Deep-Dives (Case Studies)
This section contains two articles that look in depth at some infrastructures I have been closely involved in designing and deploying. The first is look at a hybrid TV platform extensively used in the UK, and the second focuses on NASDAQ's Market Disclosure platform - one of the largest and most used platforms I have designed and deployed. From a commercial perspective these are both very much live platforms, and so I am relatively tied about getting free reign to talk about too many specifics. However, some time ago I cleared the two texts through their PR departments as part of a publication in StreamingMedia magazine I was asked to contribute. While they first appeared in 2014, they are still, at the point of writing, absolutely relevant.
Hitting the TV Screen - IPTV/Hybrid TV and OTT
(This section was first published as an article in www.streamingmedia.com in 20141)
The term “OTT” is used for many types of video delivery. Here are the different OTT workflow models, and the various ways they bring videos to viewers.
“Over the top” (OTT) is one of the most overused and ambiguous buzzwords in our industry.
In order to understand linear video delivery in OTT models, first, you have to look at what OTT means outside of video. To mobile operators, OTT is a scary proposition. Calls, text messaging, and image messaging had been entirely within operators' control until now, and therefore presented an opportunity for revenue. For those operators, OTT services are an almost unavoidable symptom of smartphones requiring open Internet access, and bring with them many services that compete with operators' traditional revenue models. King of all these is Skype, and it provides a clear example of what “top” the
Content Delivery Networks: Fundamentals, Design, and Evolution, First Edition. Dom Robinson. © 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
service comes “over” to earn the moniker OTT: namely the pay wall that is the per-minute billing system of the mobile operator.
In exactly the same way I often dogmatically emphasize that “cloud” is an economic term defining the move of CAPEX to OPEX when building IT infrastructure, OTT is also an economic term first and foremost. At best, it means that the operators are able to derive data transit and bandwidth-oriented revenues for the delivery of network service on behalf of providers that otherwise charge much higher premiums to end users or sponsors. At worst, operators are loss-leading that data transit to encourage subscribers to stay with them rather than take their business to other operators. All the while, OTT services are taking revenue from network operators' subscribers and not (necessarily) sharing any of that revenue with the network operator.
However, with this economic common denominator noted, in any specific technical context the term OTT has a range of implementation models that ensure that the cost of this data transit and bandwidth delivery itself is as profitable as possible for the network operator, whether profit is measured in operator CDN revenues or in terms of subscriber retention.
Therefore one group of operator-focused broadcast OTT models for the increasingly connected TV market typically uses subscriber ISPs to deliver OTT services. For this community, OTT evokes a tight coupling of application control, typically embedded securely in smart TVs or Set-Top Boxes, with a primary content origination strategy.
This typically results in a streaming video-based workflow connecting content publishing sources with points of distribution in some form of content management system. This in turn is synchronized with the applications in the end user premises, and presented as some form of electronic program guide or other user interface on their device.
Broadcast OTT providers work closely with operator CDNs to ensure quality of service across well-managed IP networks, and they will work in regions. This is result of these operator CDN relationships, as well as the market-shaping caused by the existing TV content rights models.
For example, in the UK, we see the BBC (iPlayer), Sky (SkyNOW), and BT (BTSport/BT Vision) as leading examples of common OTT propositions. While the content originates in a form that is delivered directly to the Internet for general-purpose access through a device of the consumer's choosing, each of these publishers also works very hard to also deliver their own services well to connected TVs and Set-Top Boxes. This results in, for example, Freeview, YouView, BT Vision, and Virgin Media Set-Top Boxes in the UK, with Internet connections, that can access BBC iPlayer, or Sky Now, and these services typically appear alongside other OTT providers such as YouTube, Netflix, and Vimeo.
There is a key separation between simple streaming applications that the device can browse and the broadcast OTT providers - the broadcast OTT provider's services will appear “integrated” with traditional broadcast TV, where services such as YouTube and Netflix will be entirely separate applications.
An example: A typical user might see TV, YouTube, and Netflix options on her main connected TV menu, but might not see BBC iPlayer as a stand-alone menu application. However, the traditional BBC1 linear TV broadcast might include extended features, such as red button, network DVR, pause and rewind live, or extended on-demand viewing catalogs, perhaps related to the current broadcast. All of these are made possible by the tight integration of the BBC with the broadcast OTT provider's app that is in effect native on the end device.
This native capability is brought about by the device manufacturers' adoption of various “standard” OTT models that have formed within different schools and layers of the broadcast industry as it has worked out how to adopt IP in its distribution workflow.
Some examples of this are the UK Digital Television Group's D-Book standard, and YouView's and HbbTV's initiatives as well as the Open IPTV Forum. Each lays out parameters for how devices should respond to applications that are delivered over the air, giving those who are able to deliver such applications an exclusive reach and capability to derive additional revenue or value.
In the D-Book/Freeview Plus model, an MHEG (Multimedia and Hypermedia Experts Group) application is broadcast along with the digital television signal, and is received and decoded by the device, which in turn responds to any streaming content requests made by the user by using the device's Internet connection to acquire and play the stream back. Because the application is only available to those in the broadcast footprint, the users of the service are limited to that footprint too.
This means that an ISP covering the same footprint becomes a great candidate for a broadcast OTT provider's content delivery network, and a direct connection from the broadcast OTT provider's content aggregation and origination point effectively means that the broadcast OTT provider is delivering content directly to the end user. Again, partnerships between broadcast OTT platforms and particular network operators are common, if not imperative.
YouTube and Netflix, by contrast, are user-activated applications. These need to be specifically coded against the device's native middleware and may simply be extensions of the device's Internet browsing capability. The content is delivered from the YouTube or Netflix CDN to the end user through the end user's ISP. While this simplifies publishing for YouTube and Netflix (they don't need to establish a new delivery workflow for each operator), the lack of tight integration with the end device limits them from offering certain broadcast- friendly premium features, such as the red button services overlaid on the broadcast services.
So this application “paywall” still exists and draws a protective boundary for the broadcasters to add value and maintain their subscriber revenues.