Applied Technology: Complex OTT Monitoring Simplified

Television broadcasting has become more complex with the advent of OTT services. Playout is no longer the final point of quality control. CDN edge points, targeted ad-insertion, multi-language support, and event based channels require the expert scrutiny of broadcast engineers.

As OTT services become increasingly popular with viewers as well as advertisers, playout systems are no longer treating adaptive bitrate (ABR) streams as secondary to primary screen distribution. For some content including live broadcasts, OTT is now the primary form of distribution and revenue generation. As these trends continue, content owners and regulators alike are looking to improve OTT services by applying the same standards for video quality, audio, and captioning as with traditional broadcast television.

OTT presents broadcast engineers with a more complex ecosystem with an ever-growing list of logging and compliance requirements to monitor and manage. There is a wide variety of devices and delivery outlets that need support and viewers expect the same level of service, no matter how they are accessing content. For example, in covering premium sporting events, engineers need to ensure quality of service for content viewed on different types of devices that rely on multiple ABR formats each with several profiles

Unified software-based monitoring tools bring users the advantages of standard PC and mobile device control. Click to enlarge. Image Mediaproxy

Keeping up with so many OTT streams can be daunting, which is why having a unified system for monitoring compliance and identifying issues across all traditional and OTT playouts is critical. Mediaproxy LogServer software addresses this complexity. It enables operators to log and monitor outgoing ABR streams as well as TS and OTT stream metadata including event triggers, closed captions, and audio information, all from one place.

To the Cloud and Back

Compared to traditional broadcasts, OTT video is not only more complex, but also cloudier. Operators must rely on CDNs or several third-party networks to deliver content. Depending on the setup, ABR streams can be encoded and pre-packaged in advance before reaching the CDN’s cloud.

There should be little difference in picture quality once reaching edge locations and on to the final viewing device. Though content may be correctly streaming from the playout encoder, an edge location may experience its own issues, which could be local or originating from within the CDN. However, it’s often difficult to monitor exactly what is happening to OTT streams downstream of the CDN. To address this, broadcast engineers need to monitor and view both playout to the CDN and edge server return feeds streams side-by-side.

Some broadcasters may decide to further process OTT playout streams in the cloud. A high-quality mezzanine video stream is sent to a cloud based encoder, which then transcodes it into multiple ABR profiles. The final step of packaging streams into different formats including HLS and MPEG-DASH can occur within the cloud or at the edge. Engineers need the ability to capture, monitor and compare streams at all points along an OTT delivery path.

Better OTT Delivery with Better Data

As television broadcasters adopt IP technology including media over IP (NDI, SMPTE 2110) for production, engineers can track and analyze detailed metadata across the entire OTT delivery chain to help identify issues. To monetize services, operators also need the ability to keep tabs on digital program insertion triggers (SCTE-35) and loudness levels across multiple video sources within a single transport stream.

A multiviewer gives broadcast engineers and master control staff a high-level view of all transport streams and incidence alarms.

A multiviewer gives broadcast engineers and master control staff a high-level view of all transport streams and incidence alarms.

When it comes to monitoring live channels over multiple OTT streams and ABR profiles, it is no longer practical for display panels to mirror all the possible video sources and outputs. The human eye simply can’t monitor so many different profiles simultaneously.

To address this, software-based multiviewers including Monwall allow users to custom configure both data and video panels for monitoring transcoded feeds and edge streams. The ability to dynamically arrange how specific information is displayed puts the information in a context that operators understand and are trained in.

Extensive live stream monitoring and post-broadcast reporting tools can capture and visualize transport stream and OTT data to track critical video and audio errors including signal loss, picture freeze, and blackouts alongside data panels displaying the bandwidth, URL and manifest information for multiple edge points. Specific bandwidth thresholds can also be configured to raise alarms when ingest encoders or edge points go below or above what is expected.

Software-based Compliance and Monitoring for Agile OTT Services

What makes software-based logging and compliance solutions most ideal for OTT services is that they can be quickly and easily scaled up and down in line with available services. As is increasingly common for special sporting events, an operator or broadcaster may decide to launch a temporary OTT channel. In some cases, several channels can cover multiple events or camera angles simultaneously.

Software-based solutions can capture and monitor these services, and the entire workflow including compliance and logging, can be scaled in line with available OTT channels.

In addition, software-based logging and compliance solutions can support new standards including encoding profiles, media over IP formats, and DRMs as they take hold. The agility and flexibility of software-based solutions means that OTT service operators can stay one step ahead of market trends and introduce innovative revenue generating services.

Unify OTT Stream Monitoring from Playout to Edge in One Place

When relying on CDNs for OTT services, it’s important that ABR streams are monitored and logged not only from playout, but also from various edge locations. There are several issues that may occur within CDNs or at edge locations which may not be immediately apparent by only looking at OTT playout. These could include local blackouts, bandwidth discrepancies, and audio issues.

As targeted advertising becomes an increasingly important revenue stream, the ability to report on specific edge location streams including SCTE-35 triggers and monitor replacement content streams is becoming imperative.

By being able to flexibly deploy software on premises, within virtualized environments, or in the cloud, OTT operators can log, analyze, and monitor OTT streams from anywhere within a single unified interface. Using the cloud, operators can reconcile and compare originating transcoder outputs to CDN edge points using both traditional broadcast and data-centric panels. As with leading package delivery companies, OTT operators now have the tools to be able to centrally monitor what is happening to their live video content beyond playout.

Using software-based monitoring in the cloud, ideally nearest to the CDN, greatly reduces bandwidth consumption and costs, by not having to send payloads back to master control. Linking on-premises monitoring of outgoing playout streams to cloud monitoring and analysis of CDN edge streams, allows for unified visibility through a multiviewer. Operators and engineers are provided with analysis data for all OTT services without having to backhaul streams from remote sites.

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