By Carl Furgusson, Vice President, Portfolio Strategy, MediaKind
Let’s address the virtual elephant in the room. 2020 has shifted consumer habits and demand for video entertainment is booming – but not in the way any of us had anticipated a few months ago. With the global health emergency forcing people to stay at home, OTT library content is today’s king. There is a surging demand for SVOD services; Nielsen states the time spent on streaming platforms grew by 34 percent over two weeks at the beginning of March 2020.
The missing element in the service provider arsenal is live event content. Of course, we hope the health and safety of the global population will be at such a level that viewers and subscribers will soon have the opportunity to regain their live binging appetites and resume watching their favorite events, sports teams and entertainment offerings.
In all likelihood, many events will resume initially within empty stadiums, arenas and studios. When these events do take place, expect an unprecedented surge in viewing activity. But what happens then? How will operators cope with the collective strain on internet capacity? Can they keep up with the demand for live streaming content? Will they be able to scale services quickly? And what technology is needed to facilitate this process?
Let’s start with capacity. At a time when people are watching live content across multiple devices, the importance of reducing low latency for live unicast content is fundamental. Although the element of delay on a second screen device is inevitable, the length of delay can be the difference between experiencing a crucial goal or iconic news development in the moment or hearing about it second hand via SMS, social media or even a phone call.
Last year we launched a solution that addresses the delay caused by high glass-to-glass latency in OTT streaming and ABR content, taking it from 45-60 seconds to just 3-7 seconds. In other words, broadcast levels of delivery, supported by CMAF standards, complementing CTE for MPEG-DASH as a packaged output format. This greatly reduces the minimum data size of a delivered segment down to an individual chunk, rather than multiple seconds of video. It is optimized to integrate with media players to minimize latency and offer reliable delivery.
Although live, linear TV sports broadcasts will bloom again, the appetite for on-demand streaming has now been embraced by a much wider audience through necessity. It is likely that post-pandemic, demand from streaming subscription services may sustain; when workers return to the office, media consumption must be fitted around other constraints. For those yet to deploy a streaming service to complement traditional broadcast operations, there is an acute imperative to get something out to the market quickly. For others with basic services, the adjacent challenge is around scaling up to meet both short term demand and ultimately, longer term service delivery challenges.
With consideration to the unknown economic after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many operators are cautious around large CAPEX investment. In practical terms, the current lockdown makes it difficult to conduct large scale infrastructure rollouts. As such, much of the focus around meeting the needs for more streaming services is being delivered through the cloud. This is not just a short term reaction to the current situation but part of an ongoing media trend that aligns with the pay-as-you-go nature of the SVOD model. The ability to scale up in the cloud means many operators have ready-made capabilities for key elements such as ingest, transcoding, play-out and ancillary web-based account management.
Earlier this month we also launched our Aquila Streaming solution as-a-Service (aaS) on the Google Cloud Platform. Our aaS model leverages Constant Video Quality (CVQ) technology which we use to optimize picture quality for live video services up to UHD – enabling broadcast-quality, premium experiences across all networks. It uses complexity over time to vary the bitrate within the stream to save on the bandwidth and optimize cost. Another key offering from our aaS model means we are in a perfect position to deliver 24/7 pop-up channels, for live events or temporary use. Should the sporting scenario dictate it in the months to come, our aaS model means we are in a position to rapidly deploy new temporary sports channels by leveraging the public cloud environment – removing the need for a 24/7 infrastructure.
My colleague Arnaud Caron, Director, Portfolio Transformation, will discuss cloud aaS models in greater depth during his webinar on Wednesday May 13 – further details here.
AVOD is also flourishing and with good reason; audiences now have more time on their hands to explore more diverse media consumption options. As such, new technology innovations such as our reconfigured PRISMA Core and PRISMA Edge products are enabling operators to deliver tailored and full standards-based capabilities in support of advertising and alternate content insertion/replacement use cases across broadcast & IP networks.
As a cloud native solution, PRISMA can be stood up from a cold start in weeks not months and more importantly, can scale out from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of subscribers through the elasticity offered by cloud platforms such as Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. By taking a modular approach, operators can build out platforms that utilize the scalable nature of the cloud along with industry standards such as SCTE-224, SCTE-35 and CableLabs ESAM to enable easier integration and deployment. You can learn more in our recently published MediaKind application paper and webinar.
However, getting services ready for market and delivering a compelling viewer experience is more than just the sum of the technology. For example, targeted advertising that is powered by more granular household data can improve the consumer experience and increase the value of advertising inventory. Offering flexibility around a broader set of device options and streaming quality settings can attract a wider audience, while neat features such as parental controls and Cloud DVR can help operators to build stickier services – and potentially up-sell opportunities.
TVBEurope and MediaKind are joining forces to host a free webinar on Tuesday May 5 to look at the shifting habits of live streaming – particularly in the sports industry and within the context of today’s global climate. My MediaKind colleague Richard Mansfield, Head of Media Delivery and Advertising Product Management and I will be joined by TVBEurope editor Jenny Priestly. I hope you will be able to join us!