The Mobile Video Experience (part 2)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

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For part two of this IBE market Briefing, we look at how TV operators are overcoming the operational challenges to deliver a credible mobile video strategy and a how new technologies such as LTE broadcast and compression aim to bridging the bandwidth gap for mobile viewing of HD content.

Deploying mobile video

Although the benefits are clear, the practicalities of enabling a viable Mobile Video strategy is still a challenge.  Alongside contractual changes and licensing issues around making content available outside of the confines of the set-top box, the issues of converting assets to formats suitable for mobile distribution along with potential changes to DRM schemas and even player consideration make the processes and workflows involved taxing.

For many TV operators, mobile video has its roots in VOD projects and in some cases the strategy involves extending in-house platforms. This requires in-house CAPEX and an understanding of the mobile delivery ecosystem from platform support, through CDN’s and even regulatory considerations. For organisations with limited desire to step into the unknown, many are instead turning to dedicated TV services providers that offer to manage the process from content ingest through to the mobile viewer. This has the advantage of lower CAPEX but possible higher OPEX although the looking into a future where mobile is more a necessity then a ‘nice to have’, the ability to scale up to meet demand is a major advantage of a service model.

Real world example: CPAC

A standout example that highlight a TV service adopting as-a-service to meet the needs of a growing mobile audience is the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), Canada’s only privately owned, commercial free, not-for-profit, bilingual licensed television service. Created in 1992 by a consortium of cable companies to preserve an independent editorial voice for Canada’s democratic process, CPAC provides a view into Parliament, politics and public affairs in Canada and around the world. Since 1992, the cable industry has invested more than $50 million in CPAC, and today CPAC programming is delivered by cable, satellite and wireless distributors to more than 11 million homes in Canada and worldwide via 24/7 webcasting available on its website.

To respond to the needs of CPAC’s unique Canadian viewer base, content on the linear service is captioned in multiple languages, including English, French and “floor,” which is the content’s original, untranslated soundtrack. With limited streaming options available at the time, CPAC’s team was previously using the Windows Media format for all of its content.

“Up until a few years ago, that was the format we were still using, said Eitan Weisz, senior manager of technical operations for CPAC. “As streaming capabilities have evolved over time, we had to consider what our requirements were for capturing our shows in the future and how we could best deliver that content to our viewers.”

Upon analyzing its viewer base, Weisz and his team recognized the diverse array of platforms and devices that viewers were using to view live and VOD content, from traditional desktop browsers to the latest mobile platforms.

“We realized a significant percentage of viewers are using iOS- and Android-based platforms, and now we also have a significant amount on Blackberry, now that they support Flash-based content,” Weisz said.

As a not-for-profit organization, the CPAC team sought a way to mitigate repeated investments in new technology as delivery methods are continuously ratified and developed. Going tapeless, delivering broadcast-quality and transcoding a file for the Web or the VOD library were additional needs.

“After reviewing our options, the Brightcove Video Cloud online video platform was the best option for us from a performance and cost-effective standpoint,” Weisz said. “We’re essentially putting our expectation on Brightcove to adopt those new technologies and standards, so there’s little need for us to invest in new technology on our side. We can just stream the same signal, and Brightcove will deliver and adapt to changes in technology. It’s been significantly simplified."

Any Platform, Anywhere

Increased broadband penetration to homes and devices was another concern for CPAC as the channel reviewed its video distribution needs. “The proliferation of ’TV-everywhere’ has had a large impact on our desire to make our content available across various devices and on-the-go to wherever our viewers are without geographic restrictions,” Weisz said. “We wanted to ensure we could deliver content in the way our audience wants it, and for the best part, they’ve been using it.”

Brightcove’s adaptive bitrate technology has enabled CPAC to stream high-quality content using the depth-of-delivery model with device detection. CPAC is able to deliver the proper stream to the right device wherever a viewer may be. “Brightcove allowed us to do that and also minimized any capital investment by just investing the operational costs associated with the service,” Weisz said.

And, as CPAC continues to engage users on a wide variety of platforms, the channel is looking forward to utilizing additional Brightcove functionalities, including a DVR feature powered by Akamai HD. In many cases, users watching live streaming video can roll back up to four hours, a feature that’s especially helpful for viewers who may have missed an event during the channel’s 24/7 streaming.

“We’ve seen an uptick in number of people tuning into live streams,” Weisz said. “The largest increase has been broadband to mobile. They’re consuming more content that way, and they don’t have to be in front of a television to participate.

CPAC is also working to leverage the increase in audience access with real-time engagement opportunities during broadcasts of larger Canadian events. Viewers now can join the conversation on social media or on-air with viewer call-ins. Capitalizing on the

“TV-everywhere” trend, Weisz said, “Video is becoming a way of life for many people. It’s everywhere. People can take content anywhere on the most popular devices. We can reach our audiences wherever they might be — train, plane with Wi-fi, or wherever. They don’t even have to be in Canada because they can get our video content on the road via the CPAC website.”

To further expand its audience reach in the future, CPAC has developed a TV-everywhere app integrated with Brightcove’s software development kit (SDK) to provide access to live streams and on-demand content.

 

Enabling technologies: LTE broadcast and advanced compression

However, as demand for mobile video surges, the inhibitor is not the content workflow but the bandwidth and physical mechanisms for distribution of content to users. Although broadband adoption is near 70% across most of the developed nations, many mobile viewers will by the very nature of the technology be utilising video on mobile networks. Although 2g/3G coverage now reaches over 80% of the world’s population, video is a not as widely supported due to its higher bandwidth consumption low latency requirements. Even the growing deployments of 4G are simply bigger pipes without all the features needed to make video flow more effect.

LTE Broadcast

For many, the catalyst to a more sustainable and profitable mobile video experience is the arrival of LTE broadcast. LTE Broadcast provides a more flexible and lower deployment cost compared with previous mobile-broadcast options by leveraging OFDMA (Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access) and wider bandwidths available in LTE. On user devices, LTE Broadcast requires no separate device chipset and can use common middleware. For MNO, LTE Broadcast uses new overlaying architecture with several new network elements offered as a simple to deploy end to end software license. The technology has several critical elements.

The first is eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Service) is a 3GPP standard that enables mobile networks to offer broadcast/multicast services.  eMBMS provides the capability inside LTE to multicast. It’s a very different version to the 3G eMBMS that the mobile industry used in the era of mobile TV, DBBH and media flow which both had challenges with handset support. Today’s eMBMS technology is already used inside LTE as a standard and therefore part of the chipsets in the handsets that are shipping from all manufacturers.

Another of the challenges the industry faced in the first version of broadcast in cellular networks was that it was fixed. Back then operators had to engineer the network to carry a certain amount of broadcast video which required taking away radio capacity from what normal mobile networks were being used for. Now we’re using the networks not so much for talking, but for accessing on-demand data.

Theoretically eMBMS can move three people watching the same content in a cell and enable the necessary efficiency to have those three users in one cell on a broadcast station, rather than a unicast station. However, we still have a little way to go yet to dramatically move those kinds of users towards those kinds of scenarios. There are still small collaborations and co-operations needed in the apps and the devices in the network to enable the requisite end-to-end ecosystem to deliver these kinds of experiences. To ensure that video is in the most efficient format, LTE broadcast takes advantage of HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding/H.265), a video compression standard promises to halve the bandwidth required to transport video content compared to today’s leading implementation of MPEG-4 AVC.

The last element of the standard is the use of MPEG DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) to simplify and standardize the adaptive delivery of video to consumer devices, ensuring a better quality of service, greater efficiency and introducing opportunities for monetization.

New compression technologies

Alongside areas like LTE Broadcast, another approach to meeting the mobile video demand while managing the limitations of mobile bandwidth is the use of advanced compression technologies designed for lower bandwidth consumption. Amongst a group of challengers are standouts like PERSEUS, a new hierarchical compression technology which claims to offer reduction on bandwidth consumption of around 50% when compared to HEVC without degradation in technology. The technology takes advantage of newer technologies such as the parallel processing capabilities found in modern CPU and is particularly suited to mobile video applications.

This was highlighted by a recent test with EE, a mobile telecommunication operators which tested PERSEUS video compression technology by distributing UHD/4K video over EE’s 4G network in a densely populated area of central London, near Paddington station at rush hour. In a roaming test delivered HD format to tablets and phones at bitrates ranging from 300 Kbit/s to 1.5 Mbit/s, both on the road and in a rural location in The New Forest, in the south of England. According to EE, a continuous high-quality viewer experience was maintained throughout the 90 mile journey, handing signal over between more than 40 sites, and at the very edge of the EE 4G network.

Summary

The potential offered by the ability of mobile video to tap into new markets is staggering. Although obvious moves such as extending SVOD to more users and increasing the stickiness of such services are clear. However other monetisation areas such as live simulcast of sporting events onto mobile devices and location based advertising are largely untapped but promising.

However, just putting content onto YouTube and hoping to take a share of the advertising revenue accrued by the Google owned entity is the most basic of strategies and fails to capitalise on the vast potential of the audience.

What is clear is that even tentative footsteps that start to expand or at least synchronise existing linear and VOD content onto mobile platforms can deliver rewards. As highlighted by the BOX TV and CPAC examples which meet the potential offered by a coherent mobile strategy although aimed at vastly different groups and drivers. As networks evolve to 4G and ultimately LTE broadcast enabled, operators that have done the groundwork of mobile video enablement will be in the best position to take reach a 4 billion storing audience with content and personalisation they demand.

Acknowledgements:

With thanks and acknowledgements to experts from Brightcove, Box TV, Cisco, CPAC, Ericsson, Piksel and YoSpace. 

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