Today, the lines between live TV and video on demand (VOD) services are blurred. Hitting the pause button to take a quick break during a live football game is no longer just a farfetched impulse; it’s a practical expectation. Replaying a scene from a live TV broadcast is now as simple as hitting the rewind button and catching up on a favourite show is just a menu option away. As a result, live streamed linear feeds of sports, news and entertainment content are becoming a competitive necessity.
Time-shifted services enrich live TV experiences, can be adapted for multiscreen viewing and offer new ways to package live content alongside targeted advertising. Increasingly, consumers expect their video anywhere, on any device and want to view that content with DVR controls like time delay, pause or repeat. Between 2011 and early 2014, the number of urban television consumers watching time-shifted content increased from 30% to 43%. Example of advanced live-to-VOD services include:
• Catch-up TV: Enabling viewers to replay TV shows broadcast hours or days earlier, catch-up TV allows pay TV operators to offer an alternative to on-demand movies and to monetise content through targeted advertising.
• Start-over TV: Time-shift TV controls let viewers replay a live broadcast already underway from the beginning and to switch back to a real-time broadcast feed. Targeted advertising streamed on top of existing commercial breaks offers distributors a new monetisation avenue.
• nPVR: DVR controls, which enable creation and storage of live TV content recordings for playback on any device, are increasingly included as a component of pay TV subscriptions Pay TV operators can add value to live broadcasts by creating VOD assets in real time. Though customer satisfaction and loyalty are important objectives for operators, so too is monetisation. Live-to-VOD capabilities offer new ways to package live content alongside targeted advertising
FIXED FUNCTION, HARDWARE-BASED INFRASTRUCTURES CANNOT KEEP UP
To keep a competitive edge, content providers also need to be able to easily prepare their technology infrastructures for live linear streaming at the lowest possible total cost of ownership. That strategy starts with a continuously upgradeable video processing and delivery infrastructure that can bring premium live-streamed content to viewers no matter what device they’re using or where they are.
Fixed-function hardware might offer good performance initially, but can be quickly surpassed by more cost-effective and highly-adaptive options. Dedicated hardware-based infrastructures from incumbent video processing suppliers won’t be able to withstand accelerating innovation in audio processing, color depth, content protection and tracking, and video encoding innovations.
A software-defined video processing platform provides far greater flexibility and scalability, while extending the useful life of infrastructures as the industry evolves. By leveraging the most powerful general purpose programmable processors, the power and efficiency of a software platform can follow the same rate of performance and cost enhancements as standard IT infrastructure.
With this new approach, support for new services and video formats can be integrated seamlessly through software upgrades. What is used to process MPEG-2 video today can migrate seamless to H.264 or HEVC in the future. What is used to trial 8-bit 4K processing might evolve to 10 or 12-bit processing at real deployment. The possibilities are only constrained by the lines of code in the software - and not by chip designs within traditional hardware systems.
SOFTWARE-DEFINED VIDEO ENABLES LIVE-TO-VOD
Software components can be distributed across a network in order to bring multiscreen delivery systems closer to end users. Instead of handling all ABR streaming from a central head-end, format packaging for specific devices can be accomplished on local edge servers. This can greatly improve the efficiency of video delivery while reducing bandwidth consumption as only one stream per profile is required between the head-end origin server and the local edge server.
The flexibility of a software-defined video processing approach allows content providers to offer premium live content while extracting unmined value from that same content. They can enhance core live linear streaming services with catch-up TV functionality and multiscreen delivery. By integrating ad insertion capabilities, operators can even generate additional revenues through targeted advertising.
By supporting third party integrations, a software platform can allow DRM, ad-servers, and other video functions to be fully integrated into a unified system. Modular software-based platforms can also support a multitude of optional add-ons including video processing specific to device profiles, just-in-time packaging, or audio transcoding. Live-to-VOD features such as nPVR and catch-up TV can also be supported through modular software components. Other possibilities could include video analytics, content protection systems and ad-servers.
When built upon a software platform, a live-to-VOD system can quickly scale up through ground or cloud-based video processing. As processing and storage capacities of cloud infrastructures improve, video processing can benefit from increased performance while legacy hardware can be repurposed for less capacity-hungry applications. Content providers may decide to run all or part of their video processing in the cloud. By mixing both ground and cloud-based resources, they can choose what level of system support they would like to maintain internally versus through external enabled services infrastructures.
OVERCOMING LIVE-TO-VOD MULTISCREEN CHALLENGES
Live-to-VOD services can be adapted to second screen devices such as PCs, smartphones and tablets. However, formatting live-to-VOD content to fit second screen devices is not as straightforward as simply playing back content on a TV set.
A live-to-VOD service needs to be able to repackage content, using recorded catch-up TV or nPVR content as mezzanine files, to a wide variety of devices supported by the pay TV operator. The system needs to be both scalable and flexible to support edge servers and third party CDNs. With premium pay TV content, it is also important that live-to-VOD services incorporate DRM technology to protect valuable content regardless of the device used for playback.
Whether it’s catch-up, start-over, nPVR, or pause TV, each live-to-VOD service implementation must also take into account the different types of screens and networks in use. Bandwidth, storage, monetisation and security concerns can lead to complications that are quickly multiplied by the myriad viewer devices and scenarios involved.
By relying on a software-based approach rather than fixed-function hardware, live-to-VOD systems can be more easily upgraded to embrace new standards and features as they emerge. By also including a just-in-time (JIT) packager that can adapt video streams to network and device parameters in real time, pay TV operators can be prepared for whatever comes next.
VIDEO DELIVERY PLATFORM FOR ADVANCING LIVE-TO-VOD
Leading cable and satellite operators are already using software-defined video processing to enable multiscreen TV and time-shifting features. As the price to performance ratios of off-the-shelf hardware continue to improve and private cloud IT capabilities mature, the business case for shifting traditional video encoding and multiplexing to software-defined video systems is now compelling.
Elemental’s video processing and multiscreen delivery solutions are all built with a software-based approach. This allows for the rapid addition of new live-to-VOD features and support for new types of devices as they are introduced to the market. For example, the Elemental® Delta video delivery platform supports multiscreen delivery of advanced live-to-VOD services such as catch-up TV, start-over TV, and nPVR. The IP video delivery solution lowers storage, bandwidth and transit costs and helps content providers mitigate distribution expense by taking ownership of greater portions of the delivery infrastructure.
Already adopted in more than 10 countries, Elemental Delta combines just-in-time (JIT) packaging, origin services, intelligent caching, dynamic ad insertion and replacement, and end-to-end encrypted content protection functions in a single platform. The platform reduces multiscreen system complexity with the ability to transform any input into any output for high-quality, secure video delivery. The IP video delivery solution lowers storage, bandwidth and transit costs and helps content providers mitigate distribution expense by taking ownership of greater portions of the delivery infrastructure. Elemental Delta enables video providers to leverage a single multiscreen delivery workflow for every connected device, eliminating the management of multiple CDNs and network topologies.
Unlike generalized multiscreen delivery services, Elemental Delta provides on-the-fly support for all major adaptive streaming protocols, compression formats, and multiple digital rights management (DRM) systems within a single framework. Among supported protocols are HDS, HLS, Smooth Streaming and the MPEG-DASH standard, which supports on-demand, live and time-shift applications and services. Elemental Delta also handles H.264 delivery as well as the new high-efficiency video coding (HEVC/H.265) codec needed for next-generation video delivery.
To secure content, the platform combines embedded encryption and decryption capabilities with JIT DRM wrapping, enables protected assets to be stored and moved efficiently through the network and applies DRM in real time upon delivery. Finally, Elemental Delta has built-in failover and redundancy, whether on the ground or in the cloud.
The author is VP of marketing at Elemental Technologies.