VO’s new CEO, Philippe Leonetti, on his time with Orange, the role of innovation, the power of DevOps, and the future direction of the company.
- First off, welcome to the hot seat! You’ve been working for Orange for over a decade. How did you get involved with Viaccess-Orca?
In 2008 I took up a position with Orange Corporate where I was responsible for all the products and solutions development for mass market customers for the home environment. I was covering all gateways with Orange, set-top boxes, and anything the customer would add to their own network. That’s where I encountered the TV domain for the first time.
Before joining VO I was in charge of the innovation strategy of the Orange Group, so I was addressing many of the major topics and changes for the company: 5G, cloud computing, edge computing, IoT, and more. I wanted to get back to more operational activities though, so when I had the opportunity to join VO I said ‘okay’ quickly.
“When I had the opportunity to join VO I said ‘okay’ quickly!”
- Your roles to date have had a strong element of dealing with innovation to them. To what extent do you see innovation as important for a company such as VO?
It’s all about the value we’re bringing to customers. Delivering software today is quite easy — many companies are already using open source code and simply packaging the software in different ways. What operators are really looking for though is how they can differentiate, how they can increase their ARPU. They need new services and new functionalities, and all of that is related to innovation.
“Innovation though is no longer just about experts in a lab somewhere; it’s about how we connect with customers, how we connect with partners.”
Innovation though is no longer just about experts in a lab somewhere; it’s about how we connect with customers, how we connect with partners — what some are calling open innovation. It’s about engagement. And we will do more of that, we will work with selected partners to invest and prototype new services.
As part of that we are starting to change the way we work. Take our new Targeted Advertising solution. You have two different paths. The classical way of doing things is to develop it all, take it to a customer, and cross your fingers and hope it fits. What we are doing is working closely with customers and taking on board their feedback to swiftly iterate the solution. That way we find out what the core of the service is; what is specific to a broadcaster, what is a customised tool, and what can be adopted and marketed in a wider context.
It’s a quicker process. You don’t wait six months or a year to see the results.
- Covid-19 is obviously having a huge impact, but beyond that — if it is possible to see beyond that at the moment! — how do you see the video industry in 2020? What have been the major impacts?
What is very interesting is that the TV business is still growing. The way the consumer is buying and consuming content is changing all the time, but by whatever metric you use it is always still growing. That is good news for us.
The industry is changing too, moving from the legacy Pay-TV environment with its protocols, its architectures, and its rules to the new world of streaming. But then the same is true for almost every industry at this time; we are all moving from something which was physical and had components to a virtualised model which now runs on pure software. It’s a transformation which opens some risk but also many opportunities.
Google, for example, is providing solutions such as Android TV for free, but they're not easy to implement for anyone. You always need to rely on companies such as ours that have the expertise to implement a solution, even when that solution is free and available as open source. You can get any software on the web for free but when you come to implement it then you will see the cost.
“You can get any software on the web for free but when you come to implement it then you will see the cost.”
- Where would you say the major opportunities are?
There are probably two main opportunities over the next few years. One is addressing the complexity operators are facing in relation to the number of OTT suppliers they have to deal with. Different OTT suppliers all have their own technological choices, their own way of managing customers, their own way of managing UI, and more. Onboarding all this is a complex process, and operators need to provide access to these services otherwise they are bypassed. We are positioning ourselves to help address this complexity from the operators’ point of view, and provide a framework to help this integration, from the legal agreements, to the interfaces, to the CDN.
The second opportunity is how we are able to increase operators’ advertisement revenues. In classical advertising people are choosing windows to show their ad and this window is selected based on ‘we assume that at this hour on this day the people in front of this TV are kids, are singles’, and so on. With our technologies we are able to personalize ads based on profiles, recommendations, and how people use the service. Our customers are already using this to further refine the recommendations they give to their viewers; our algorithms now take this a step further and apply the same techniques to effectively distributing different adverts to different people watching at the same time.
- What are the challenges? What keeps you awake at night?
There is a sense of urgency in this industry and others. When I see the speed of change in the market and the speed of transformation that is underway I realise that, while we are already fast and efficient, we need to be even faster and more efficient in the future.
- VO sometimes gets involved in other industries which are good fits for its technologies, such as the current initiative with the Secure Manufacturing Platform. Do you see the company branching out into more areas in the future as technologies converge?
We deliver video from the studio to a customer in a secure manner, and, when you look at the future of manufacturing, you come across the same kind of questions relating to the IP protection of the content in the supply chain . Industry 4.0 will change how goods are manufactured. Additive Manufacturing, CNC machining, robotics and industrial automation is all far more data driven. Goods will be produced closer to customers in regional facilities rather than having one big factory. That means the plans will have to be sent to different regions on a regular basis and that will ensure that companies start to look at using a more secure solution for the transmission of their data.
As for other areas? We are always monitoring the market.
- How will 5G disrupt the market?
5G will be a game changer. There are a lot of open questions about it around the world, and many still in Europe, and I don’t think we will see full end-to-end 5G systems for three to four years yet. But when I was working on the 5G program in the Orange Group one of the big questions was what kind of new services will this bring to users. The most common answers are related to video content, and not just video as it is now but new models and new approaches, including virtual reality, augmented reality, more local broadcasting of content and new ways of addressing events and so on. It will bring many opportunities. We are at the very beginning of the story.
“5G will be a game changer… It will bring many opportunities. We are at the very beginning of the story.”
8. What else would you say are the key technologies coming over the next few years?
We first saw a move to cloud computing with people operating with a few data centres in the US and nothing elsewhere. Now edge computing is taking the industry the other way and putting the compute capacity and storage closer to customers. We are currently studying the capabilities this will bring to us and how it will change the split of functionalities between the home, the edge, and the cloud or the operator’s on-premises equipment.
9. What is going to be required for companies such as VO to be a success in the forthcoming decade?
It is important to engage with customers and with partners, to be more transparent, to be more integrated. When you create intimacy and proximity with customers, you create more opportunities. There is always risk involved in being more open; if you make a mistake it will be very public, and in some areas, such as with our Anti-Piracy Center, we need to keep our algorithms secret for them to be effective. But I honestly don’t think companies working in the old classical way will succeed.
“When you create intimacy and proximity with customers, you create more opportunities.”
It’s about the agile DevOps model of delivering new services. I have worked a lot with companies like Facebook and Google and it is bringing a real change and real values to them. It’s not that easy to replicate, but you can deliver more functionalities, more iterations, and you dramatically improve and change the cycles and the phases of working with customers.
For the future, I want VO to be even more ambitious than it already is. We have achieved a lot but I want us to achieve even more. There is a huge amount of potential in this company and I want us to be bold, be innovative, and be unafraid of the future. There are many challenges to come, of that I am certain, but working with our customers in new and more intimate ways we can meet them all head on and position ourselves together for greater success