Geof Todd

Why OTT streaming really is the new broadcasting


Subscription TV is about to reach a very significant milestone; more than 1 billion users across the world is already in sight by 2020. Traditional delivery mechanisms to address this growing population have been mainly about broadcast technologies, including Satellite, Cable and Digital Terrestrial but IPTV has also become mainstream and the expectation is that TV is now truly an interactive 2-way experience, blending both broadcast and on-demand services. There is also a growing expectation that the next billion are going to be reached through much more affordable OTT connectivity – the open internet providing the connectivity not only to TV’s in the living room, but through the exponential growth of the switch to video being watched on mobiles, tablets and other connected devices. This applies especially to the Millennial generation in established markets and consumers in developing markets where traditional TV deployment models are being bypassed. Having the ability to address TV through an effective OTT process represents a significant and business critical inflection point.

The Millennial generation experience

The Millennial generation also has very different consumption, viewing and commercial expectations of TV too, which in turn are also giving rise to new business models. The next billion are less likely to pay high subscription fees for bundles of content where many of the channels are rarely watched, as they have largely grown up on free (possibly pirated) content. Legitimately supplied ‘free’ content is in reality likely to have been advertiser or sponsor funded with the connected viewing device, providing the back channel for better targeted advertising. In this way Millennials are also much more visible than the previous generations of passive device TV viewers. Much more granular addressability, data mining and targeting are all part of the advertisers toolbox today, but interrupt driven advertising is not the sole way to engage – scheduled ad breaks too may be a thing of the past. Now the Millennials are also using social media concurrently with their TV viewing experience, so the opportunity also exists to engage on the companion social media feed that accompanies the show on view – and this feed or service platform may not be owned or be controlled in any direct way by the programme or channel owners.

The rise of the destination brand and the growing use of content search and recommendation engines

Paying for subscription bundles is giving way to event or series-based content consumption. The rights owner is also now in a stronger position to offer direct OTT access to their point programmes that may in the past have been part of an aggregated TV bundle – but this really only works at either end of the scale. Premium content that is highly visible and sought after, whether it is a sports event or a popular series has the opportunity to be a destination brand outside of an aggregated bundle; as does niche, specialist or community content at the other end of the scale. But does this mean the end of aggregated subscription TV? Not yet, because branded service bundles is also shorthand for convenience to the lean-back TV generation. However, the more we interact and seek out content, the more we are likely to depend on personalised content profiles and customised EPGs with room for incremental recommendations.

Can the existing OTT infrastructure support the next wave of viewers?

The promise of using the internet to deliver a truly interactive video experience had always been a significant technical challenge when it came to delivering an OTT online alternative to emulate a broadcast-like experience – the many iterations of web-centric codecs and dedicated IPTV systems attest to this. One of the fundamental architectural imperatives behind the internet is that it was built around a distributed path delivery for basic text messages, meaning that this core architecture worked in direct contrast to the requirements of video, with its higher demands for continuity of connectivity and significant bandwidth. To try to overcome these demands, digital video delivery has passed through several iterations; from CBR, through VBR and now several flavours of ABR. All were built around the way control over the content and its delivery was in the hands and responsibility of the network provider and its technology suppliers. One of the core assumptions was that the client device at the end of the line was only ever going to be a ‘dumb client’ or ‘passive receiver’ (eg. telephones and TVs). But this approach is no longer appropriate or necessary. With the exponential growth of broadband connected devices; including smartphones, powerful tablet computers and the myriads of laptops, the client device is now more than smart enough to be part of the next generation solution of OTT video delivery and service management.

There is also a shift in the emphasis from purely pursuing optimal QoS to acknowledging that in the delivery of media, video in particular, that the content should be experienced as a continuum and that attention to QoE also helps maintain the users’ experience of the narrative, whilst the system copes with QoS fluctuations. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the sight of buffering video highlights the limitations that even first generation ABR-based systems have yet to provide a solution for.

Quiptel – Streaming with Intelligence

Quiptel has taken an innovative intelligent end-to-end system approach that makes them the leader in the OTT space. Working with existing infrastructure and incremental technology, now the smarts are not just in the headend and the paths to the devices are also highly optimised and managed dynamically, due to the patented intelligent and interactive nature of the smart headend conversing with the smart client.

Quiptel’s advanced streaming and management mechanisms include:

-Intelligent Dynamic Routing with Concurrent Multi-path Delivery

-Intelligent Data Flow Control with Adaptive Transfer Rate (ATR) or HLS

-Intelligent Client Device Management using Dynamic multi-link capabilities

Intelligent Dynamic Routing with Concurrent Multi-path Delivery

The approach adopted by Quiptel combines the advantages of a traditional RTSP connection with the reliability of HTTP transport to offer the best of both worlds. Essentially, this involves encapsulating RTSP and RTP in HTTP requests and responses. The concept of tunnelling such protocols in HTTP over TCP is not new, but the Quiptel approach provides improved flow control, which can deliver significant improvements in the media experience over current adaptive schemes based on simple HTTP requests.

Intelligent Dynamic Routing – allows the player to determine which available servers to draw the data from based on geographical position and network conditions. By gathering this data ahead of time the player can implement a fall back strategy in the case of failure, increasing reliability of service and improving scalability.

Concurrent Multi-path Delivery – provides dynamic load balancing across a providers’ network by establishing two TCP links to each of the top three servers capable of providing the data. As the player probes the network and load characteristics the priority level of each of these servers will change dynamically, ensuring smooth load balancing across the network.

This hybrid approach also allows the same server infrastructure to support clients on managed network connections using RTSP. This means that a single system can deliver to clients on either managed or unmanaged networks.

Intelligent Data Flow Control with Adaptive Transfer Rate (ATR) or HLS

Data Flow Control with Adaptive Transfer Rate or HLS – uses the algorithm in the player which selects the most appropriate bit rate and flow control dependent on the condition of the buffer and network. We aim to ensure that the buffer stays between 20 and 80% full, with the highest bit rate possible for the available network. The algorithm strives to push the bit rate to the highest level whilst the Quiptel mechanisms maintain communication with the server while delivering media over the standard HTTP protocol. The underlying TCP connection is also configured to optimise delivery, while remaining completely compliant with Internet Protocol standards.

By bypassing the buffering of data when sending RTSP commands, Quiptel reduces transmission delays and increases responsiveness. This buffering is generally used to reduce transmission of small data packets, but by dynamically disabling this process for command data, latency can be significantly reduced. This means the Quiptel system is able to respond more rapidly to changes in network conditions, allowing intelligent flow control to manage the delivery of data dynamically, rather than simply relying on the client to download an entire chunk of media before it can react.

Intelligent Client Device Management using Dynamic multi-link capabilities

Intelligent Client Device Management using Dynamic multi-link capabilities are built directly into the Quiptel player. Whilst in Speed Up mode, the player is trying to source as much data as possible to fill the buffer and provide playback. To achieve this, the player establishes multiple TCP links as required to enable the download of multiple segments in parallel. The segments are also combined to create continuous playback, ensuring a great QoE.

Now the smart client device is an active part of the experience, with each connection ensuring the optimal delivery of the stream. The Quiptel approach allows the device to display the feed at its maximum capability, which in turn allows the system to manage an optimised routing. This means that a device never gets more data than it can handle and neither can a ‘greedy client’ demand more data at the expense of other clients on the network. This is the ideal approach in a world where devices are either part of a managed IPTV platform, or a BYOD in an OTT TV service.

The Quiptel approach pays off

The flexibility that Quiptel offers is that it can be applied to both existing IPTV and new OTT deployments – providing a technically elegant and cost-effective approach that meets the needs of both platform operator and viewer.

The Quiptel solution also uses the latest ‘Cloud-based’ architecture to provide a truly scalable and flexible platform. In the past, the barrier to entry to becoming a broadcaster was the requirement to make a significant upfront investment in dedicated expensive systems to distribute the signal. With broadband infrastructure becoming more pervasive, faster and cheaper and server and storage power also following Moore’s Law, the set-up costs can be fully scaled as both the channel line up and viewer population increases. The Quiptel platform is designed to enable new entrants to engage and build audiences in ways that were not practical or cost-effective with a broadcast approach. This means that even those specialist channels that are in danger of being lost in the lower echelons on broadcast platforms can now benefit by going on-line and creating an engaging interactive offer from launch.

Quiptel’s technology makes use of under-utilised paths across the network to avoid congestion and gain better throughput. This represents a truly intelligent approach to constructing a comprehensive software solution that is both technically advanced and fully scalable to meet the needs of operators of all sizes – to deliver OTT now.

Getting to the next billion is not dependent on waiting for new codecs or deploying expensive network upgrades – Quiptel’s intelligent approach means you can start winning new viewers today.

Quiptel’s OTT streaming solution really is the new broadcasting.

By Geof Todd, VP sales, Quiptel

Originally Published Here

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