The proliferation of over-the-top services and shifting viewing patterns is significantly boosting demand for cloud-based technologies, which offer operators and broadcasters a way to simplify the process of delivering content to a host of Internet-connected devices.
“This year we have seen a massive transition to the acceptance of over-the-top services,” says James Segil, CMO of Verizon Digital Media Services. “We have reached an inflection point when everyone is putting together their strategy and actually making it happen,” a development that has prompted a number of major broadcasters with OTT offerings to sign up.
For programmers, these services promise to greatly reduce the complexity of encoding OTT streams for dozens if not hundreds of different screen sizes and operating systems. It will also help speed up the whole process of launching facilities. “It gives you an amazing service where we can move as fast as Apple or Google or Netflix,” says Conrad Clemson, CTO, Cisco Service Provider Video, Software and Solutions, who adds that “if we don’t move in that direction, those guys are going to run all over the top of us.”
Chicago Will Be ‘The Cloudy City’
To realize that vision, Amazon, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and other major providers of cloud-based platforms for the media and entertainment industry have been making a number of improvements to their offerings that will on display at the upcoming INTX conference, May 5-7 in Chicago.
One notable area of discussion will be the closer ties between traditional TV tech vendors and major cloud providers. Last September, Imagine Communications announced it would work with Microsoft to make its Zenium software defined workflow management platform available on Microsoft Azure Media Services. Two weeks ago, the company added Verizon Digital Media Services (VDMS) and HP to its list of partners.
Such deals are a key part of both Verizon and Microsoft’s strategies because they will help integrate their cloud-based platforms deeper into broadcast infrastructures. “We’ve created a rich ecosystem of partners who can use their existing customer reach to better scale the platform,” says Sudheer Sirivara, partner director of program management for Microsoft Azure Media Services.
These alliances have also extended into the broadcast arena, where VDMS recently acquired a software system called Translate from the Disney/ABC Television Group.
Disney/ABC works with VDMS on its Watch apps. Its tech teams developed the software to align its broadcast infrastructure with VDMS’ platform.
This will allow VDMS to offer other broadcasters software for both digital ad insertion and program replacement for live, linear digital simulcasts. “We are trying to eliminate the complexity of the workflow, and the acquisition of the Translate solution stack from Disney is a key component of that,” Segil says.
Recently, Microsoft also announced a number of additional tools for further streamlining workflows, including a preview version of a new Live Encoding offering, the Azure Media Player and improvements to the Media Services Indexer. “The Live Encoding feature would allow anyone from a journalist with a cellphone to a broadcaster to send video to the cloud, where we can do the multi-bit rate transcoding, packaging, monetization and distribution,” says Sirivara.
Verizon, Cisco and others have also been investing in expanding the capacity of their networks.
As part of a larger strategy of making all its products cloud-based, Cisco acquired private provider Metacloud last year and has since been investing heavily in data centers while working with local telcos around the world to expand its global Intercloud platform. “It will allow users to virtualize operations for over-the-top of TV Everywhere offerings and get a global reach,” says Clemson, who expects the product to formally launch this year.
Meanwhile, Verizon tripled the egress access capacity of its network to 10TB in 2014 and will be increasing it again to about 18TB-20TB by the end of 2015 to handle the growing demand for IP video, Segil explains. “It will allow us to handle massive live events or big linear channels with improved performance,” he says.