Ian Graham Issue: EMEA 2011
Article no.: 14
Topic: OTT Enabling the multiscreen experience
Author: Ian Graham
Title: Vice President, EMEA
Organisation: Harmonic Inc.
PDF size: 262KB

About author

Ian Graham is Vice President, Europe & Middle East Sales at Harmonic. Mr Graham brings more than 16 years of experience in broadband video, voice and data delivery to this sales role. Prior to Harmonic he held senior management positions at Motorola’s Home and Networks Mobility division.

Ian Graham has a BA (Hons) in Public Administration from Hallam University, Sheffield.

Article abstract

Over-The-Top delivery of content is a true multi-screen facility that can run on any video-capable device, but it increases traffic considerably without a viable business model. Operators have the option of launching their own multi-screen OTT IPTV platform or enable partnering with OTT content agents. Managing the OTT delivery entails both live streaming and VoD (Video on Demand) downloading. The OTT delivery platform is a content delivery system with a content preparation module that contains the file workflow, an origin server to ingest and manage content and a ‘packeger’ that adjusts the delivery to the characteristics of the devices and to the user’s choices (e.g. language). It can deliver content alongside linear television, or run independently over WiFi or 3G.

Full Article

Viewers now demand that broadcasters make their content available over a variety of distribution media, and that it is compatible with multiple ‘playout’ devices. Delivery of live content over the air or via dedicated service provider networks is no longer adequate to sustain a broadcaster’s brand image. It is certainly not enough for viewers who endorse PC, tablets or smartphones as alternatives to TV.
Over-The-Top (OTT) content used to be a term associated with viewing content on anything other than a TV, but that is on the verge of changing. The new HbbTV (Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV) standard, already testing in Germany, France and Italy, is poised to make significant inroads and become commercially viable. Traditional ‘linear’ television (pre-set time-and-channel scheduled TV) now faces competition on all fronts.
OTT content is a true multiscreen reality, but there is no convincing business model. Broadcasters are expected to make content available for the current multiscreen environment, while operators view OTT as a suitable vehicle to increase ARPU. There is a feeling from both broadcasters and operators that catering for OTT content is a pre-requisite given the current viewer appetite for multiscreen consumption. This assumption has allowed the business model to be overlooked in many instances and left those creating such content searching for cost-effective solutions for making OTT exist alongside linear delivery. Put simply, content providers and aggregators are benefiting from the increased penetration of their services, but this leaves many operators desperate to recoup revenue from a huge leap in traffic volumes.
From a content provider perspective, premium providers are enjoying the extraordinary success of services like BBC iPlayer and Hulu. The only note of reservation is about denting brand image or cannibalising future selling opportunities. For content aggregators, OTT is their lifeblood. Aggregators have the scope to launch imaginative bundled services, with the only restraint being the viewer’s reluctance to pay for such services.
For operators the prospect of OTT is more of a double-edged sword. Undoubtedly the potential to increase ARPU exists and makes their service sticky with viewers keen to sample a high quality service along with compelling content, but at what cost? Last but not least, the viewer gets exactly what they want, but what business case will the operators and content providers be adhering to?
What are the options for operators to support the wave of viewer enthusiasm for OTT? One is to come out fighting and develop their own OTT platform. This approach has obvious appeal as it allows commercial control to reside with the operator who can either market OTT as a new proposition or market it alongside their existing pay TV offerings. This was the approach taken by a major European telco, which allows subscribers to access content on TVs, computers or mobile devices—as well as allowing standalone OTT subscriptions. The initial response has been good, and continued viewer acceptance of such services will dictate whether a clear business model for standalone OTT exists or force such services to be an extension of pay TV.
An alternative approach relies on operators launching their own IPTV platform. The benefits of such an approach allow a single set-top box to be deployed which has the scope to offer an enhanced VOD offering. This approach is proving attractive with viewers, content aggregators and operators. Viewers get more options, provided the service has gained acceptance through being intuitive to navigate and supports engaging content at competitive rates. Content aggregators gain from promoting services on a platform that has lower CAPEX. Operators are in a better position to control delivery and thus engage in revenue sharing opportunities that help guarantee access to the vital ingredient – popular content.
Lastly, operators can take a less proactive approach and either do nothing or provide carriage of OTT via a dumb pipe. The obvious risk with this approach is losing traction within their core market.
So what’s involved in OTT delivery of multiscreen content?
OTT delivery involves the delivery of either live or VOD content over the Internet or a managed network as shown in Figure 1. Many of the components deployed in the preparation of multiscreen content will be familiar to those with a background in live linear broadcasting, namely a playout server and compression encoder or IRD for digital turnaround, and a transcoder.
Multiscreen content preparation requires packaging and an origin server to enable streaming of content as shown in Figure 2.
Adopting the architecture shown in Figure 2 allows flexible support for live or file-based workflows that can be scaled according to demand. Key to this approach is the use of MPEG video compression for encoding and transcoding. Another aspect of this solution is the ease that this architecture can be introduced alongside existing video headends (points of receiving TV signals for distribution) and the ability to use standards-based solutions from leading DRM (Digital Rights Management), CDN (Content Delivery Network) and Managed Storage systems.
Two functions in the above architecture are specific additions that cater to OTT multiscreen delivery, namely packaging and origin server functionality. A packager deals with the re-wrapping of audio and video content to match the required bit-rates to the streaming standard and playout device. Metadata handling is also performed to ensure that the correct language, captions and ad signalling is passed. Figure 3 shows the packaging functionality.
The origin server ingests both live and file-based encrypted and segmented content. HTTP adaptive streaming with multi-bit-rate streaming is needed for Apple HTTP Live Streaming and Microsoft Smooth Streaming. HTTP progressive download should be supported along with both AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and Playready encryption.An important aspect of OTT is the method of final delivery to the consumer. Three methods are commonly adopted:
1. Operated managed network alongside existing linear programming (i.e. cable)
2. Separate managed network, wired(IP) or wireless(WiFi)
3. Separate mobile network (i.e. 3G)
With tablets now delivering resolutions between broadcast SD and HD quality these are increasingly being used as the second screen in the home, making use of WiFi connections as part of home broadband connections. An alternative approach uses 3G networks and mobile devices. One benefit of this approach is truly mobile access to live events. The downside is the inability of mobile networks to cope with high bandwidth, delay-sensitive video traffic.
Both home broadband WiFi and 3G mobile approaches are trying to broaden their appeal, through the introduction of operator endorsed public WiFi hot spots and 4G networks respectively.
A further aspect of the OTT market is anticipating user uptake for on-demand (live streaming) or catch-up (downloading). Downloading has the benefit of overcoming the real-time network constraints associated with streamed video. It also takes advantage of the ever increasing memory capability on smartphones and tablets, known as side loading. A big factor in determining which approach succeeds will be the quality of the video and seamless support regardless of whether a WiFi or mobile network is used.
Key aspects that will ultimately determine the success of OTT are the abilities of networks to handle high bandwidth video traffic and the ability of operators to recover revenue from high bandwidth OTT traffic that often requires specialist provision. There can be no doubt that a market exists to exploit the OTT potential offered by connected TVs, tablets and smartphones. It is now up to those in the OTT market to select a broad enough catalogue of content and deliver it through a high quality network to a broad range of devices – all within the consumer’s tight budget.