Last month I had the pleasure of joining the Asia Video Industry Association’s (AVIA) live ‘TechTalk’ session, alongside industry experts Filippo Giachi (DOCOMO Digital), Shakunt Malhotra (Globecast Asia), Parminder Singh (MediaCorp), and hosts Shad Hashmi (AWS APAC) and Louis Boswell (CEO, AVIA). We started the discussion by looking at how technology has changed the industry. There’s been a jump from analog cable and satellite to digital cable and satellite, digital terrestrial, OTT, and internet-delivered video services in recent decades. The broadcast landscape has changed considerably! In many respects, these technology changes have made reaching consumers more complicated, not less, and have introduced new challenges. However, with these challenges, come additional models to monetize and reach consumers.
Delivery models are evolving in the OTT space
If we look at the video encoding space, the basic process used to involve plugging an SDI into an encoder, and a video signal would appear instantly. In today’s world, however, you may have to manage multiple transcoded feeds (or camera angles) simultaneously, whether it’s operated via an OTT service, multiple CDNs, or a variety of streaming protocols/formats. The overall process of getting content to reach all the different devices in the world is now increasingly complex – especially if the aspiration is to deliver a uniform broadcast-quality standard across all delivery formats/devices.
Of course, this is great news for consumers. They have access to a potential overabundance of content that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago. If we take the recent Olympic Games as an example, under traditional broadcast delivery, TV audiences in the United States would likely have had access to perhaps the five leading sports via costly satellite transmission. Now, thanks to the ubiquity of OTT services, viewers can ultimately determine which of the 33 sports and 46 disciplines they wish to watch from any venue and on any device and at any time (via on-demand VOD).
The complexity of delivery brings opportunity, particularly in terms of getting closer to audiences. For many service providers looking to make a frictionless transition to new SVOD and AVOD business models, they must find new ways to broaden access to their audiences while at the same time optimizing operations and costs. We can track viewer behaviors with far greater degrees of accuracy, monitor the exact number of people tuning in to a channel, and provide more accurate and meaningful content recommendations. We have the metrics to measure who’s watching what and where, and this is key to helping to develop an even more intimate relationship between a brand and its fans.
Achieving ultra-low latency streaming
The early days of OTT in live sports represented somewhat of a lottery for broadcasters and even today, negotiating erratic spikes in traffic demand continues to be a significant challenge. The biggest events in the world – whether it’s the World Cup, the Super Bowl, or again, the recent Olympic Games – all need enormous capacity levels to orchestrate and negotiate against these spikes. The difference, of course, is making educated predictions and applying scalable technology infrastructure. The Super Bowl half-time show will naturally pull in increased viewership from casual and general entertainment fans. An event like the Olympics can be heavily determined by a spur-of-the-moment viewing decision and the sporting narrative involving a successful national athlete or team.
For me, resolving the low latency challenge will be one of the biggest success stories that our industry will overcome in the coming years. To deliver premium quality streaming, we have to optimize the Audio-Video (A/V) pipeline with an appropriate trade-off between encoding cost, the quality of video and the bandwidth consumed. The content must be aligned with the main broadcast stream and ensure that the system is reliable. As the growth of OTT continues to transition towards becoming the first screen experience, system downtime will no longer be tolerated.
This is especially true when you consider the growth of sports betting in the US. As my colleague Olie Baumann recently wrote, we need to achieve a latency that is so low that a person at a sporting match can’t share intel on the action ahead of what is on screen. At present, a streaming viewer would be very ill-advised to bet against a fan sat on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the US Open tennis final!
The evolution of the cloud
Another topic of conversation for the panel revolved around the success of the “bare metal” cloud space and whether it is resonating in the current media world. For me, the short answer is no – as cloud costs continue to drop and cloud resources are deployed closer to venues (the so-called MEC or Media Edge Computing).. Whether they are a cloud provider or a CDN, all vendors are focused on building out more capacity at lower costs with higher efficiencies. That might include fiber connections from their different nodes or more capacity by bringing in more “bare metal” into their cloud.
MediaKind works with several leading sports broadcasters and federations around the globe, and the issue of scale is universal, particularly when there are high-profile competitions or weekend events that change the game in terms of infrastructure resources. Traditionally, broadcasters would invest large sums of money on a transponder on a satellite and aim to maintain this equipment for at least a decade. In today’s cloud world we have reserved instances where you can pay extra money upfront to reserve hardware and have the flexibility to use it on demand via an as-a-Service style model. The cost-efficiencies can be locked in and guaranteed.
The bottom line is that the media industry needs capacity for OTT delivery on demand. It’s an area that our cloud partners have been working hard to address. Our cloud-native Aquila Streaming solution, for instance, is deployable on bare metal, private cloud, or in any cloud service provider, enabling content aggregators, content providers, and operators to deploy, manage and operate OTT and converged broadcast headends. My esteemed colleague Allen Broome, CEO, discusses our cloud roadmap in greater detail in this blog.
Knowing how to build and operate a VOD streaming service is well understood. There are lots of solutions available to do that. But delivering large-scale live events at broadcast quality and scale is still one of the industry’s most challenging propositions. In my next blog, I’ll be taking a deeper dive into the world of multi-channel distributors and the process of aggregating procured content (and sometimes content of their own!) for final distribution to the consumer.