Distribution & Delivery Global Viewpoint – November 2022

Viewers Have The Voice

Flexibility, scalability, and resilience are the champions of IP migration, but we should remember, the real influencers in our infrastructures are the viewers.

It wasn’t so long ago that broadcaster engineers would wait until reading the duty-log to find out if there were any problems with the previous days broadcast. This was an archaic reporting and recording system that relied on viewers calling into the broadcaster to report problems. Although major issues were usually found quickly as the switchboard would light up, more subtle problems that only affected smaller geographical groups could easily be missed, especially for those faults that were intermittent.

This is probably an unfair assessment of television broadcast before OTT, but it goes someway to highlight how far we have come in recent years. Viewer churn is a real challenge for OTT and VOD broadcasters as their audiences are both technology savvy, and often able to quickly find another source for their entertainment.

No matter how we gloss it up, IP adds a level of complexity to a broadcast infrastructure that is orders of magnitude higher than we’ve been used to. It’s not just the equipment that is new to us, but the whole concept of data packet switching, and delivery is completely alien to our traditional circuit switched way of thinking. Also, the embedded timing in SDI and AES signals we’ve almost taken for granted has gone, leaving new challenges for vendors of PTP clocks to help us navigate.

OTT adds further challenges as the internet was never designed to broadcast the large amounts of low-latency high-datarate services associated with video and audio streaming. Latency is still a challenge that we’re working to solve and managing un-managed networks is proving interesting, to say the least.

So why are we bothering with IP and OTT? The simple answer is because it’s the best solution we have available to deliver and meet our audiences demands. Viewers want to watch what they want, where they want, and how they want. As broadcasters, we must deliver this, and to deliver, we must improve the quality of the service. Not necessarily in terms of more pixels or sound objects, but definitely in terms of reliability of transmission to negate picture freeze and break up, and more importantly, maintain distortion free and error free sound. Not an easy task when large parts of your distribution are traversing the unmanaged network that is the internet.

The speed with which broadcasters must respond to an issue is unprecedented. OTT and social media go together so even the smallest picture or sound disturbance can have a seemingly disproportionate effect of audience figures as viewers not only rapidly exchange their collective condemnation but advise each other on alternatives and clamber to move to another service provider.

QoE (Quality of Experience) is a relatively new acronym in broadcasting circles and seems to be taking over QoS. I believe this is the case because QoE focuses on the needs of the viewer and therefore implies high levels of QoS. If there are QoE issues, then be sure to watch those viewing figures drop. Sadly, the QoE problem may be nothing to do with the broadcaster.

It’s worth remembering that IP used in the context of OTT and internet delivery is a full-duplex communications channel. Therefore, we can receive viewing data from our audiences as well as sending programs to them. This opens a whole new level of opportunity as broadcasters can monitor their services directly to the viewers device, no matter where they are, or when, further empowering the broadcaster to pro-actively fix issues as they arise. Who needs the duty-log?