There is little doubt that the growing use of online video has brought Internet video technologies to the center of the media landscape.
These technologies allowed 187.8 million Americans to watch 46.6 billion online content videos and another 28.7 billion online video ads in March, 2014. Perhaps most notably for the future of online video, improvements in those technologies are convincing a number of broadcasters and programmers to consider adopting them as their core video platform for both TV and online delivery—a topic that will get much play in Santa Clara, Calif., Sept. 10- 11 at B&C and Multichannel News’ Next TV Summit San Francisco.
Much of this development is based on recent improvements in cloud-based services, encoding, video processing, streaming, security, measurement and other online video technologies that have greatly streamlined the process of delivering video. These services also promise to reduce capital expenditures for the equipment and to allow them to quickly launch new services without building new facilities—a huge boon all around.
Engineered for Fragmentation
As is often the case, these improvements were prompted by some major operational difficulties. “When we started to see a hockey stick increase in consumption in 2010 and 2011, broadcasters were having a hard time projecting the kind of demand they would get for a live-streaming event,” says Sudheer Sirivara, partner director of engineering, Azure Media Services at Microsoft. “They would have to scramble to keep up with the demand and the growth of IP-connected devices” to optimize the video for the device and available bandwidth.
Today, Ralf Jacob, chief revenue officer, Verizon Digital Media Services, says that clients simply have to deliver one file with the appropriate metadata. It is then automatically converted to fit the profile of hundreds of different devices. This cuts costs for the broadcasters and improves the user experience because the content is formatted to fit a specific device and available bandwidth.
Such cloud-based streaming services also reduce upfront capital costs and bandwidth issues. “Verizon has become known in the industry as the company that is eating broadcaster’s hardware,” Jacob says. “We are actually eliminating all the equipment they used to use and allowing broadcasters to simplify their workflows.”
Microsoft’s Sirivara adds that during the Sochi Winter Olympics, NBC Sports used Microsoft Azure cloud-based services to add additional encoding and network capacity to handle the hefty streaming requirements. “They didn’t have to purchase all this capital intensive equipment that would be sitting idle after the 17 days of the Olympics were over,” he says.
That has prompted enormous interest from programmers and operators in a variety of different systems. “The technology is really in place and truly at scale,” says Ashley Still, senior director of product management for the primetime offering from Adobe System, which supplies technologies that are used by more than 100 major programmers and operators for digital delivery and TV Everywhere services. “We’re exiting the period of experimentation and entering the period where companies are really successfully organizing the delivery of Internet TV.”
More improvements are on the way. Brightcove, Microsoft, Ooyala, Piksel, Rovi, VDMS and others have recently announced or are planning to show off major improvements to their technologies in the leadup to IBC, which runs Sept. 11-16 in Amsterdam.
One major focus is making the offerings more modular and flexible. “The first generation of services had a cookie-cutter approach that didn’t necessarily fit everyone’s business model,” says Mitch Askenas, senior VP of commercial for the Americas at Piksel. Its new Piksel Video Platform is built on a SaaS, or softwareas- a-service, business model that allows users to select only the functionality they require.
Other major improvements include upgrades to handle 4K content, enhanced digital rights management, streaming technologies and better integration into existing broadcast and studio infrastructures.
Content production has also been positively impacted. Ellen Camloh, senior director of worldwide segment and product marketing at NewTek notes that they’ve seen a significant upsurge in interest for production technologies for streaming sports, music and YouTube channels. Costs for their multicamera production systems start as low as $6,000 and run up to their $50,000 premier TriCaster systems with features that can be easily integrated into broadcast infrastructures.
“The Patriot League used the TriCaster system to expand the number of events they streamed from 150 to nearly 800 a year,” Camloh says. “There really seems to be no end in sight in the appetite for live sports.”
Kurt Michel, director of media product marketing at Akamai Technologies stresses that cloud-based, modular approaches are particularly appealing for companies struggling to address the complexity of delivering content to many different devices and to handle rapidly increasing capacity.
The complexity of handling delivery in a multitude of formats for many new devices only seems to be increasing, he adds, as more consumption shifts to mobile. “In 2012, only about 4% of the London Olympics traffic was in [HTTP live streaming], which is a pretty good proxy for mobile, but that increased to 20% by the Sochi 2014 Olympics and 39% for the World Cup this summer,” Michel says, citing traffic data from their networks.
He also notes that 24 games during the World Cup exceeded the 3.5TB peak traffic for Sochi and that on a given day, games might account for 15% to 30% of the Internet traffic.
Cloud-based solutions provide a great deal of flexibility in handling those challenges, as systems can be quickly upgraded to handle new formats and devices, he says. Capacity can also be added during peak loads and then shut down during lighter periods.
Adobe’s Still agrees, adding that, “those platforms need to more flexible and modular,” so that broadcasters can integrate them into their existing infrastructure. “We are agnostic as to the back end and did that purposefully so they can pick the best-in-class vendor for encoding or the whole back end,” she says.
Jain at Brightcove explains that they will be also showing modular solutions at IBC that can be adapted to different business models. “The strategies of each broadcaster are unique,” he says. “The idea that one size fits all is a fallacy.”
Cloud-based streaming solutions also provide broadcasters with the ability to quickly launch and shut down services. Sirivara at Microsoft explains that the OTT service Blinkbox in the U.K. not only saved 30% to 40% by moving to the cloud, they were also rapidly able to expand their catalog.
Vendors are also beefing up their infrastructures to handle 4K. Rajeev Raman, the CEO of 1 Mainstream says that they have been working with Samsung on apps for the delivery of UltraHD content to Samsung’s 4K TV.
“We’ve created an automated system and templates,” that allow content providers to easily set up apps to deliver content for the TVs, he says.
Sirivara at Microsoft adds that Azure currently has the computing power and the storage in the cloud to handle 4K delivery. The bottleneck, he says, is the bandwidth for delivering it into the home. Nor is there much interest from service providers to begin offering 4K content. “But when that happens, we have the capacity and are ready to take it on,” he says.
THE END OF AN INFRASTRUCTURES ERA IS IN SIGHT
In recent months, vendors that were traditionally focused on digital delivery of content report that programmers and operators are increasingly interested in using cloud-based IPTV technologies from the online video world as their core technology.
“The old guys who think in terms of broadcast have raised the most objections to the idea, but every single one of those old network operation guys who have actually tried this have embraced it because it allows them to focus on content,” says Ralf Jacob, chief revenue officer, Verizon Digital Media Services, which has been pitching the idea of using these IP- and cloud-based platforms to deliver network feeds to broadcast affiliates.
Jonathan Wilner, VP of product at Ooyala agrees. Arguing that this is “the end of an era in broadcast infrastructures,” Wilner stresses that they are focusing on making their IP video platform “an integral part of the broadcast plant” by more closely integrating it into existing infrastructures.
“It will not be an overnight change,” adds Anil Jain, senior VP and general manager for media at Brightcove. “But the rapid rise in complexity and the impracticality of managing that internally is pushing acceptance” of cloud-based IP solutions.