The last few years have seen us begin to consume content in very different ways – and COVID-19 has accelerated that change. Ian McMurray finds out how the industry is responding.
According to Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, British residents spent an average of almost six and a half hours watching content during the first full month of lockdown – some 30% up on the average for 2019. Subscription video-on-demand (SVOD), however, saw an even greater increase, with demand doubling. Tellingly, young adults aged 16-34 watched almost twice as much SVOD as the average.
While traditional broadcasters will continue to thrive, analysts see streaming in its varying forms representing the future – so it comes as little surprise that broadcast equipment manufacturers are rushing to introduce new products and enhance their existing offerings, while others ramp up their investment.
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Seeing what the company describes as “record demand” for streaming content services, Applicaster has secured $11m to support continued technology and customer growth. Applicaster’s SaaS app management platform, Zapp, is designed to simplify the way media companies build, manage and distribute content, reducing costs and significantly decreasing time to market.
Jonathan Laor, co-founder and CEO, Applicaster, said: “There has been a fundamental shift in consumer viewing habits that is creating a fundamental shift for media companies. Mobile and connected TV apps have never been a bigger part of their business model than now. Applicaster has always remained several steps ahead of industry growth and technological change. We’re excited to continue working with content providers to ultimately ensure viewers are engaged and receptive. Applicaster’s speed and flexibility in reaching these audiences are key in adapting strategies to support this burgeoning market.”
Harmonic is one of the companies that has been quick to upgrade its offering, and has made a number of enhancements to its VOS360 Live Streaming Platform now features new seamless 1+1 geo-redundancy capabilities, ensuring uninterrupted streaming, as well as multi-CDN and caching, to effectively manage peak viewing. The company sees sport as a significant opportunity, and the VOS360 platform is designed to reduce latency for live sports streaming with CMAF and Apple Low-Latency HLS protocol support. By supporting a SaaS business model, Harmonic says that the VOS360 platform enables service providers to quickly respond to viewership peaks and adeptly handle sports tournaments that might only last a day or a few days.
Range of innovation
“The rapid evolution of cloud technology is ushering in a broad range of innovation in the media industry for both streaming and traditional broadcast applications,” said Shahar Bar, senior vice president, video products and corporate development, at Harmonic. “With this summer release for VOS SaaS and cloud-native software, Harmonic continues to drive forward innovation, helping our customers achieve unparalleled efficiency, flexibility and reliability when they pivot to cloud-native environments both on public and private clouds.”
Harmonic has also announced that it is to work with SES to fast-track the freeing up of spectrum for 5G while simultaneously enabling SES’s C-band customers to maintain the quality and resilience of their critical video services. This network transformation is based on Harmonic’s software solutions for satellite video delivery. The two companies will partner for technology upgrades associated with the SES transition plan filed with the US Federal Communications Commission on 19 June.
“There has been a fundamental shift in consumer viewing habits that is creating a fundamental shift for media companies.” - Jonathan Laor
SES and Harmonic will work jointly to deploy Harmonic’s XOS media processing in the headend and XOS Edge transcoding solutions in remote sites for primary distribution of video feeds. The XOS solutions are based on Harmonic’s streaming platform.
Meanwhile, SES has been chosen by BBC Studios (BBCS) and its subsidiary UKTV to manage the playout and distribution of over 50 linear channels and their associated VOD services. SES will provide playout, content processing, distribution, and VOD services, delivering BBCS and UKTV content to a network of affiliates globally and in the UK. These services will be based on the SES European global delivery services with technical playout infrastructure provided from its new Stockley Park facility in London and with its Munich playout facility overseeing operational management.
Another company to announce support for the CMAF (Common Media Application Format) streaming format is TAG Video Systems. This will, it says, allow OTT customers to take advantage of more diverse platforms, simplified workflows, lower latency and reduced cost - all crucial issues, TAG says, that content owners or broadcasters face while streaming live or on-demand content.
Meanwhile, MediaKind has launched Aquila On-Demand, a video on demand solution for the processing and delivery of video files over any network (cable, IPTV and OTT) to any device. The company says Aquila On-Demand supports HEVC, 8K and CMAF while addressing the challenge in delivering high-end, premium-quality user experiences to multiple streaming devices by transforming file-based content for on demand delivery. This new offering within the MediaKind Universe of solutions is said to empower global TV operators to enable the most unique and immersive ways to consume video content to their subscribers and viewers, offering reduced operational complexity, optimised server footprint and rapid time to market for valuable content assets.
Looking well into the future, Viaccess-Orca has announced that its secure video player, validated by studios for multi-device content protection, supports the delivery of VR and 8K video over 5G networks. The player is said to offer seamless integration with third-party systems to enable flawless 360° video experiences, from the point of capture to distribution. It has been deployed by PCCW Media, a multimedia and entertainment company headquartered in Hong Kong, for its new VR content.
Creative and immersive
Philippe Lasry, EVP solutions marketing at Viaccess-Orca, said: “Consumers today demand creative and immersive television experiences; VR is a chance for service providers to raise the bar on innovation. Until now the industry lacked a player capable of delivering extraordinary video resolution and content protection. VO is leading the VR transformation and enabling service providers to explore the opportunities of 5G networks by establishing the pillars needed to deliver video streaming services in a whole new dimension.”
Streaming content brings with it numerous opportunities – but also, some challenges, such as monitoring. In response, Telestream has brought together streaming and linear analytics under a single pane of glass with the integration of Sentry (from its merger with Tektronix) and Youbora (from a partnership with Nice People at Work) into its IQ Monitoring system.
The company claims this will enable “operators to find and fix faults faster than ever”, and combine average bit rate (ABR) and linear video workflow analytics and correlated diagnostics. The Sentry linear probes and Surveyor TS probes have now been integrated, as well as NPAW’s Youbora player analytics, for complete end-to-end monitoring of OTT streaming and IPTV distribution networks.
Improved operational efficiency
The update includes the new release of iVMS ASM (Intelligent Video Management System), which expands the range of probes, monitoring points and automated diagnostics correlation available to increase visibility across linear and ABR video workflows to reduce time to repair. To enable operations teams to manage a complex and growing network more efficiently, the new release is claimed to improve operational efficiency and reduce issue identification and resolution time while automating processes whenever possible.
“OTT streaming workflows typically run on hybrid networks with on-prem linear video ultimately streaming out as cloud ABR services,” said Joel Daly, VP product management, Telestream. “OTT providers can now seamlessly monitor linear and ABR video content distribution in the cloud, virtual and on-prem with IQ Solutions’ new enhanced single pane-of-glass management to simplify operations. It’s truly the most comprehensive video monitoring and management platform available.”
In other announcements, Matrox released its new Monarch Edge 4K/multi-HD encoder and decoder, which is designed to enable next-level remote production (REMI) workflows. It supports popular MPEG-2, RTSP and SRT streaming protocols.
Many have speculated upon which of the behavioural changes brought on by the pandemic will persist in the ‘new normal’. Will we continue to bake banana bread and patronise local stores? Will we have fallen out of love with commuting to and from the office? Will shaking hands become a thing of the past? No-one can say with certainty – but what is certain is that streaming, OTT and VOD will continue their inexorable rise, even after many of the restrictions we’re enduring today have been lifted.
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