The use of the internet to deliver live content and VOD is growing as fast as new platforms arise to view it on, but there are challenges facing broadcasters and content owners wishing to get onboard.
These include how to best handle and manage assets for delivery via over-the-top (OTT) services, and in turn how to provide viewers with the best experience possible.
“Any company that is trying to monetise video needs an asset management platform — regardless of the size of their video library,” says Hillary Henderson, a Director of Strategic Partnerships at IBM Watson Media.
“Some organisations are publishing directly to OTT apps and experiences, some organisations are licensing and distributing their content to third party aggregators, and in many cases OTT players are doing both.
“In an ideal scenario, a company’s asset management system will be able to handle both cases.”
However broadcast MAM systems, typically intended for internal use by media organisations, may not be fully up to the task.
“OTT publishing differs from MAM solutions in the way the assets are prepared, protected and delivered for content consumption by end users,” says Alan Hird, MD of Globecast in Africa.
“It’s an external-facing service. To manage assets at the back-office level, a very simple user interface, straightforward and user-friendly, is often needed to easily check on automated processing of media assets.
“An OTT platform will offer features such as media transcoding, storage, archive, and DRM, if required. Metadata and artwork provision, API accessibility and CDN delivery are additional requirements.”
Hird says adaptive bitrate packaging is another key requirement, for effective streaming over HTTP, while Jay Batista, General Manager, US operations for Tedial, adds, “It must be easy to modify the distribution profiles, as the platform requirements are always evolving.”
Batista states that systems must also be deployable in public/private clouds, hybrid and on-premises infrastructure.
“This can be achieved by providing a single, efficient and cost-effective workflow, which supports millions of file input-to-output configurations that can be managed from a single operator screen,” he adds.
“To manage the core business, the system should interface to content management/rights management and traffic/work order systems to automate the repetitive tasks.”
OTT asset management systems also need to offer tools that enable straightforward monetisation and content protection.
“They need to manage and define business rules for how assets are accessed and delivered, including geo-restrictions, monetisation rules, and license windows,” says Marlon Montgomery, Global Director of Product and Industry Solutions, Ooyala. “As well as being able to publish and deliver assets through scalable B2C APIs and syndication workflows.”
“A successful OTT system is to stack a client’s chosen media engines” - Jay Batista
Batista adds: “One proven industry method of building a successful OTT system is to stack a client’s chosen media engines — transcoders, quality control, DRM, CDN, and so on — and employ SMPTE IMF component and output playlist definitions for ’N-input to N-output’ operations.
“By basing the operations on an international standard, the system can provide the maximum flexibility and scalability for OTT/VOD platforms, and protect the future interoperability of both the media and the infrastructure and software.”
Tedial’s answer to these requirements, the IMF-based Evolution Version Factory, offers a fully automated workflow that can input content and deliver thousands of versions to OTT, VOD and other non-linear distribution platforms.
An example of this in action can be found at Hilversum Media Park in the Netherlands, where the CMS for live broadcast specialist NEP The Netherlands is integrated with Evolution Version Factory via the Tedial API.
“This supports the creation and automated distribution of high volumes of files to multiple destinations, including OTT and VOD services,” says Batista. “It enables NEP The Netherlands to manage, modify and maintain its own workflows to adapt to current and future operations, provides unlimited scalability to upgrade the platform according to new media processing and delivery requests, and the ability to choose systems that are the best fit for its operation.”
“Our OTT platform-as-a-service provides an inclusive solution that covers requirements from content catalogue, media preparation, subscriber management and customer care,” says Globecast’s Hird. “There’s a backend with API access, portal and apps, geo-blocking, statistics and analytics.
“Our service is suited to any size of organisation,” he continues. “We don’t have to create an individual platform for each client. We can on-board them on our multi-tenant OTT platform as a service, in the cloud, bringing faster time-to-market and cost-effectiveness.”
Mining with metadata
Viewer experience is another key requirement for successful OTT delivery. “Streaming services need to prioritise platforms that offer expert and advanced metadata management, so they can quickly surface the most relevant content to viewers at anytime,” says Henderson.
Henderson adds that although video is one of the fastest growing mediums in the cloud, much of the surrounding data remains unstructured, making it hard to search within a video.
“With more advanced, granular metadata, video editors and other stakeholders can easily find specific videos or moments and scenes within a video.
“With IBM Watson Media’s Video Enrichment, we can layer AI technology on top of asset management systems to automatically tag videos and provide that advanced metadata so streaming services can help viewers find the video they want when they want it,” Henderson adds.
Ooyala too has identified metadata as a key foundation for asset management systems for OTT.
“[OTT solutions need to] collect, ingest, transform, edit and deliver metadata from multiple sources including recommendation engines,” says Marlon Montgomery. “As well as provide analytics on the performance of assets and metadata delivered, both for quality and engagement.”
“Ooyala offers a single platform with a shared UX, metadata, and workflow,” continues Montgomery. “This wholistic approach to the collection and syncing of metadata across the entire workflow simplifies asset search and management, while providing our clients solutions with aligned roadmaps and integrations.”
Montgomery points out that Ooyala’s Flex and Video Platform which, in combination with partner Microsoft’s AI capabilities, are able to deliver scalability and efficiency in editing, content review and metadata entry through advanced algorithms that characterise content.
“[The solution] automatically extracts and analyses metadata to identify video genre and content sentiment, pulls topics from speech and text, translates captions into multiple languages and integrates subscriber analytics,” says Montgomery.
Streaming towards the future
There’s no doubt we’re just at the beginning of OTT asset management. In the next few years Hillary Henderson predicts we will see two main innovations, the first concerned with video tagging and enriched metadata.
“Today, videos are primarily tagged after they’ve been processed, and this tagging is done manually by video editors. It’s an extremely labor-intensive and time consuming process,” she says. “As OTT asset management continues to evolve, automatic tagging with enriched metadata at the time of processing will become the norm. IBM Watson Media’s Video Enrichment is doing much of this today, and we will see further advancements that help OTT companies make informed decisions based on actionable insights gleaned from AI video technology.”
Henderson also foresees an evolution in how content owners and service providers track assets. “As technologies like blockchain continue to find footholds in the media and entertainment space, content owners will be offered new levels of transparency and security around how their content is being interacted with,” she suggests. “For example, I predict that in the coming years every interaction with a video asset will be automatically logged in a hyperledger providing new insight for content owners.”
Ooyala’s Montgomery also sees AI driving optimised personalisation, search experiences, and contextual metadata for end-users.
“Asset management for OTT solutions will need to continue to expand their capabilities and integrations to meet challenges spanning across production, distribution and monetisation,” he says.
“Sophisticated solutions will develop to better understand the costs and return-on-investment of assets, enabling providers to build sustainable business models. We will also see continued improvements in recommendation and discovery engines.”
“Tedial has been in the forefront of developing to address new distribution methodologies,” says Batista.
“[OTT asset management] will become more integrated to back office systems including financial tools for invoicing and rights management. We also are working on AI integrations to automate the selection and publication production systems that feed an active Version Factory, especially to support social media and end customer customised feeds. As media becomes more individually focused, we are working to build media executives the tools to address their fans’ desires in unique and cost effective ways,” he said.