Smarter video delivery: how ABR will change the game

Andy Beach, SeaWell Networks

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming (ABR) has done a great deal to help change the way we watch content online.  Its ability to seamlessly switch data rates and resolutions based  on network conditions has helped keep viewers connected longer in their online viewing, focusing more on watching content than fighting with plug-ins, settings and other technical challenges. Indeed it combines the best parts of both HTTP and more traditional streaming into one package - using standard ports to deliver network specific chunks of video without leaving an accessible version of the file cached locally. All the popular flavors of ABR also have some form of encryption enabled as part of their spec, further guaranteeing content owners and distributors will take advantage of it to deploy their media.

So clearly, ABR has a lot going for it because it is a way forward for premium online delivery of video.  But all that promise comes at a cost.   In this case, the cost is in preparation and then storage and management of many files just to deliver a single channel.  In a typical adaptive experience, 8-12 resolutions may be used to create the single channel of video.  But that's just to reach a single delivery platform.  Generating files to deliver on multiple adaptive formats could then require creating as much as 40-50 versions of each video just to provide a single channel of video.  While this is doable with the variety of encoding technologies available today, it's impractical - furthermore, it's really unnecessary.  Of all these various adaptive platforms we are creating content for, almost categorically they will all playback the same video bit stream - it's just the wrapper and playlist or manifest file needed by the various players. Likewise, the transcoding of content is still fairly processor expensive.  Why spend a lot of horsepower transcoding video if you don't need to? 

Recently, a new category of network level solutions that repackage content for delivery to different protocols has emerged.  While this is a good start to reducing the files required to deliver our content, it's just a small step. Rather than wasting all that processing power on a single channel of content, we could just repack the bit stream, and rewrite the appropriate manifest files with a good deal less processor, freeing up cycles to be spent on other jobs. But efficient repackaging of content is just one thing needed to make content delivery smarter.  Further improvements are needed at a network level to ensure the most optimized delivery of content.  A media- aware platform,  - a solution designed to manage video delivery at the individual stream level, gives content owners and their delivery partners the most flexible options for managing the online experience of their viewers.  It should provide ways to combine the power of network- level file repackaging with session- based rule application, Quality of Experience algorithms to improve playback, and a wealth of analytic reporting to both further optimize the network, but also show key indicators to advertising partners.

Smarter video delivery means optimized optimization - fewer streams to deliver and more management control over the streams one offers.  The effects of such optimization should both reduce operational costs for producing and managing those files, as well as decrease the bandwidth needed in the network for delivering. This powerful combination of savings makes room for all the more content to naturally flow online, making the business of online video even more viable.

Andy Beach is Chief Evangelist at SeaWell Networks, where he drives company and product messaging, promotes the company’s groundbreaking technology, and ensures product strategies align with customer and industry needs. He is also the author of Real World Video Compression, a book that seeks to explain the world of compression in plain English. Most recently, Andy was VP of Marketing for Elemental Technologies; a Portland based video compression software company specializing in GPU acceleration.