Ensuring Live Streaming Achieves Broadcast-Grade: Part 1 - New Service Providers

Broadcast service providers providing live production, contribution, playout and transmission services have observed the continuous and accelerating movement towards OTT services.

For years they have been providing live streams to the OVPs (Online Video Providers) of their broadcaster customers, who have then delivered Direct to Consumer via various encoding, packaging, origin, CDN, IXP and ISP platforms.

As the mix of general content delivery continues to shift towards D2C/OTT, and as audience expectations increase for broadcast-grade live video delivery on D2C services, a problem has more clearly emerged – there is one (very high) standard of content production and delivery on existing broadcast transmission networks and onwards to the consumer through various, Satellite, IPTV and Cable TV platforms, and there is another (lower, yet oxymoronically with the potential to be much higher) standard of content delivery on OTT networks. This is bothering leading broadcaster service providers.

To them, the fact that the very high quality, low latency video they prepare and distribute can be damaged and destroyed during OTT delivery is a disservice to their work and to their broadcaster customer’s brand reputation. To them, this type of problem should not, and in fact, must not, exist.

Customer experience of live video is something that keeps broadcasters awake at night. Anyone who has ever stood in a Playout Master Control Room knows that it feels like the emergency room in a hospital or a network operations center in a Telco. The state of readiness is palpitating. The Broadcaster Service Providers who provide the networking and playout services to the industry and make their living from ensuring that live video gets through flawlessly hour after hour feel exactly the same. Live means live, video quality must be excellent, reliability is essential. No discussion.

So what happens when a live stream is handed off perfectly in the figurative video delivery relay race from camera to consumer, and the final leg of the race is full of stumbles, slow-downs, dropped “batons” and a jittery finish to cross the line? Is the company that made such a perfect start to the race happy about the end result? Do they wish they could have finished it themselves?

Enter stage left the next generation of broadcast-grade streaming providers.

Fully equipped with all the skills, instincts, and desires to ensure live video reaches the consumer in the same high standard as it has always reached the consumer, these industry specialists are turning their attention to fix what they see as a growing problem that is eminently fixable. It is also fast becoming their problem to fix, and their revenue to earn.

These trusted partners to broadcasters for many decades have multiple intensifying reasons to act now, summarized simply as 4K+, 5G, FTTH (Fiber To The Home), and D2C. These acronyms spell out why broadcaster service providers should be at the heart of live video delivery for broadcaster D2C services.

4K+ (meaning the ensemble of 4K, UHD, HDR, 8K and future immersive viewing experiences) is coming at us fast. 4K+ will soon become the new normal. Connected TVs that can handle these formats are being purchased as the new standard, the content (particularly sports and documentaries) is being produced in these formats, the leading content brands are offering it, and the streamers are pushing it. The bitrates for streaming video will at least double from today’s SD/HD norms. Legacy video networks will not keep pace, while Broadband networks are being expanded to handle many 4K+ streams into a single home. OTT will be the home of 4K+ which is a big reason why it will become the new norm for most of the population.

5G will make mobile content consumption easier and better. Mobile devices are already evolving to allow “flip-open bigger-screen” experiences. 5G implementation may even move faster than some fixed broadband networks to offer faster download and streaming speeds. This will simply amplify the interest in OTT services and consumers will become ever more familiar with these apps. D2C service providers know that mobile has typically been for content snacking, while the big screen is for consumption of long-form content and group viewing occasions, but so many of us snack a lot that the volumes on mobile are already significant. 5G and better mobile devices just make this easier, driving the streaming habit forwards.

FTTH is the subject of enormous multi-billion-dollar investments to underpin digital economies everywhere. The 2020s will see most developed nations become FTTH enabled for the majority of their populations, with standard speeds of 1 Gbps expected to most people’s homes. Receiving high quality streams will be easy for those homes (with the important caveat that the CDNs and Telco Core Networks must be able to handle it). That doesn’t mean sustained bitrate to the home will be easy for the ever-higher 4K+ bitrates, but the networks will be beefy enough most of the time. As history has demonstrated, once the technology is there and works well it will be used by consumers (3D did not work well, plus it needs high bandwidth, hence the lack of uptake so far; Broadband and internet-based services on the other hand have grown and grown). In addition, developing countries are improving their network infrastructure and data plans to make broadband services more accessible and affordable. We can expect the additional and affordable bandwidth to be consumed, creating more momentum for D2C service uptake.

And then there is the whole D2C trend. Major broadcasters all over the world are doubling down on their D2C strategies. It is clearly essential for their future. New content production is being targeted at OTT services, audiences are embracing OTT faster than before, and all the above technology is making it the more natural choice for the optimal content consumption experience. On top of that, cord-cutting on traditional Pay-TV services continues as people manage their monthly budgets, leading to the forecast that AVOD services (ad-supported) will very soon surpass SVOD services (subscription-supported) in subscriber volumes, and broadcaster D2C growth for live, linear and VOD is part of that advertising-supported or license-supported picture.

At the moment a peak audience on a mature and successful D2C service – like BBC iPlayer, RAI Play or DAZN – is approximately 10-15% of TV viewing peak. In the next 10 years we may reach 60-80% of a national population at peak on a D2C service, accompanied by much higher bitrates. A lot more video streaming capacity will be required, and quality of delivery will be of paramount importance.

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