The oft-posed question of whether over the top (OTT) is a "friend or foe" is so 2009. At this year's IBC event held in Amsterdam (September 9-14, 2010), it was clear that multi-screen video, which includes the delivery of video over broadband connections (i.e., OTT), has indeed become a priority to service providers of all types--cable, telco and satellite, as well as broadcasters.
A note on personal vindication: As an analyst, the current emergence of multi-screen video priorities is a welcome development, especially since I came home empty handed from last year's IBC event, disappointed in the lack of visible multi-screen momentum, both in terms of infrastructure vendor approaches and service provider implementations. As a consumer, it feels like I'm somewhat at the forefront of the technology adoption curve; we have not had cable TV connected in our home for several years. The PC and the mobile phone have long been our video screens of choice.
Back to IBC this year, where the response of infrastructure vendors to the current multi-screen priority can be summarized along two common themes:
First, the unified headend is emerging as a resonating concept. I've addressed this in the past ("Evolving from multi-cloud to multi-screen content delivery," August 24, 2010). The key driver is the potential cost efficiency in converging disparate infrastructure silos for single screen video delivery into consolidated architectures, which eliminates redundancies and overlap in the ingest and processing of content assets, along with the benefit of reduced complexity and operational expense.
A second theme to emerge is the importance of service delivery platforms (SDPs) in ensuring seamless multi-screen delivery. Service provider resources for the management of content, video sessions, subscribers, identity, content rights, etc., are increasingly being viewed as critical components of a common back-end platform that can share the intelligence for ensuring seamless multi-screen video delivery.
With the current groundswell of multi-screen activity, below are two themes we should expect to emerge over the next 12 months.
Video delivery optimization
The central challenge of multi-screen video delivery is that, while demand for video is growing exponentially, revenue (whether it is based on subscription, advertising, or some other model) is not keeping up. Reducing the cost of video delivery will become priority number one. Sure, there will be plenty of vendor presentations on how their solutions will enable customers to expand into the video revenue pie and get their slice. And of course, service providers will present their take on how they can grow ARPU (or at least reduce churn) with multi-screen video services. But the truth of the matter will quickly emerge that the immediate goal is cost reduction. Therefore, in addition to investments to expand resource capacity (i.e., fixed-line FTTx, wireless LTE...), solutions that optimize video delivery and reduce costs will be in demand. One area is bit-rate throttling, a technique that controls the rate at which media is delivered over HTTP based on encoded bit rates and available bandwidth. This prevents the wasting of bandwidth resources, by ensuring that only the bits of a video being watched are delivered over the network, saving bandwidth costs when consumers pre-maturely end video streaming sessions.
Content delivery network (CDN) architectures are another solution for reducing the cost of multi-screen video delivery. To support the delivery of long form content and larger files (i.e., movies) that will be increasingly delivered over broadband networks, service providers are considering building overlay CDNs optimized for video, as opposed to relying on traditional web serving CDN providers. Cisco's Visual Networking Index (VNI) expects that by 2014, Consumer Internet video will generate 24 Exabytes/month, and mobile video will generate roughly 2.4 Exabytes/month. Yet, the rapid growth of mobile video is driving CDN intelligence for content distribution and caching into the radio access network (RAN), ultimately leading to the need for some coordination between video-optimized CDNs and emerging mobile-optimized CDNs.
See you in Amsterdam in 2011.
Yoav Schreiber is Senior Analyst for Digital Media Infrastructure at Current Analysis, and a FierceCable contributor. Follow him on Twitter @yschreiber.