By Dror Gill
The delivery of entertainment content to consumers has undergone transformational changes in the last 18 to 24 months, driven by technology advances, bandwidth availability, and end-user device capabilities. These changes are affecting the business models, delivery mechanisms, availability, and quality of content, driving the industry into a race.
To survive, content producers, aggregators, and distributors have to quickly modify their workflows and business models to adapt, otherwise they’ll be left behind. To help them do so, here are some of the major trends in delivering entertainment content to consumers that industry players should consider.
1. TV Everywhere Is Everywhere
Everyone and everything is moving to IP. Whether you’re a TV network, cable or satellite operator, content producer, or rights owner, you know that IP-based, over-the-top delivery of your content will become a growing part of your business and will eventually take over traditional delivery methods. The reason is obvious — consumers today are connected through a variety of devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, and they expect to have access to your content anytime and anywhere.
For this reason, every major TV network, channel, or service operator has some form of “TV Everywhere” service, where subscribers can access content without being tied to their set-top box at home. This trend has created a whole new market of solutions for OTT video delivery, including workflow, transcoding, content management, delivery, conditional access, and monetization.
2. Content is Moving from “Over The Air” to “Through The Cloud”
Broadcast TV started with over the air transmission in the 1930s, and this form of transmission is with us to date, now using advanced digital broadcast methods that support HD, such as ATSC in the USA, DVB-T in Europe, and ISDB-T in Japan. Due to limited spectrum, when the need raised to support dozens and then hundreds of channels, broadcast TV migrated to cable and satellite transmission, followed by delivery over copper and fiber with IPTV. The next step is clear — TV will be processed, managed, and delivered to users in the cloud. Companies are now offering solutions for “cloud-based everything,” from content editing to management to transcoding to DVR.
In fact, today you can become a virtual TV operator without owning any equipment other than a camera and an Internet connection. Everything else you need to edit, encode, manage, and deliver your content is available as a cloud service that can be leased by the hour or by the month. This move to the cloud will eventually eliminate the set-top box.
Today, you can watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and a variety of other content services on your smart TV, delivered and encrypted using standard methods. There is no doubt that in the future more and more content will be delivered this way, including linear channels and live broadcasts, so look out for the millions of unusable boxes that will have to be recycled…
3. New Standards Are Setting the Stage for the Highest Possible Quality in Streaming Video
Streaming video over IP today still uses a variety of proprietary systems, the major ones being Apple HLS (HTTP Live Streaming), Adobe HDS (HTTP Dynamic Streaming), and Microsoft HSS (HTTP Smooth Streaming). The MPEG-DASH standard was developed to serve as a common protocol for adaptive bitrate streaming and is quickly gaining ground as an industry-wide standard that will simplify the implementation of apps and services.
On the codecs front, HEVC has emerged as the dominant next-generation codec, with a variety of cameras, encoders, set-top boxes, smart TVs, and even phones and tablets supporting the new standard. HEVC is being introduced first to solve a real issue — delivery of Ultra-HD (4K) content over the internet, since it provides 30% to 50% lower bitrate than the current H.264 standard. However, as more and more capture and playback devices support HEVC, it will likely also be used for HD resolutions and below.
4. More Pixels (or Better Pixels) Are Coming, Even if the Industry Hasn’t Decided How Yet
Speaking of Ultra-HD, it seems to already enjoy a better fate than 3D TV. Devices are now available at reasonable prices, content services will be deployed by the end of this year, and the only issue remaining is how to deliver all those pixels to the end user. As usual, capture devices and display devices have evolved much more rapidly than available bandwidth, creating a real challenge for over-the-top UHD delivery.
Another key issue is that the industry has not yet decided on the set of parameters that they’ll use for initial deployments — frame rate, bit depth, and color space are still in the open. Increasing each of these parameters improves visual quality, and some industry experts even claim that the 8 million pixels of Ultra-HD are no better than the 2 million pixels of HD. The problem is that upgrading these video attributes also increases the overall bitrate, which is already quite high.
Thus, the problem of delivery surfaces again. It’s clear that solutions for fighting “bitrate obesity,” which brings your bitrate down to a range more easily deliverable to the end user, will be in high demand in the next few years.
Dror Gill is CTO of Beamr, an imaging technology company that powers some of the world’s top web publishers, digital distributors, social networks, and media companies. Beamr’s focus is improving the user experience and reducing costs associated with storing and transmitting media files. For more information, visit www.beamrvideo.com.