Nuvyyo – the company behind the Tablo OTA DVR – is a product of the cord cutting age. Nuvyyo’s Tablo is designed to take the benefits of OTT services – like commercial-free programming and on-demand content – and apply them to over-the-air content, which the Tablo can record and then re-play on multiple devices. It’s a unique position, and one that gives Grant Hall, Nuvyyo’s founder and CEO, a distinct perspective on the relationship between the OTA and OTT business spaces.
We spoke with Grant over the phone, and he dished on everything from Nuvyyo’s latest plans (get ready for a Kodi plugin) to its branding. Check out the full interview below!
Cordcutting.com: Could you describe a typical day as CEO of Nuvyyo? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Grant Hall: There probably is not a typical day. I wear a couple of different hats here at Nuvyyo: I’m the CEO, so [there are] typical CEO activities – in terms of the financial side, dealing with investors, raising money, all that kind of stuff. But I’m also the products lead – so in terms of providing a vision on what the product should be, making decisions on what features go in or out, and providing overall direction to the team – that’s my second role, and probably my most favorite role.
So a typical day is kind of a mix of all of those things: dealing with the engineers, reviewing schedules, [and] talking about new features. We have biweekly meetings with the management team to go over, from top to bottom, the entire operation of the company – [we] look through the financials, our sales revenues, expenses – the whole nine yards.
Could you tell us a little bit about Nuvyyo and Tablo’s histories? Where did these ideas come from, and how did you guys get your start?
We started bootstrapping a product when we formed Nuvyyo, back around the 2010, 2011 timeframe. That product we called JetStream, and it was a product that placeshifted all of the media that you had in your home network – your movies, songs, videos, [and] photos – to an iPad application so that you could access that content wherever you were. So we released that, bootstrapped it to dev ourselves with our own resources [and] a little bit of government help, and we launched that at the end of 2011. It got a good reception from the press and we shipped it about six months later. [We] shipped quite a few of them out to our first round of customers, but then ran out of gas and realized that it was hard to bootstrap a consumer electronics company, because of the importance of marketing and sales, and being able to fund that appropriately, and setting up the right distribution channels.
But when we did that … people were asking us, well it’s great that I can get all my stored content from my home network, and look at my photos and music and videos, but when I’m traveling I still want to watch TV – I want to see all the local news and sports, and I want to get plugged in to what’s happening in my community. So we added a USB tuner to that product, and that’s really what introduced us to this incredible HDTV that was out there and free for the taking. So that was a real epiphany for us. Because the next thing people asked for was well, great, we can now watch TV when we’re on the road – I want to be able to record that so I can timeshift it.
So at that point we thought, well, this is a huge opportunity. HDTV over the air was just taking off, cord cutting, over the top was starting to take off with Netflix… [we knew] this would be a huge wave. So we… built a prototype of the Tablo and shopped that around the investment community and, in 2013, managed to secure the investment needed to create the product that we have on the market today.
So that’s kind of how we came to be, and with the right investment, we’ve been able to engineer a product, launch it, support it into the channel, and support our customers.
Which companies do you consider to be Nuvyyo’s most direct competitors? Are there any companies that you consider to be competitors that might surprise us?
I don’t think so – I mean, there are really only three of us left in the market. You probably saw the Forbes article a couple of days ago, but there’s Channel Master, which has a fairly straightforward, simple product, that connects to a single TV – so we’d call that a “legacy DVR,” but [it’s] very effective. And then we have TiVo, which is the 1,000 pound gorilla: they invented the DVR. They’ve been in the OTA DVR market [since] a couple of years ago. They saw the same opportunity we do. But again, we call that kind of a legacy DVR – it connects, usually, to a single TV, [and] it wasn’t built from the outset to stream to all your modern devices and media streamers.
So we kind of view ourselves as the next-generation DVR, the next-gen TiVo, because we designed it from the outset to stream to any device that the consumer may have.
That kind of leads into my next question: what do you consider to be Nuvyyo/Tablo’s primary competitive advantage?
Our competitive advantage is that we do not have an HDMI port on the box – so we designed it from the outset to stream to any device that the customer may have. We support every smartphone, tablet, Android, iOS, PC, Mac, Roku, we’re just coming out with an Apple TV app, Android TV – pretty much any device that the customer may have, they can enjoy that great over-the-air HD content.
And I think the second thing we tried to do was make the application more like a modern, Netflix-style application. So we wanted not just a text-based grid guide that took a lot of time and trouble to navigate, but we wanted a much more visually interesting, accessible UI that was a joy to use, that was much more like a modern, Netflix, over-the-top app.
How do you see the relationship between OTA and OTT?
We think they’re completely complementary. I think we’re riding on the success of Netflix and things like Sling TV and Hulu. A typical customer of ours has had cable or satellite for a long time, but maybe a year or two ago they discovered Netflix, so they bought a Roku box, or maybe an Apple TV, or a smart TV. So they downloaded Netflix, they started watching more and more, they were entranced by the amount of content, the fact that there were no commercials… and then they added Sling TV, maybe, or they added Hulu. And now they start questioning, well, I still want my local stuff, but why am I paying Comcast or Time Warner 100, 150 bucks a month for those 500 channels I’m not really watching anymore?
So what we do is we bring you, on that same device and through an app very similar to Netflix or Hulu, all those great network shows, local news, sports, and all your local TV. So, in that sense, it’s a perfect complement. And the advantage to the end user is, well, now I can cut the cord and get rid of that cable, that Comcast or Time Warner, and save thousands of dollars. And we have some customers that say, you know, I’ve put my kid through college just on the money we’re saving on cable TV [laughs].
You mentioned Sling TV and Playstation Vue – I know that Vue allows users to record their live TV kind of like you do. How much of a threat do you consider them to be to your business space?
Well, again, I think it’s still complementary. Because if you look at what Playstation Vue – and in certain cities, they have introduced some local stations – but in the vast majority of U.S. market, they do not have the local stations. So, again, if you want the local stations, you get Tablo, and then Playstation Vue brings you all those specialty channels and sports channels. I think, again, it’s perfectly complementary.
One more question about competition – do you expect to see any competition from the OTT devices companies, like Roku or Apple? I know some Android boxes are already doing something sort of similar to what you do, but do you think it’s a matter of time before Amazon or Roku adds a coaxial jack and starts going after your market?
You know, it’s hard, and I don’t have a really good crystal ball on that. But the problem with that is [that] adding the ATSC capability and the capability to transcode it and stream it to other devices is not inexpensive, and it requires some special hardware, and that’s precisely what we have in the Tablo. If Apple or Roku were to add that to their box, that would add a substantial additional cost to that box, an additional cost to the end user.
So I think the right answer is still to have a separate box, like we do. That optimizes the economics, and the people who don’t want the OTA and are happy with cable or satellite, they don’t incur the additional cost of the tuners and the things they’re not going to use. And those people who do want OTA, again, have a very cheap box that they can put on multiple TVs, and then have one central box – which is the Tablo – that does the OTA component. Because, remember, we can stream four to six streams simultaneously within the home. So every TV can be watching a different show or, subject to how many tuners you have in the box, a different live TV show. So it doesn’t make sense, really, to have tuners and coax connections on every box or smart tv or device in the home.
So, in a nutshell, I guess my answer is: I think we’ve got the right solution now, and I don’t think that the economics really work to make that desirable for Roku or Apple TV.
Your company is called Nuvyyo, of course, but you’ve become almost nearly synonymous with your product, Tablo. What’s the story behind that branding? Why has Nuvyyo chosen to brand in this way?
Well [laughs] okay, well, Nuvyyo was me, alone, sitting at my computer six years ago trying to come up with a name that didn’t show up in Google. It kind of came from… I liked Arroyo, which is a stream, but somebody had taken that, and then I liked New Video, so I kind of mashed the two together and that’s what we have. But my marketing team hates the name.
[Nuvyyo] is the company name, but we do tend to brand around Tablo. So our website is tablotv.com, and Tablo is really the customer-facing brand.
What is Nuvyyo most focused on now – whether it be a problem, an opportunity, etc.?
Well, we think the market is still huge for what we’re doing today. I think our biggest challenge is just awareness. A surprising number of people still have no idea that local stations broadcast in high def and that it’s available for free. So I think we have a huge market out there – our real job is to educate the market on the availability of free over-the-air HDTV and that there are great solutions to allow them to avail themselves of that service.
Beyond that, we’ve focused over the last year or two on really supporting more devices. We started off mainly with tablets and smartphones. We’ve added Roku. We’re just about to release an Apple TV app – that’s coming very soon. We’ve got Android TV apps, we’re just about to release a smart app for the LG WebOS TV. We’re working on a [Samsung] Tizen [Smart TV] app.
And – just to give you a scoop – we’re just about to release a Kodi plugin. We worked with the Kodi guys, and they developed a very slick plugin that gives you all the capability that you have in the Roku app, but through Kodi. And that will be fully supported and in the Kodi repository. We’re going to go to beta with that in the next couple of weeks, and we hope to have it on the market in Spring along with the Apple TV app.
Are there any new products on the horizon, or are you sticking with what you have on the market right now?
Yeah, like most companies, we don’t really pre-announce what’s coming down the pipeline – so I’m not going to do that [laughs].
Well, it doesn’t hurt to try!
Yeah. But we’re obviously working on things – we have lots of ideas. But our focus right now has really been on more devices, to make the Tablo itself accessible from more places more easily. And [we’re] also really focusing on hardening the software, making sure it’s really bulletproof. And that’s going to remain our focus for a little while.
What do you think the entertainment landscape – by which I mean all of it, streaming, cable, OTA, OTT – will look like in five years?
I think the move to OTT, over the top content, is unstoppable. However, I do not think that conventional TV is going away either. OTT has been around for a while, Netflix has been around for a while, but if you look at the Nielsen studies that track the amount of time that people watch TV, it’s only gone down by about 5 [or] 10% at the most in the past decade or so. So people still watch TV, they still want that connection to their network shows, local shows, they like to watch live TV. Part of the thing is, that’s going to be delivered in a different way – so, you have Sling TV, Playstation Vue. There’s going to be a movement to more and more content over the top.
We still think there’s a place for OTA, obviously – and we think, as I said before, that it’s the perfect complement. So I don’t think TV’s going away, I think it’s just going to be enjoyed in a different way. I think the conventional cable and satellite distribution companies are going to have to change a bit, because more and more traffic is going to be over the broadband connection over the top.
That’s about as good as my crystal ball is [laughs].