enter the marketplace. And pay-TV operators are keen to become the go-to source for that aggregated content. 

Stabilising the pay-TV customer base

The Metrological acquisition fits in with Comcast’s history of buying its vital technology suppliers. Pulling Metrological in-house boosts Comcast ambitions to become a leading aggregator of all content its customers might want, including traditional linear pay-TV, video on demand, pay per view and OTT services. 

Because Comcast also white-labels its X1 platform to fellow cable operators, those companies will likely also benefit from advancements in aggregation technology enabled by Comcast’s acquisition of Metrological. 

The stakes are high for Comcast, which seeks to stabilise its pay-TV business. During 2019’s second quarter, Comcast lost 224,000 video subscriptions as customers continued switching to what are often lower-cost priced OTT internet-delivered services with no burdensome contractual requirements. 

One way Comcast aims to retain those cord-cutters is with Xfinity Flex, a streaming platform launched in March just for the carrier’s Xfinity Internet-only customers and now provided to them for free. Aggregated video streaming – from services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Amazon Music, Pandora, Showtime, iHeartRadio and HBO – is a key component of Flex’s unique selling proposition. Flex also includes on-demand video, some live news and sports channels, management of home WiFi, plus smart home controls. 

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