While connected TV has brought many benefits of scale and new revenue streams to content owners, the arms race to support an ever-growing variety of platforms, release schedules and refresh cycle frequency is a key challenge. Mark Mayne reports on an expert panel teasing out the answers to the many questions and challenges around the Single Tech Stack.

An expert panel came together recently to discuss the ever-complex question of distribution and the journey towards a single tech stack. The panel, made up from content owners, telcos and broadcasters began by addressing what they feel are the biggest challenges in the space.


IBC Webinar: Towards a single tech stack - The future of distribution and connected TV

Robin Oakley, Distribution Technology Leader, Formerly DAZN led the charge: “The biggest challenge is monetisation. Why is that relevant to distribution? Well, because monetisation [encompasses how] we used to package everything up, and we’ve got a streaming video space or even a linear video experience. Now in the OTT world, you bring in technologies like server side and client side advertising to help try and monetise your audience, fast channels to monetise your audience.

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“And also integration challenges, preventing false positives and protecting your advertising where you’re having to throw from different content origins seamlessly without messing with the user experience.”

Business models and fragmentation

Ramesh Panchagnula, Senior Director, Engineering (Video, Playback and R&D) for a large OTT platform in India went next: “Well, over the years, we have seen the number of platforms that users are consuming content through growing exponentially as well as the device fragmentation that we see in the market space - and that is coupled with the scale of delivery that we are looking at these days. It’s the combination of these three aspects that is making distribution a key strategic competence that you have got to focus on through your entire value chain and that’s probably the crux of solving the problem.”

Finally, António Castanheira, OTT Product Manager, SIC stepped up: “The biggest challenge, I have to say, is the range of devices - all the kinds of operating systems, different operating systems and of course to [ensure users] have the best experience in all of them, as well as trying to retain people in our platform as much as possible. I probably would pick these three, starting from the devices then operation systems and retention.”

Panchagnula was keen to put the challenges in context: “Distribution has a content side of it, it has a reach aspect too. So you’re really targeting revenue and reach as two aspects with the type of business models that you’re trying to drive. There are all sorts of limitations with respect to the amount of infrastructure that you’re limited by, for the scale that you’re trying to run, that coupled with device feature fragmentation, and amount of network variance.

“With all of these, the key challenge is how do I have my niche content delivered in a seamless manner with the expectable QOE and also customise and monetise at the same time to my cohort of users. So the content has to be customised as well as delivered in a seamless fashion to all these cohorts. That is the key challenge that is basically increasing the complexity exponentially as opposed to the simple model where you have content delivered to a bunch of users.

Online and Live Error Margins Decreasing

As the conversation flowed, Moderator Keran Boyd, Research Analyst, Caretta Research read out a question from the live audience. “The question is, with all of the possible portions of the delivery pipeline where performance can be impacted, for example encoder, packager origin CDN, middle mile, CDN, last mile, home WiFi, video player, is it inevitable that some percentage of the OTT audience is going to have a poor experience? I want to say if so, what percentage would you consider unavoidable?”

Oakley was keen to take on the challenge: “I guess every company is going to have a different acceptable level of this. My years of dealing with and trying to create a viewing experience ‘online’ that doesn’t make people think about the viewing experience online, and contrast that with what we’re used to in terms of linear broadcast that doesn’t break up. It has to be said it has improved dramatically - perhaps a rough hundred-fold improvement in that today.

So, the margins are getting lower and lower, lower what’s acceptable from broadcasters point of view, and I think they’ve always been there from a viewers point of view, particularly in the live world where you’re taking a live experience. So I’m not gonna give an actual number, but it is getting very low.”

Later, Oakley had some pragmatic thoughts about the STB market, another traditionally fragmented space: “I think set top boxes have got to be declining. I think they sit in that middle ground to your £1000+ pound TV purchase that you don’t want to be doing every Sunday and your streaming stick which can give you the latest and greatest tech on a much higher [upgrade] cadence with much higher reach.

“The setup box tends to be somewhere in the middle, they’re provided by the platform, the satellite broadcast or the telco - it’s in their interest to do that, because it’s another bit of the network that can be under their control.

“However, people are going to go for the content and so your content has got to be on that set top box - we see it with Skype Q and others opening up their environments but that’s adding to the complexity…”

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In the closing remarks, the panel was asked for their best piece of advice for other businesses looking to evolve their tech stacks elegantly.

Panchagnula had some pithy thoughts: “I would say start small. When you’re trying to get started in this space [there are] a lot of publicly available tech stack and vendor based solutions that you can leverage so that you can get the basics right, and provide a minimum user experience and also evaluate where are your users coming from, [and work out] what platforms that you absolutely need to support. Then as you go along this journey, trying to figure out what is your core, how do you monetize, which leads you to the next set of questions and answers…”

Castanheira had a not dissimilar take: “I will say that [you need to] better understand your audience and [once you have] the experience of that audience, then go after the second audience and the third audience. Don’t try to go everywhere and to find every kind of audience because you’re going to get heavier, [and deliver] the worst experience possible, which will not accomplish getting the audience that you want and probably will not work.”

Oakley summed up neatly: “Technology is moving so quickly now. We used to make tenure decisions on satellite leases with incredibly long contracts of two years. So you can get in this analysis paralysis, but I would say: you can’t know everything before you do something. Don’t worry about not knowing everything. When you start. Start small. Iterate, try it. Use the data then adapt and learn. Don’t be afraid, and don’t be afraid to fail.”

Watch the Towards a single tech stack: The future of distribution and connected TV on demand now, and get the full range of insights from the expert panel. Alternatively, check out the full on-demand IBC webinar catalogue and/or register for any upcoming IBC 2023 webinar topics that appeal.

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