The popularity of DVDs, video on demand (VOD), digital video recorders (DVR) and more online services like Apple’s iTunes and YouTube, has led many consumers to realise that they can watch content when they want it, rather than keep themselves glued to the couch for a scheduled appointment with “the box”. This shift is now reflected in the wealth of additional on-demand content, readily available. Consumers can pull in hours of TV entertainment and movies online, both paid and free. And they can watch what they want, whenever they want, on more devices than ever imagined including Smart phones, PCs, tablets, smart TVs, games consoles and of course TV settop boxes (STB). Device manufacturers are definitely looking to take advantage of this OTT opportunity. The research firm Parks Associates estimates connectable models to make up 76 percent of global TV sales by 2015. This is despite concerns about whether current broadband infrastructure can cope with such a massive boost in simultaneous online usage. So is OTT, the delivery of TV entertainment over an unmanaged broadband network, ready for prime time? Are consumers’ expectations of TV content changing? Can the TV industry securely harness the potential of new distribution channels and convert them into revenuegenerating businesses?The answer to all these questions is a clear yes, but some major issues need to be addressed before OTT becomes a commercial success as well.
Ready for Prime Time Delivering premium content over an OTT network requires some clever technologies to ensure the user has the best possible playback experience from devices such as PCs, iPads, tablets and other mobile devices. At the same time, TV operators need to be able to manage multiple device households without facing steep hikes in customer care and support fees. Adaptive streaming technology is needed to adjust the bit rate of the content based on the actual network performance. So from a user experience perspective, optimal video playback is achieved by matching the video quality to a user’s available bandwidth. Content Delivery Networks (CDN) are also important for efficiently distributing video to edge servers in order to ensure quality of service to users. Operators will be looking to manage what services are delivered to which devices. They will therefore require Content Management Systems (CMS) to handle the complete content lifecycle – from content ingestion and formatting to delivery and playback. And as more media devices become capable of receiving protected content, sophisticated domain management mechanisms are required to allow users to utilise as many devices as possible within the limitations of content distribution agreements. These technologies are important for any operator looking to manage and package its services in the most flexible way possible. But OTT opens up new opportunities for hackers to enter this arena and undermine the entire content consumption ecosystem. Perhaps then, even more critical for long term business success, is the issue of service security and rights management. OTT – a Hackers Playground Early deployments of OTT services have focused mainly on protecting the content according to the requirements of the content owners – particularly the major studios. Indeed there are those that think security, or digital rights management (DRM) is really becoming a commodity business requiring minimal protection. However, to really protect an OTT business in addition to the content, operators need to take an endto- end approach to security, since hackers will always exploit the weakest link in the system. Without robust service protection in place, hackers will hack the OTT service to bypass payment mechanisms and possibly undermine the traditional pay-TV services. The plethora of devices entering the market brings with it a need to support multiple DRM schemes to ensure a consistent user experience. Many devices with internet connectivity are completely open with no protection against viruses or malicious software being downloaded to the device. Even more critical however, is having a complete security solution that protects the following key elements of content delivery and consumption: • Delivery of live streaming and VOD content from the headend system and a wide range of content sources over broadband, unicast connections • Recording and downloading of content with support for offline playback and even super-distribution • Home networking and content sharing inside and outside the home DRM needs to give operators full control over content distribution and consumption. It also needs to support a comprehensive set of business rules, scenarios and policies that comply with typical rights holders’ content agreements.
Show Me the Money OTT is a perfect platform for TV operators to deliver additional content directly to consumer devices. It may include premium live content such as sports events, on-demand movies or niche content that is not economically viable to include in the regular broadcast TV line-up. OTT can also be used to provide catch-up and restart TV services; effectively giving a user on-demand access to content that has already been aired in the TV schedule. All these services can be offered as an extension of a traditional TV subscription or on an Electronic Sell Through (EST) basis, as used by iTunes. Payment models can be incremental and even supplemented by advertising insertions. But the key to its success is enabling the user to buy on the TV but view content anywhere.
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