Consumer viewing habits have swung strongly towards streamed content. A Digital Television Group gathering to contemplate The TV of Tomorrow Today focussed on the niggly problems streaming can suddenly shock engineers with, sustainability ambitions around IPTV, and the over populated Codec market, reports George Jarrett.
On the question of why continuing the status quo is not an option, DTG CEO Richard Lindsay-Davies said: “We’ve all put a huge amount of work in on standardisation, interoperability and testing for many years, thinking if we do something new it will work.
“What we need is for companies to come together, and solve things as a collective. It is generally agreed that the tipping point will be around 2028. That 10-year cycle, as with the digital switchover, is really established and it’s pretty tough to move a market quicker,” he added. “But we had better start working on it pretty quickly.”
Juliet Gauthier, Red Bee Media’s product manager for FAST, said: “It is inevitable that we will all watch TV by streaming. It is just a matter of time. Seven times less broadcast TV is being watched by the younger generations, but the over 65’s still watch TV for a third of their day.
“We have the situation where media companies have to operate with feet in multiple camps. In this hybrid era we are going to need skills, and we have an upcoming skills crisis in this industry,” she added. “You will have to find people who can do good software integrations.”
Hard times along the way
Bob Hannent, DAZN architect for video playback and delivery, kicked the conference agenda fully into making streaming work with some valuable experiences.
DAZN is a live sports streaming giant with a presence in 225 countries, and in 2022 it pumped out 1.2 billion hours of live sports to consumers.
“We have 15 million subscribers, but that in itself has brought challenges, especially when you handle something as important as a Serie A or La Ligue game. People are passionate, and you have got to be really careful,” Hannent said. “We have had some hard times along the way, and one of those real things is the economies of scale.
“By the time I am getting the massive scale it is proportionately improved, but what you don’t realise is that the trouble, the technical problems you are going to encounter, go up exponentially, and it is less obvious if you think they were in proportion,” he added. “You have one glitch. You lose one manifest file, and you miss one of those for three seconds. Let’s say 300,000 people suddenly go back and kick your server. Guess what, this is live streaming.”
“Netflix can take days to encode a video. If only I had that amount of time. And then we have to distribute that, 100,000 pops in a few seconds, and I have no chance to catch any faults along the way. If it is going to break, you have to be resilient,” said Hannent.
Watch more The convergence of linear & streaming
“We have as many as 4-6 different Origin head ends transmitting all concurrently just to port one single game. When a failure happens there is no auto sealing on cloud compute that can deal with that. With OnDemand you can deliver a great deal of content to a wide audience, but that is a lot easier than live,” he added. “With live the cache efficiencies and the efficiencies of your processes do not work as well.”
It is not trivial
Hannent issued a warning. He said: “The problems get frighteningly scaled. We have been working closely with our ISP’s and CDN providers, and we use seven CDN’s in order to deliver our content.
“We are constantly tweaking, balancing and improving to try and ensure that everyone gets the optimum amount of content. During the early part of the week there is a tiny audience, then at weekends it will jump up 10,000 times in terms of consumption,” he added. “We scale up proportionally. You have to be thinking about all those things that are going to come at you as you transition towards IPTV. It is not trivial. It is about working to get your stuff onto IPTV networks.”
Smarter track distribution
Will Penson, Conviva VP of strategy presented the simple logic that, “You cannot manage what you cannot measure”.
Conviva collects data on a massive scale from end viewers. It is cleaned, enriched, standardised and stabilised in real-time and the data is serviced back to video publishers. Penson said: “They can make informed, and in many cases automated decisions regarding experience, engagement, and monetisation. How do you deliver reliable streams at peak time? You could build more network capacity, but this an expensive approach.
“The alternative reality is to make more efficient use of that which is already out there. Ultimately this is going to be much more cost effective and sustainable,” he added.
The hot topics here are smarter track distribution, and modern codecs enable much more efficient compression. Open caching is another hot topic. And Hybrid Delivery protocols are also one of the proposed approaches; another approach is Context Aware Encoding.”
A Partner with Carnstone, and heavily involved with the 25 company Responsible Media Forum DIMPACT, Will Picket said: “This group is looking to measure the emissions and energy consumption of their video streaming and digital publishing services. We want to put credible numbers on these things.
“We know for a streaming product it is vastly different to any (life cycle assessment of a product), and some of the challenges in this area have really stemmed from the fact that there haven’t been standard ways to do it. Having these figures will help us to understand what the hot spots are – which areas of the value chain offer the biggest improvements available,” he added.
DIMPACT’s tool to assess hot spots was derived from technology efforts by the University of Bristol Computer Science Department, and the BBC R&D Sustainability Team.
“In 2021 we partnered with the Carbon Trust to write a white paper on the carbon impacts of video streaming, and we have done some subsequent work with OFCOM,” said Picket. “The majority of the energy consumption is in consumer distributive devices: that’s where we see the hotspot, with networks at 10-15%. But we want to zoom in just on our networks.”
Multi-codec has been a reality for years
Christian Feldman, senior video coding engineer with Bitmovin praised the University of Klagenfurt’s Athena project.
“Researchers of PhD positions are studying the direction of multi codec video streaming. Do not be afraid of using multiple codecs because it can help you solve so many problems,” he said. “The efficiency of a codec depends on the standard you are using, the configuration, and the implementation. But the major part of efficiency depends on the content you put into it.
“One published paper considers optioning the whole encoding ladder. You could prepare for different targets like energy efficiency. Another project is based on the idea of while you are streaming you can collect stats from your devices as they stream, by using something like CMCD,” he added. “You can combine all these approaches and optimise a ladder across the different codecs.”
The price to pay
Simone Ferrara, V-Nova’s SVP for technology and IP strategy trailed LC DC, which sits on top of any codec to enhance its performance. He said: “New and more advanced codecs have been developed over the last decade, and with each generation the goal is to try and squeeze more data into smaller file size. Between generations you have roughly a 50% gain.
“But there is a price to pay, and typically this comes into how computationally complex the compression efficiency is to achieve. People are restoring and very much focussing on squeezing more out,” he added. “We need better hardware support, and more powerful devices. Technology is developing but it is not keeping up.”
Whatever is introduced as a new codec, users are still left with a massive legacy problem. Ferrara said: “We end up with an additional codec to add to the list. There is more that we can do, and maybe compression is not the only thing we need to look at. What about if we start to enhance rather than just replace codecs with new generations?”