15.59 Europe/London, September 8, 2011 By Robert Briel

IBC 2011 – AMSTERDAM. Mike Fries, CEO and president of Liberty Global, has given a first view of UPC’s Horizon Gateway during the closing keynote on the first day of IBC 2011. The new service also comprises the Horizon Online service with streaming video and a 3,000 title strong VOD library and full iPad integration. The online and tablet version have the same look and feel, while the iPad can also serve as a remote control and video from the tablet can be streamed to the TV set.

“Over the last 20 years, Liberty Global has been at the forefront of driving technological innovation for its customers in Europe. Both in high-speed broadband and digital interactive television, we have constantly strived to improve our customers’ experience. With Horizon, we’re reinventing television. Now we set a new standard here in Europe. In essence this brings together cable and the internet platform, with an amazing user interface.”

Fries went on to explain that cable has been good at three points. “We have great customer relationships, we have a great pipe and we provide all the good stuff, thanks to the good relationships with the content providers.”

But there are also three points on which cable did not perform very well, “We don’t allow people to share our content, we don’t allow you to bring your own content on the platform and the user experience isn’t that great. We took it to heart.”

Interestingly, Fries credited Steve Jobs to be a major inspirator by showing a clip with remarks Jobs made during the D* Conference 18 months ago, where he said that the problem with TV innovation is going to market.

By planning Horizon, Fries said they went back to square one to create a consistent user interface across all different functions. “We ripped up the set top, it is no longer a set-top, but an elegant media entertainment platform with intuitive navigation. It is the only equipment you need in the house.”

The Horizon Gateway is a media and entertainment platform for the home, which integrates cable, web-based and personal content. Using a single interface and a powerful recommendation engine, consumers will be able to share and view content on multiple screens and devices wirelessly throughout the home.

According to Fries, contextual integration is key to the system, with personalised recommendations built in. In the demo he showed that if a viewer is watching, for instance, National Geographic, the system will point you towards similar VOD content and even show personalised advertising. “Recommendation is at the heart. We even recorded programmes you might like and we offer featured content as well.”

“Horizon is designed to put a computer at the heart of your digital home,” according to the company. “This multimedia gateway will create a wireless network that connects your TV to all of your personal devices – computers, tablets and smartphones. The TV interface uses 3D graphics and images that will bring your content to life and make navigating simple, instant and seamless. Supported by search and recommendation features, it will integrate access to personal media content such as photos, music and movies stored in the home or in the cloud.

“Horizon will also allow customers to take their entertainment experience beyond their home TVs. Applications have been developed for smartphones and tablet devices (second screens) as well as web browsers that will enable a similar and complementary experience on different devices both in and out of the home.”

Fries did not disclose the pricing of Horizon: “We’re not disclosing the price, but it’s not substantial…it’s partially a retention device.” Also, access to Horizon Online and the tablet version are included in the price.

Horizon aims to be an open platform bringing a new dimension to the TV experience, much like apps did for smartphones and tablets. The Horizon ecosystem is open and scalable so developers are free to write new applications.

Liberty Global is working together with various content partners including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to bring them to the TV screen using apps on the Horizon gateway. The company said around 60 partners have already developed apps and will soon release an SDK for content owners and application developers. During the demo we saw apps from Dutch automobile association ANWB, Autoweek magazine, SBS broadcasting catch-up TV and the JustEat.nl restaurant web service.

Liberty Global said it is currently performing field trials on the UPC network in The Netherlands and plans to roll out the service to consumers during the first quarter of 2012, with UPC Cablecom in Switzerland and Unitymedia in Germany following suit.

The Horizon Gateway supports MoCa, Wi-Fi and DNLA. Horizon uses Ioko’s enterprise service platform and video content management from thePlatform (see separate story). Enpathy Labs is responsible for the website design.

It is our take that the vision of Horizon looks like the right answer to the ever changing challenges of the video market. The user interface looks smooth and intuitive and is very impresssive, the personalisation aspect could become a key driver.

The system is in field trials right now, but at IBC so far we haven’t see a live demo yet. One of the challenges of Horizon will certainly be that the game is changing while being played: when it was first announced, there wasn’t an iPad on the market – but now it could -and should – be an integral part of the TV experience.