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New Broadcast Supply Chains - A Changing Landscape

Internet streaming is a gamechanger, one that is impacting not just how content is consumed but how content is produced, delivered, and measured. The advent of the digital set-top-box established the foundation for the freedom consumers have today through video on demand (VoD) services. The emergence of the set-top-box as a connected device has now forever changed how content producers and consumers embrace television.

Internet streaming brings the additional opportunity for communal enjoyment and interaction between content and social media. Watching a live sports event instantly puts the viewer inside a much greater community through your social media feed. Ideas are exchanged, and viewers are no longer constrained by rigid schedules or geographical limitations.

Today’s connected world of television brings different facets of content everywhere coupled to a growing demand for greater depth of information and breadth of connectivity through social media. This means that viewers increasingly drive demand for a more dynamic consumption experience. They have a voice, and broadcasters are taking notice. The rigidity of traditional linear broadcasting is loosening, and broadcasters have grown more agile with content delivery.

The challenge broadcasters have with the internet is how to marry the discipline of television production and distribution with the new consumption models through a medium (public networks) that was never designed to stream real-time video and audio. The current model of cloud and public networks relies on data being both transactional (small, contextual data exchanges) that are asynchronous in nature and for which resiliency is just a refresh button away. Broadcast video and audio signals are sampled to tight tolerances and do not easily adapt to being distributed over asynchronous and transactional networks. IP packets arrive out of sequence and time, leading to a complex array of synchronizing buffers to retime and sequence them, resulting in increased and often variable latency.

Diagram 1 – using distributed infrastructures gives broadcasters the opportunity to reverse their thinking and consider workflows from the user back to the broadcaster. Cached media gives the option of delivering schedules directly to the mobile device to provide better personalization and delivery, leading to a much-improved quality of experience.

Diagram 1 – using distributed infrastructures gives broadcasters the opportunity to reverse their thinking and consider workflows from the user back to the broadcaster. Cached media gives the option of delivering schedules directly to the mobile device to provide better personalization and delivery, leading to a much-improved quality of experience.

This new landscape of communal enjoyment of combined streamed media viewing together with rich data and social media engagement, shifts the focus from a model based on pure synchronous and real-time execution, to one that is more dynamic and transactional in nature. This does not obviate the requirement for latencies to be similar across services. In fact, it moves the goalposts for the broadcaster to find ways to bring discipline of broadcast to these new content consumption models. Viewers expect the same experience for content consumption whether they are using a mobile device, traditional television, or they are watching in a browser window. They expect near flawless delivery regardless of the device they choose.

Consequently, the traditional method of broadcasters treating their OTT-delivered content as a subset of the off-air feeds simply doesn’t work for the average consumer. The model must move to a more proactive approach from the outset, targeting an experience that is meant to deliver quality and synchronicity across all devices, in any location, and at any time. It’s time to stop thinking of traditional content production and delivery models as the primary ones and to start targeting a mobile first delivery model.

First Steps

One solution for broadcasters is to start thinking from the viewing device back to the television facility. Broadcasters have been very traditional in their approach to distributing media as all the channels emanate from a single facility leading to a centralized method of thinking. This has partially been due to the simplex nature of television transmissions. The data travels in one direction from the broadcaster’s facility to the viewer.

The adoption of IP delivery to mobile devices and smart TVs has an interesting side effect. We now have a two-way link between the broadcaster and the viewer. The pull methodology of mobile devices requesting chunks of data from edge servers further perpetuates the idea of reverse thinking. Considering the consumers demand for content first changes our approach and leads to new content distribution models.

This brings us to the topic of decentralization, an infrastructure topology that embraces a way of thinking about the entirety of distribution as a collection of opportunities. Instead of considering the unidirectional workflow from broadcaster to viewer, we now have the opportunity to look at the service from the viewer’s point of view, and work backwards through the signal chain to the broadcaster. This provides many new opportunities for broadcasters, not least, moving the programming decisions closer to the viewer.

Taken to the extreme, this would allow broadcasters to preload edge servers with movies, sitcoms, and adverts so that distribution from the broadcaster is not required with each broadcast. Encryption and DRM (Digital Rights Management) makes this a reality as content owners do not need to worry about the security implications of servers being hacked.

Brick Eksten, CEO of Qligent.

Brick Eksten, CEO of Qligent.

The decentralization model also provides interesting opportunities with scheduling, including direct distribution to mobile devices to improve personalization. The required cached media can be downloaded directly from the edge server so that it doesn’t have to traverse the network for each user personalization, thus keeping latency in check. This model also has inherent benefits for improving redundancy and resiliency in the network as decentralization ensure that you always have some content everywhere, and the nature of caching within the distribution network means that you have more points of access to the content itself.

Proactive and integrated monitoring becomes more important as broadcasters not only need to know the quality of the networks they are using, but more importantly the quality of the viewer experience. Using methods such as “waiting for the viewer to switch channels” to indicate a problem is both outdated and a poor solution. Through the interactive nature of the mobile device and two-way communication, broadcasters have much better scope to pre-empt and rectify problems.

Broadcasting is changing not just because of the new technologies available but more importantly, due to the expanding scope of audience demand. With every improvement to the experience delivered to the viewer, then the greater expectations by the viewer. The viewers who are looking for not only content everywhere, but an increasing scope of content deliverables. They are more demanding now than ever and have much more choice. To solve this challenge, broadcasters must understand the viewer requirements and engagement, and deliver services to meet them, working back through the delivery chain from the viewer to the broadcaster.