This is the second of a 2 part article on the 2013 OTTCON. The first article looked at how Pay TV providers could offer OTT content on second screen devices and also how OTT and local providers (Pay TV or ISPs) could partner together to offer OTT content to subscribers. This second article examines how video network infrastructures need to evolve to support both Pay TV and OTT content.
Video Network Architectures: #
With live linear, Video on Demand (VoD) and now OTT content, delivery of multiple concurrent video services has become increasingly complex for pay TV service providers. Nonetheless, providing access to quality video must remain a core competency of Service Providers (SP), else they’ll lose customers to competing offerings. With the amount of content available today, SPs’ network infrastructures need to be able to handle network capacity issues in order to seamlessly deliver video content from the cloud to TVs, PCs and mobile devices. That could involve costly network investments.
Service providers not only need to expand the accessibility of quality content to new screens, but they need to do this while meeting consumers’ expectations of a seamless content viewing experience when switching from one type of video to the other. Quality of Service (QoS) will have a very strong impact on viewer engagement.
Content protection is another top concern for SPs. It preserves content revenues among their subscriber base. Ensuring that only authorized subscribers access certain content can be difficult, especially with the expansion of viewing platforms. It is critical that video SPs address content security, entitlements and authorization.
As viewing continues to increase on new screens and platforms, multi-screen services will continue to be a priority. The various screens will require different video formats that need to be well-managed and secure to provide a seamless ‘video anywhere’ experience.
All of the above factors will require new video architectures with enhanced hardware and software platforms needed to deliver OTT content. A high level view of an OTT architecture (courtesy of Discretix) is shown below. The figure does not include 3G/4G wireless access to OTT content because almost all mobile devices will access OTT content via an in-home WiFi network which connects to a Residential Gateway.
A more comprehensive video network architecture was described by Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent in a 2013 OTTCON session titled, “Strategies of Unlocking Additional Values from OTT.” That session was directed at existing Pay TV SPs that wanted to deliver OTT content along with their existing linear and video on demand (VoD) programming.
OTT value creation was said to have three underlieing pillars:
- Integrated TV platform across experiences and devices
- Build OTT experiences tied to core TV proposition
- Web analytics and Internet speed applied to TV
The figure below depicts how a SP video network could adapt to support OTT content delivery. Among the key network functions are:
- Redistribute STB functions to CE/clients and the home network
- A highly distributed Content Delivery Network (CDN)* for uni-cast scaling and multi-cast video (which has been demonstrated by Ericsson)
- Session based personalization to create new value for consumers, content owners and advertisers
- Agile back office architecture to launch and evolve services cost-effectively
*A CDN is a large distributed system of servers deployed in multiple data centers across the Internet. It provides lower latency content services to end-users with higher availability and performance than the “best effort” Internet
The Unified Video Network illustration below shows unified content distribution, distributed caching (of video content) and re-purposed video servers to permit SPs to reuse existing assets.
Personalization in the core SP network is shown in the figure below.
Microsoft’s Media Room* was said to be the market leading IPTV software platform with 50 deployments in 23 countries, including AT&T (U.S), Deutsche Telekom (Germany), and Sonus (Canada). Alcatel -Lucent claims to be number one in video network and systems integration with 30 network operators using their equipment, according to the company.
Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent platforms are used by AT&T U-Verse which announced second screen video content delivery last July, but has yet to make it available (as noted in the comments directly below the Part I article.
*Editor’s Note: It will be interesting to see what happens with Alcatel – Lucent’s ability to resell/integrate Mediaroom if the rumors prove true that Alcatel Lucent rival Ericsson will acquire the Mediaroom platform from Microsoft.
While not participating in OTTCON, Chinese telecom equipment vendors ZTE and Huawei also have a well-established role in the IPTV market, based on strong and growing IPTV platforms within China (e.g. China Telecom).
“There is a strong split in the IPTV middleware market between system integrators providing an entire solution and specialists in applications and customer experience,” according to Sam Rosen, ABI Research practice director for TV & video. “With the exception of Cisco, who recently purchased NDS, the system integrator’s role in customer experience will likely decline over the next few years; instead, this role will be left to client-centric middleware companies with better user experience,” added Rosen. The analyst stated that Viaccess-Orca (a subsidiary of France Telecom), Netgem and others, each have their own unique philosophy on how to create an IPTV system. ABI Research forecasts that IPTV households will grow from 80 million in 2012 to 117 million in 2017, with growth driven by Asia-Pacific.