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Broadcast/Multicast Critical for Live Streaming – Heavy Reading Advisory Board

The growth of live streaming will force the deployment of technologies such as LTE Broadcast and IP multicast, according to most members of Heavy Reading's Video Transformation Advisory Board (VTAB). In a recent survey of the VTAB, members addressed several of the key challenges facing video distribution, including the issue of how to manage bandwidth during popular events streamed online.

Heavy Reading's VTAB Survey is an online survey of VTAB members, a group of senior industry decision-makers at network operators, broadcasters and OTT providers. It is Heavy Reading's video brain trust, providing advice and insight into the evolving video industry. This survey included responses from 14 industry executives -- not a statistically significant group, but the findings represent the opinions of decision-makers influencing the video experiences of tens of millions of homes worldwide. And while the study does yield some quantitative data, it is more aimed at engendering insight and commentary from the VTAB members.

While the board was split on the future of live/linear TV channels, they mostly agreed that live streaming would grow, and would pose bandwidth challenges.

"Popular live events have a huge impact on network demand as everybody wants to watch at the same time," said Matt Stagg, a founding member of the VTAB and head of mobile video for BT. "The rapidly growing popularity of video streaming now means that these 'content storms' could potentially overwhelm a network in the future, compromising the user experience not only of those watching that event, but also others on the network performing lower bandwidth activities. It's critical that we find ways to address these spikes."

Stagg picked multicast/broadcast technologies as the best solution for managing popular live-streaming events, as did nine others (out of our 14 VTAB respondents.) "Broadcast allows us to serve a mass viewer base using considerably less bandwidth while still offering high QoE," he said, "and I think both operators and content owners are increasingly looking for opportunities to leverage these technologies as video streaming scales up."

Another founding member, David Butler from BBC R&D, stressed that live/linear viewing was likely to be popular for the foreseeable future, saying "While on-demand will become more popular and new types of content experiences are likely to emerge, linear channels have a role and will continue to evolve. Each viewer has multiple viewing behaviors. Even if they consume on-demand content extensively, there will be times or types of content that they will prefer to watch on linear channels or consume live."

Butler agreed that live streaming could create extreme bandwidth requirements, particularly for events such as live sports, since "demand for better quality, higher resolution and more immersive experiences will only increase." He also felt that the industry would need to invest in approaches such as LTE Broadcast and IP Multicast, but pointed out: "Future streaming services will present new challenges for scaling that are still to be solved."

Another board member was looking at CDN providers and upstream solutions from operators.

"Challenges caused by the growth in live streaming will be solved by operators and CDN providers," said VTAB member Rob Koenen, principal at TNO and president of the Virtual Reality Industry Forum (VRIF). "They will make sure their core network can cope with the demand. It may look like unicast to the end user, but efficiencies will be exploited in the core."

Other members were less sure, saying it would take a variety of technologies, including improved video compression, edge caching, preloading and others -- and even then they would struggle. Some pointed out that the economic questions were more important than the technological ones, with one stressing that OTT providers would need to pay to help expand capacity, rather than expecting operators to effectively subsidize their business by building ever-bigger networks.

Other issues addressed in the study include:

  • The importance of video for operators, its impact on the bundle and the need for monetization, as video approaches 80% of network traffic
  • The value of catering to millennials, a demanding, disruptive customer segment with very low willingness to pay
  • The potential for a "double-sided" revenue model, via white listing, content delivery services, zero rating and targeted advertising services
  • The long-term survival of independent OTT services as the sector becomes increasingly fragmented, and the viability of a direct-to-consumer OTT service from a large media company
  • The extent of the shift from live viewing to time-shifted and VoD consumption
  • The challenges involved with HEVC adoption
  • The VTAB report is one of a new set of Focus Group reports offered by Heavy Reading, collating insight and opinions on key issues from Heavy Reading Thought Leadership Councils, which have been created to address important topics confronting the telecom industry.

    Details of these studies and the VTAB report can be found here.

    — Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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