It was a sunny Friday morning, but I could still see the Eiffel Tower through the blinds of this conference room in Bouygues Telecom’s tower. I was the second person outside of the company to see the Android TV-powered project, and I could feel the excitement in the air.
In the fascinating French telecommunications industry, Bouygues Telecom has had a rough year. Now, the company has no choice but to rethink everything from the ground up. And this is exactly what the company is planning to do with Project Miami. It’s a bold experiment.
Project Miami is a new TV box powered by the freshly announced Android TV platform
Behind the cheesy code name, Project Miami is a new TV box powered by the freshly announced Android TV platform. It’s exactly what Google has been wanting to build for years. But the reason why Google failed with the Google TV is that it needed strong ISP and content partners to make it useful — companies like Bouygues Telecom.
Bouygues Telecom was smart enough to work with Google on this project. Once the decision was made to use Google’s operating system, the company had only one objective in mind — ship as quickly as possible.
That’s why the telecom company partnered with iFeelSmart, a French startup specializing in software development for TV. It only took 12 months for the two companies to create Project Miami and show me a demo.
A New Set-Top Box
The device itself looks like an Apple TV or an Amazon Fire TV. It’s basically just a small black box with an HDMI port that you put below your TV. The remote itself has nothing special; it looks like a traditional TV remote without the useless buttons.
When you turn on the device, it gets more interesting. By default, live TV starts. But when you go to the menu, a modern and fast interface shows up. You can browse the TV guide, get recommendations thanks to Spideo, launch Android apps, go to the Play Store, rent a movie, play a car game and more. It has all the power features of Android in a sleek package, and with live TV.
It has all the power features of Android in a sleek package, and with live TV.
Overall, I would consider Project Miami a UI success. Hiding Android complexity while retaining its features is no small feat. And you get access to hundreds of live TV channels, because Bouygues Telecom already knows content providers quite well.
As a reminder, in France, most people watch TV through these set-top boxes. All Internet service providers give customers a set-top box to watch IPTV and use as a media center. In 2002, Free invented the triple play offering with the Freebox. It was a groundbreaking offering for the French market. Since then, other telecom companies had no choice but to adapt.
Yet, all the boxes out there still have an ugly and slow interface. They do the job but they could be better. Bouygues Telecom is finally bringing the French set-top box market to an era of modern design. Broadband subscribers will get the new device in October 2014.
A New Culture
But Project Miami is larger than just a set-top box. It’s the reset of Bouygues Telecom. There were 6 people surrounding me to answer all my questions for two hours. They kept finishing each other sentences. It wasn’t a typical CAC 40 press briefing.
The 23rd floor used to be the restaurant for the top executives of the company. Now, everyone eats in the same canteen to cut costs.
Part of that was probably due to the fact that Bouygues Telecom is working with iFeelSmart on this project — it’s a young and scrappy company compared to Bouygues Telecom. “Imagine what it feels like to receive commits at 2:30am when you work for Bouygues Telecom,” someone said.
The meeting took place on the 23rd and last floor of Bouygues Telecom’s office. This floor looked mostly empty. Later, I learned that the 23rd floor used to be the restaurant for the top executives of the company. Now, everyone eats in the same canteen to cut costs.
And this is very relevant. Ever since Free entered and disrupted the mobile market, profits have shrunk.
Currently, Bouygues Telecom doesn’t have enough subscribers to heavily invest in its infrastructure like Orange or SFR, and has too many employees to keep healthy margins like Free. In other words, Bouygues Telecom is stuck in the middle.
Earlier this year, Bouygues Telecom wanted to fix that by acquiring SFR, the second telecom company in France. It could have been a great way to get a better infrastructure, improve the competitive landscape, increase prices and more. But SFR got acquired by Numericable instead.
Now, Bouygues Telecom has two options: it could try to sell the company again, or cut jobs to stay independent. It’s a gloomy future, and that’s why the company is well positioned to rethink everything internally.
The fact that Bouygues Telecom is showcasing this product to a journalist working for an American outlet is very surprising in itself. It makes a lot of sense, as there are many French readers on TechCrunch (including French journalists working for other outlets), but there are very few big French companies who would think this way.
Project Miami was made in secret at Bouygues Telecom with iFeelSmart. In such a big company, if you want to act quickly, you need to keep most people in the dark. Yet, it’s a bold strategy as some teams kept working on new iterations of the existing box, even though these updates won’t ever see the light of the day.
Bouygues Telecom wanted to act as a startup, and the result is a promising new box that doesn’t even have a name yet. Until now, only Free could pull something like this. More than the box itself, everything surrounding this project shows a new innovation strategy at the telecom company. Now, let’s hope it’s not too late.