EchoStar plans to deepen its cable ties with the introduction of Aria, a technology ecosystem that is designed exclusively for mid-size and independent cable operators.

Aria will run in concert with new EchoStar SD, HD or SlingLoaded set-top boxes and will allow operators to offer services over multiple platforms and for out-of-home viewing that can brand the "experience" of the local operator.

"Our engineers have designed an economical technology platform that will allow smaller cable operators to deliver the premium television features and services in demand by consumers, without investments in new facilities, servers, data centers and additional engineering staff," said Mark Jackson, president of EchoStar Technologies.

Aria is a hybrid IP/QAM solution that uses existing cable plant and features cloud-based VOD, TV Everywhere and an interactive HD program guide. It will also provide system maintenance and software upgrades.

Though not a breakthrough technology (Avail-TVN is doing a similar "white box" OTT service, and the Comcast Media Center has its VOD in a Box), Aria is expected to help smaller operators better compete.

"Major cable operators are busy building over-the-top video and moving to bring Internet connection to their own infrastructures. That's great for Comcast and other large MSOs, but smaller operators can't do that. That's where Aria fits. We think EchoStar is in a great spot to accommodate second- and third-tier operators," maintains Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst for the research firm In-Stat.

For years, smaller operators have depended on the reuse of consumer premises equipment developed for larger operators. That has changed, however, as larger operators develop their own private clouds.

"The trend is toward large pay-TV services having their own over-the-top machines. Basically, it's now OTT in a box instead of VOD in a box," Kaufhold said.

EchoStar has scheduled Aria's launch for June 14 at The Cable Show in Chicago.