At IBC, mapping a sea change in OTT video

One of the interesting things to do ahead of and during a broadcaster-centric trade show like IBC 2015 is to watch industry players try and predict which way the market will turn in the next six to 12 months. Will all networks have an over-the-top component by 2016? How much consolidation is going to take place? And what is the next big innovation, particularly for online video? While no forecast is ever entirely accurate, the industry has increasingly found itself reacting to market happenings rather than driving them.

As I attend IBC over the next few days, I expect to see ample chatter about mobile OTT, like Verizon's currently-in-beta go90 service, and how networks, distributors, content owners and everyone involved in the video delivery chain can take advantage of this emerging segment.

How those opportunities will really present themselves, however, may not be evident at all during the show. Like most of the latest IP-based innovations, traditional television has found itself more often blindsided by the latest ways consumers can access and engage with video online.

What the industry has to deal with right now, however, is a cultural tectonic shift in viewer behavior.

Recently, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel ignited a feud with YouTube Gaming fans (and by extension, Twitch users) when one of his skits, poking fun at the concept of people watching other people play video games, struck a nerve. A comment firestorm followed on his YouTube channel, one that Kimmel played for laughs but clearly found a little unsettling. The comedian worked out a sort-of détente by sitting down with YouTube gamers Jonna Mae and Mark Fischbach to find out more about eSports and the popularity of Let's Play (a gaming term for a video, whether live or recorded, of playthrough of a video game accompanied by commentary from the player).

Whether or not it was a smart marketing move by YouTube Gaming to facilitate the peace talks, the Great Kimmel-Gamer War of 2015 revealed something that most online video industry players have been aware of to only a certain degree: society, particularly millennials, are engaging with content in a way that the industry never expected. Traditional players certainly never expected the demographic to be so passionate about certain types of content.

In fact, when Matthew Szatmary, Twitch's senior video encoding engineer told OTT industry executives at the 2014 Streaming Media East show that it was the fastest-growing online video service, the audience was taken aback. Many hadn't even heard of Twitch.

Other game-changers grew quietly and without fanfare: Major League Baseball Advanced Media had been building a solid streaming infrastructure since 2002, one so good that it became the provider of choice to WWE Networks, and Turner Networks for its streaming of March Madness tournaments, and ultimately was picked to power HBO Now.

Will we continue to see innovative services emerge from the IP video pool in the coming months? Definitely. Will the industry be able to predict which ones they will be? In many cases, no. But hopefully, traditional broadcasters, pay-TV providers and others will be less entrenched and more prepared for the next consumer-driven technology leap.

Look here to keep up with Fierce's IBC coverage and all of the ideas and rumors that come from it.

--Sam

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