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The Resurrection Of Live Linear TV And How To Playout From The Cloud

One of the surprises from the latest research published by Nielsen was the significant rise in audiences watching live linear TV. Lockdown has not only sent SVOD viewing soaring through the roof but linear TV is expanding rapidly. One reason for this, according to Nielsen, has been greater adoption of streaming by older age groups. Moreover, they aren’t expected just to revert back again. Even Netflix launched a scheduled programming feature recently targeting older audiences in France in a move likely to be replicated in other territories. The move is also seen as a response to advertising video on demand services. There’s one playout provider focussed on playout for linear TV channel management with a groundbreaking SaaS cloud playout platform. We spoke with Veset CEO Igor Krol to learn more.

Veset was founded in 2011 as a pure-play cloud playout developer. How do you see the playout market today?

Igor Krol: When we started everyone predicted the demise of linear television. A decade ago there were very few new players keen to invest and innovate in that space. Everyone was focused on VOD and unscheduled live streaming. We are pleased to report that linear TV and its enabler, playout, is alive and kicking, and innovation seems to be catching up.

What approach did Veset choose when developing its cloud playout platform? How does it make you different from the rest?

We developed a multi-tenant  AWS-based linear channel management system which offers true SaaS cloud playout. The system was designed from the ground-up in 2014-15 using over 20 microservices. Our two products, Nimbus and Stratus, target different use cases but sit on the same platform. From the very start, we focused on self-service SaaS and making deployment of customers’ playouts in their own public cloud accounts. While the area is complex and challenging - in which each and every customer trying to bring its own demands - we aim to deliver a true self-service SaaS channel creation toolkit with full professional functionality.

If you are asking what we do not do, we do not perform a managed service with an eye on monitoring, but we do have 24/7 customer support. We do not do monolithic playout solutions deployed on the cloud which requires major engineering support. We aim to automate and are very focused on the redundancy of our platform.

What status is the industry at when it comes to adoption of cloud playout?

For better or worse we are not anywhere near to proper adoption of what we would consider modern cloud playout in the industry. The scene is still dominated by obsolete 10-year-old hardware-based solutions. In earnest, the media industry has become more engaged over the past 24 months. For a long period of time playout was not high on the priority list for established players as everyone was on the fence. Linear was milked, and investment went in other areas. Now that it is clear that it is not dead, the industry is finally making a real effort instead of paying lip service when it comes to live / linear TV.

Igor Krol.

Igor Krol.

Has COVID accelerated the change?

Everyone can now see that work does not stop when you start working remotely and in a distributed way. Previously, playout was a preserve of centralised and heavily invested operations with flashy MCR rooms. Clearly, SaaS self-service platforms like  Veset are designed with remote and distributed teams in mind.

However, COVID is not all good news for our business. We see that, for most organisations, COVID and lockdowns had put a lot of stress on operations. Survival is the main focus. For many mid-sized broadcasters, large scale adoption and migrations are somewhat delayed, but larger organisations which have some structure and capacity are slowly but surely moving forward. It is a necessity for their long-term survival in the post COVID world.

How do you see linear television evolving and how that plays out in the distribution technology space?

First of all there is a movement towards new content distribution format applications coming from two constituencies in the market. On the one side there has been the whole generation of content owners who grew up in VOD and social media live streaming space only. Many of them are discovering the concept of linear television as a way to monetise their content.

On the other side, we have hardcore broadcasters used to running very complex SDI workflows forced by OTT to adopt to IP reality. All of them want to cater to viewers who look to consume video content in a more flexible way primarily over OTT. Viewers’ demands for quality of experience have been constantly on the rise.

There is a lot of talk as to what ‘pop-up’ linear channels mean. We believe that 24/365 channel count will not grow much. Probably, OTT focused channels will replace those delivered by cable and satellite. However, we see an emergent flexible pop-up concept of a TV channel. The core of linear has always been its live content and real-time nature of the experience. We see the evolution of short-term linear channels as the key to our success. We have been closely working with a number of leading broadcasters on launching such services.

In that context do you think integration between legacy elements of the workflow and new breed of technology such as yours poses a challenge, which holds the industry back?

There is certainly fear of that. To some degree, one of the obstacles has been the lack of post-production tools in the cloud and media asset management in general. Public cloud providers such as AWS made a substantial push to offer a powerful toolkit to manage content in the cloud and a new breed of players which facilitate content management often integrating with on-prem solutions. From the playout perspective, there are no major issues to integrate, actually it is much easier to do that in the cloud. Many of the fears emanate from a lack of expertise and understanding, not the dearth of solutions.

​Veset Stratus shares the same platform with Veset Nimbus but targets customers looking for a simplified linear channel creation tool. Veset Stratus is available in ​AWS Marketplace.

​Veset Stratus shares the same platform with Veset Nimbus but targets customers looking for a simplified linear channel creation tool. Veset Stratus is available in ​AWS Marketplace.

You have recently announced a partnership with PLAY Inc in Japan. What are the main drivers between your cooperation with PLAY?

PLAY is a leading media technology in Japan. It is a subsidiary of Nippon TV, the leading commercial broadcaster in Japan. Over the course of 2020 PLAY has integrated our Nimbus product into the KRONOS product which is designed for the Japanese market. As part of that co-operation we substantially beefed up SCTE35 capabilities of our products. That enables Nimbus and KRONOS to manage frame precise switching of live streams, going beyond traditional use of SCTE35 for ad insertion.

Do you find a lack of trade shows to be an impediment for your marketing efforts?

Definitely so. Over the past few years, as an advanced technology partner of AWS we have been showcasing our platform on their stands at IBC and NAB. The focus on cloud generated a lot of excitement and vibrancy. That we definitely miss.

As many observers pointed out the lack of serendipitous connections and exchanges of ideas in the face-to-face conversations taking place at trade shows is very valuable. Many virtual on-line events we tried to participate in have failed. We would attribute it to the very natural human inability to maintain focus in such an environment, distracted by work emails and messages, home working, and so on.

Having said that, I really hope for major changes made to NAB and IBC, making them shorter and more vibrant. There is a lot of dead wood you can see at these trade shows. There should be some other way to send a message to the world that you are alive instead of having an empty stand which no one is expected to visit. That is just a depressing scene.