Streaming & OTT At NAB 2024

OTT streaming is embracing AI for consistency in QC across expanding populations of devices, with a particular emphasis on live sports. There is also a focus, evident at the 2024 NAB Show, on optimization of delivery at low latency to ensure broadcast quality experience while reducing infrastructure costs.

Now that OTT streaming has become critical for reaching viewers wherever they are and on whatever device, as well as generating new revenues through subscription and dynamic advertising, it looms larger than ever before at the 2024 NAB Show. Consumers are setting their streaming quality expectations ever higher, no longer accepting a deficit in the experience in return for the convenience of being able to watch at a time and place of their choosing. They now expect streaming quality to match broadcast, which has been the objective of initiatives such as DVB-I (Interactive), designed to bring streaming delivery up to broadcast quality.

“Just good enough is no longer good enough in the competitive world of digital linear channels,” said Rick Young, SVP, Head of Global Products at LTN, which is highlighting consistency of streaming delivery at NAB 2024. This raises the question of whether quality expectations are also as high on mobile devices, where users have been a bit more forgiving in the past.

That also is no longer the case, and so quality will also figure in discussions of 5G’s role in streaming at NAB 2024. Among sessions under the heading “Application of 5G in Broadcasting at NAB 2024” is one entitled “How IP-based broadcast meets 5G for resilient and sustainable media distribution”. There is also a session on “A Brand New ATSC 3.0 and 5G NR (Multicast and Broadcast Service) Convergence Opportunity, which is particularly relevant for the North American market with underlying quality parity between the two taken as given.

Latency remains a critical aspect of streaming quality despite the great improvement already made by mainstream platforms. As with other aspects of quality, bearing down on latency involves a tradeoff with infrastructure cost, as Appear’s Vice President, Marketing & Communications, Matthew Williams-Neale, pointed out.

He highlighted how Appear’s efforts accelerating the SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) low latency streaming protocol were leading to savings in infrastructure once the immediate delay targets had been met. This is because more efficient delivery reduces the need for over provisioning to cater for peak demand when latency can drift up under packet loss and therefore retransmission under heavy traffic loading.

Quality cannot be controlled over the internet, or any unmanaged networks, without effective monitoring tools and some visibility of the end viewing experience, even if that is gained by surrogate means through analysis of relevant parameters. OTT monitoring at NAB 2024 is covered separately by The Broadcast Bridge, but all vendors underline its increasingly critical role in streaming.

Live sports is the big elephant in the OTT streaming room because it combines demand for high quality and low latency with various additional features such as instant replays and ancillary data like player statistics. There is very little margin for error both with contribution from the field, which again is covered in a separate piece, and delivery.

This consideration has led Zixi to develop what it calls active latency management taking account of varying congestion levels as well as content requirements in as close to real time as possible.

Some vendors, such as Telestream, like to stress that QC is not just about the audio visual presentation, but also the content itself, given the growing demand for moderation. This is more challenging for live content when inappropriate material, such as rude words in childrens’ programming for example, has to be filtered out in real time.

There is a sense then that streaming delivery has progressed from immediate firefighting to polishing the viewing experience and ensuring consistency across channels and devices. There is also the challenge of bringing mobile fully into the equation.

Vendor Focus:

Appear (Booth W2130).  Appear is well aware of the need to differentiate its offerings when all vendors in its field are touting SRT acceleration, QC, and live sports capabilities. The company believes this is best done by highlighting customers that are already benefiting from some of the capabilities, according to Matthew Williams-Neale, Appear’s Vice President, Marketing & Communications.

“This year, we are placing a significant emphasis on demonstrating the tangible benefits of our innovations in real-world applications, such as the substantial infrastructure cost savings for one of Brazil’s leading media groups through the use of accelerated SRT,” said Williams-Neale.

The Appear X platform offers hardware-accelerated JPG-XS compressed SRT video transport.

The Appear X platform offers hardware-accelerated JPG-XS compressed SRT video transport.

Notably, he pointed to the value of hardware acceleration for SRT at a time when otherwise the field is moving towards software based delivery over hybrid cloud infrastructures. At the coal face of performance, hardware acceleration is necessary, and will remain so.

Appear has gravitated even more towards remote production over the last year, with an emphasis on live sports. “The accelerated SRT solution and the new JPEG XS module facilitate high-quality, low-latency live video contribution over the internet, making them ideal for remote sports production scenarios,” said Williams-Neale. “These technologies ensure robust, secure, and efficient delivery of live content, which is essential for the dynamic and fast-paced nature of sports broadcasting.”

JPEG XS, or formally ISO/IEC SC29 WG1, enables visually lossless image compression with an interoperable low-latency lightweight coding system. It is described as a mezzanine codec, meaning it encodes at an intermediate level suitable for subsequent editing and able to be re-encoded multiple times without perceptible quality loss.

Telestream (Booth W1501) will begin to deliver the fruits of its AI R&D programme at NAB 2024 with various tools spanning the streaming pipeline from capture and ingest to delivery and playout. In keeping with the trend towards cloud transformation and nativeness, the company is packaging some of these tools into “as-a service” offerings rather than as discrete products. 

In the streaming/OTT arena Telestream support a significant number of leading broadcasters with their VOD transcoding service Vantage Gateway and as the splash on their web site says, export more on this soon.

At NAB 2024 their migration of their ecosystem to a new cloud-native platform begins with video capture where the company noted broadcasters face mounting pressure to acquire and process live feeds for rapid delivery from remote work environments. So at NAB 2024 Telestream is introducing Live Capture as a Service, designed to simplify the acquisition of content from any location in real-time, unhindered by the physical constraints of onsite infrastructure.

Telestream is introducing AI based tools to accelerate content delivery at NAB 2024.

Telestream is introducing AI based tools to accelerate content delivery at NAB 2024.

"The growing need for live content underscores the urgency for faster, more flexible production processes,” noted Telestream Chief Product Officer Mike Gilson. “This breakthrough not only streamlines production but also opens up opportunities for media companies to capture and monetize more content.”

Telestream’s other notable introduction at NAB 2024 is its cloud-based GLIM as a Service to address the challenge of accessing mezzanine content in any format and playing back immediately through a web browser. This service streamlines remote content access, according to Telestream, eliminating the need for extensive downloads or specialized playback hardware.

GLIM is Telestream’s product name for remote viewing of content through a web browser, initially offered just as a dedicated hardware appliance. Presented as a service, it should reduce operational costs by eliminating the physical hardware.

LTN (Booth W1517). The backdrop for LTN’s agenda at NAB 2024 is the company’s observation that media companies are transitioning faster to IP video transport as audiences become increasingly fragmented. Streaming gives them the opportunity to reach these disparate groups across a diverse device landscape that now also includes various mobile clients.

“Viewers are consuming content across all platforms. Linear channels are not going anywhere — and they are actually increasing their viewership,” said Rick Young, SVP, Head of Global Products, LTN. “To compete, content owners must reach the entire consumer ecosystem and deliver a consistent brand experience across all platforms.”

The company is presenting three products, LTN Wave, LTN Arc, and LTN Lift, spanning automated playout, video transport, and live event production. The aim is to automate as many previously manual elements of workflow as possible.

LTN Lift is the hosted digital channel playout system with automated creation capabilities. “LTN Lift delivers capabilities to handle live and pre-recorded elements the media ecosystem needs to give channel creators a more connected system that maximizes efficiency,” said Young.

LTN Wave is the IP video distribution system aiming to reduce Capex. “With LTN Wave, media companies not only enjoy the 99.999% reliable transport of the LTN Network, but they also benefit from in-network business rules and capabilities that enable content replacement, blackout management, channel customization and targeted ad triggers for all global regions and platforms,” said Young.

LTN Arc was designed particularly to support live sports coverage across multiple platforms. “LTN Arc is a fully managed production service that simplifies live event versioning at scale, allowing rights holders to transform live game feeds from around the world into customized streams for global cross-platform distribution,” said Young.

Zixi (Booth W1401) is focusing squarely on scaling up live video distribution through its Software-Defined Video Platform (SDVP), with special attention on enabling ultra-low latency consistently. The platform supports distribution over IP networks, with traffic and congestion aware routing, diverse signal path bonding, patented hitless failover technology and available in-transit processing aiming to improve performance and network efficiency.

Zixi Broadcaster is just one element of the Zixi active management software suite.

Zixi Broadcaster is just one element of the Zixi active management software suite.

Zixi’s differentiator is its active management of latency, rather than just relying on streaming protocols that may be efficient at reducing or avoiding unnecessary packet retransmission but are incapable of taking account of varying traffic levels or different content types. Zixi contends that additional latency can be taken out of the system by optimizing the network in real time, focusing resources as far as possible where they are needed.

The company is targeting gambling and gaming, as well as live sports generally, for all of which managing latency effectively is paramount given the time-sensitivity. For online gambling especially, time measured in milliseconds or even microseconds is money.

Frequency (at Wynne Suites) are booking demos for their Studio 5 platform. This is a prime example of the new breed of cloud based SaaS OTT/Streaming channel systems offering an end to end channel solution with a suite of software tools for ingest, asset management, scheduling, graphics insertion, and analysis.

Conclusion

Consistency of experience is an overarching theme at NAB 2024, relating to essential video quality, latency, and content availability. It has long been possible to stream high quality content but now the pressure is on to emulate traditional broadcast for consistency and reliability, which is why there has been more talk of five nines availability levels for streaming, equating to a maximum of five minutes downtime a year. More importantly, high QoS levels must be sustained during all that remaining uptime.

Underlying this is a focus on the whole workflow chain from remote production through delivery to playout. There is special emphasis here on live sport because of its existing value and potential for extracting extra revenues by extending its reach over fixed and mobile networks.

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