IBC 2014 wrap: Content rights loom large as multiscreen moves to the forefront

Samantha Bookman, FierceOnlineVideo

AMSTERDAM--IBC, arguably the Continent's biggest broadcasting and media conference, can be a bit dizzying. Going over notes in the wake of a five-day whirlwind of conference sessions, meetings and networking events is a somewhat herculean task. But paging through two notebooks' worth of material revealed a few underlying trends at this year's event.

Service providers dream of a turnkey world

Predominant throughout the service providers exhibiting at the conference was the term "end-to-end solution." Everybody seemed to be offering end-to-end video delivery solutions for multiscreen, TV Everywhere, and even linear broadcasting or distribution. The goal for many of them, it appears, is to be able to sell TV Everywhere or multiscreen solutions that are almost ready-made and ready to turn up as soon as the ink on the contracts is dry.

Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), for example, renewed its Mediaroom push, announcing updates for its core IPTV-focused platform and launching an OTT-focused service, MediaFirst, that it says primarily offers non-IPTV operators (say, cable and satellite, or all-OTT providers) a way to more easily add multiscreen offerings for their subscriber base.

Piksel demonstrated new products, including its Piksel Video Platform, and highlighted its Piksel Palette and Mosaic. Its aim is to reduce the amount of bespoke solutions it creates for customers, and in that vein has developed four offerings on the video platform: an internal channel; digital church, for religious organizations streaming video; digital stadium, focused on increasing fan engagement; and digital showcase, which offers OTT video solutions for content creators, aggregators and distributors.

While Piksel has been in the OTT services business for a decade, it's clearly looking to revamp its model as other vendors crowd into the space. Kevin Joyce, chief commercial officer, noted that while Piksel wanted to offer more commercialized, prepackaged solutions, "customers still want a personalized experience. So we changed the discussions that we have with them." Piksel now focuses on a potential customer's business model and developed its video platform to give them more control of configuration and other elements, he said.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) was on site to tout its Azure cloud solution and its value to content providers, offering its own end-to-end services for video delivery.

Despite the showy presentations, there seemed to be a lot of "me too" in many product spiels. No vendor wants to be left behind, or to be considered as just a single piece of a whole ecosystem. But truthfully, the online video ecosystem is complex. At its most basic level, the video stream at some point must leave a provider's control and travel to points on other networks. A content delivery network provider can help maintain some level of control, but only a few providers can really say they own that end-to-end experience.

DRM is a watchword again

Digital rights management (DRM) was back in the conversation this year. Vendors like Adobe, with its Primetime solution, Microsoft, through its Azure services, and others like Cryptography Research, with its system-on-chip solution for set-top boxes, tried to grab providers' attention. Adobe pointed out that its authentication features and other access solutions can help avoid issues like the HBO Go password sharing issue that has subscribers chuckling and distributors chewing their lip.

But is DRM really such a problem? nScreenMedia analyst Colin Dixon didn't think so. "The house is not on fire," he told me in an interview during the show. In fact, according to a Fox executive he spoke with, just 20 percent of pay-TV subscribers in a recent survey admitted to downloading illegal content, he said. More telling, he added, much of the content they downloaded was actually available through their pay-TV provider, on demand.

That statistic suggested something far more damning: that search and recommendation need a lot of work, and a lot more attention than DRM does.

Content matters

Think the retransmission spats between U.S. pay-TV providers and broadcasters are annoying? Just wait for the content rights wars to heat up.

In conference sessions throughout the week, a large part of the talk revolved around creating, acquiring and distributing video content online. Gone are the days when a few subscription online video services could affordably license several movies or TV series at once. Now, for each program created, an ever-growing list of usage rights are being created along with it.

"A year ago, when they were doing licensing deals (broadcasters) always included catch up rights. The problem is as each year goes by … there are more and more verticals," said Andy Goodsir, managing director and executive producer at History Television International, in a panel on archived content.

On the plus side, the rights problem is spurring the growth of a little-discussed industry segment: companies that specialize in managing licensing and program scheduling across the video spectrum. RSG Media, based in New York City, and Sintec Media, based in Jerusalem, offer management software and support for broadcast and OTT operations.

Consolidation is in the air

While thePlatform is owned by Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), it operates largely outside Comcast's control as an online media management provider. And it's that independence that allowed it to partner with Verizon (NYSE: VZ), a Comcast competitor, to provide an end-to-end (there's that term again) streaming solution.

But other large companies are following the tried-and-true acquisition route. Ooyala, of course, was recently acquired by Telstra, a merger that gives Ooyala global reach and Telstra a multiscreen OTT service it can use to expand out of a saturated telecom market in Australia.

Ericsson, likewise, has continued along its acquisition path, making notable acquisitions over the past couple of years--besides grabbing Mediaroom from Microsoft, it brought Red Bee Media under its wing and Azuki, buys that have helped along its revamp of the IPTV solution.

In the U.S., Comcast and Time Warner Cable's pending nuptials are occupying much of our attention. But as other established providers look to craft online video offerings, expect to see more acquisition and consolidation in the rapidly changing online video market.--Sam