Building for a true Multiscreen experience

Monday, March 25, 2013

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The truth is though, the broadcast community has a lot of work to do before delivering on the promise of true multiscreen.
New technology and standardisation is helping service operators across the globe
Multiscreen viewing is nearing a tipping point where it’s no longer a nice-to-have feature that will appease tech-savvy early adopters.  Nikki Gore, VP marketing for QuickPlay Media, believes consumers are becoming much more sophisticated and are starting to expect that they’ll be able to view what they want, when they want, regardless of what it takes to make that happen.  

For Joe Consumer, the complexity behind the scenes doesn’t matter, he just wants to be able to turn on his iPhone or Android tablet to access his favorite films or TV shows the same way he can on his home TV – where it just works. The truth is though, the broadcast community has a lot of work to do before delivering on the promise of true multiscreen.
A vast majority of today’s multiscreen services have consisted solely of on-demand content, and for good reason. By first enabling downloadable content and then adding streaming capabilities, video on demand (VoD) has been a logical first step in delivering a multiscreen experience.

Content and service providers have been able to wade into the multiscreen waters by offering their most popular content first and adding to their catalogues as they add subscribers and obtain the appropriate rights. Now, as content providers are becoming more comfortable with multiscreen rights, service providers are adding content and subscribers at a pretty rapid clip – which is great for churn reduction and for generating added revenue from existing content, but it’s very taxing on existing infrastructure.
When you add live content, which is obviously a cornerstone of a “true multiscreen” experience, things get even more complex.

Let’s take an MSO example. Rogers is a multiple service operator with cable and PayTV operations.  Through its AnyPlace TV offering, Rogers is enabling its consumers to access a huge catalogue of episodic television, on demand, live linear and live event content across multiple devices. That may seem like a no-brainer, but delivering an experience that mirrors what is available on a consumer’s television is an exceedingly complex task. The first step to improving the overall consumer experience is addressing the ongoing encoding and media transformation challenges.

Encoding and Media Transformation

The number of devices that content and service providers like Rogers are compelled to support – including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and smart TVs – is growing at a rapid pace. This creates encoding and media transformation nightmares. Encoding for multiple devices is significantly more complex than encoding for delivery to a standard set-top box or television. Aside from the various screen sizes, operating systems and players, the introduction of HD on devices and adaptive bit rate streaming requires that many versions of the same file be encoded. The layering effect continues with considerations such as authentication, whether the content will be viewed using WiFi or wired networks, in home versus out of home, geographic restrictions, closed captioning requirements – the list goes on. 

Consumer Experience

In addition to managing ingestion and media transformation workflows to ensure that the right content is delivered to the right device at the highest possible quality, consumers are now starting to expect additional features that create a true TV Everywhere experience. Primarily, this includes live linear and live event programming.

To take this one step further, consumers are going to increasingly expect to manage their live TV viewing on their devices in the same manner as on a television. Namely, consumers are going to want the ability to pause and resume live content across their devices using a network personal video recorder (nPVR) feature. While the technology exists to deliver nPVR today, service providers need to be prepared – on the infrastructure side – for the additional complexity in the media transformation workflow and the increasing storage it takes to support the feature. Perhaps most importantly, however, content rights on live programming need to evolve in order for nPVR to become a key component to delivering a true TV Everywhere experience.

Despite the complex content rights issues that are slowly being worked out, the good news is that technology standards are evolving rapidly to improve efficiencies and consumer experience in multiscreen video delivery. These standards, such as MPEG Dash, H.265 and 4G LTE: eMBMS, now need to be adopted, implemented and executed properly. 
MPEG Dash.

DASH, which stands for Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP, was developed to provide a non-proprietary standard for streaming that takes the best technology from Apple, Microsoft and Adobe, and expands upon them to make streaming more efficient and scalable. One of the key benefits is the ability to separate audio from video, which means that a single video encode can be used for multiple language soundtracks, creating efficiencies in the workflow and dramatically saving storage resources.  In addition, it creates efficiency from a file administration and caching perspective by enabling a single file to be delivered and viewed, rather than doing so in “chunks.”  Also, the fact that it’s a non-proprietary standard will allow for more innovation from more players in the industry.

H.265

The H.265 standard, also known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), is designed to provide High Definition (HD) streaming video, even on low-bandwidth networks. In January 2013, H.265 was approved by ITU, the United Nations agency for information and communication technology that has coordinated the shared global use of the radio spectrum for more than 150 years. With this new technology, providers will be able to deliver HD streams in 1080p at half the bandwidth than previously required.  This will help alleviate network congestion issues, particularly in areas where 4G/LTE networks have not yet been launched and will dramatically improve the user experience.

eMBMS

Evolved Multimedia Broadcast/Multicast Services, or eMBMS, is an emerging standard that will drastically improve the viewing experience of live programming. Using high-speed 4G LTE wireless networks, eMBMS allows providers to broadcast multiple streams through existing bandwidth, which will allow them to offer more live channels, or enhance the experience of live events by offering multiple camera angles.

For example, attendees or viewers of a major sporting event will be able to choose between camera angles in real-time to watch different perspectives of the action as it unfolds. This type of capability was previously unattainable as it would have easily overloaded local cell towers, but eMBMS makes these new capabilities possible by compressing multiple streams into the existing bandwidth.

Existing use cases and evidence of the growing demand for multiscreen video are plentiful. According to recent research by IDC, by the end of 2016, more than 400 million consumers will be using a smartphone on at least a monthly basis to view TV shows and movies, representing a 2011–2016 CAGR of 36 percent. Tablet usage for monthly viewing of TV shows and movies will grow at an even more impressive rate of 52 percent over the same period as the number of regular viewers approaches 200 million.

In addition, IDC predicts the base of approximately 700 million worldwide multichannel pay TV subscribers to grow to more than 800 million through 2016.  This demand and growth is also reflected in the increasing importance of the network. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI), published in February 2013, video traffic exceeded 50 percent of all mobile traffic for the first time in 2012 and the company predicts that two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017.  

Demand for mobile viewing is certainly not slowing down, and neither is consumer demand for an elegant and easy-to-use experience, so continuing the development and introduction of technologies that will both improve the consumer experience on the device and alleviate stress on the network is essential to realising the true potential of TV Everywhere.

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