News pouring out of IBC should dispel any lingering notion that media services aren't hot right now. Everyone sees opportunity in video processing and delivery now that the world is converging on IP for distribution. Media producers want to make sure they get their content in front of audiences everywhere, and big-name companies from Adobe and Ericsson to Comcast and Verizon are clamoring to be the ones that make it possible for them.
There are two main components to new IP-based media services. One is software-powered video processing, which includes everything from ingest and content packaging to compression, content security, ad insertion and authentication. The other is video delivery, combining transport services with storage and delivery optimization.
On the video processing side, many companies are now offering modular software stacks that allow customers to pick and choose the pieces they want to buy. While companies might prefer to sell an end-to-end product, they recognize that customers expect more flexibility in the New IP world where many video functions have been virtualized and are hosted in the cloud.
The modular nature of new platforms means that companies have to compete on feature strength and innovation as well as proven deployments to win video business. At IBC this week, for example, Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) is introducing improvements to its Primetime multiscreen video solution including an instant-on feature that initiates downloading before a video is even viewed, easier in-home user authentication and updated analytics with enhanced measurement of OTT viewing behaviors. Adobe is also highlighting its dynamic ad insertion (DAI) capabilities that, at least for now, let it claim to be the only company able to do DAI with full analytics across any platform, live or on-demand. (Editor's note: BlackArrow Inc. is also moving in that direction -- see Cross MediaWorks Acquires BlackArrow .)
Other platform providers are using this season of activity as a time to bulk up on technology and expertise via acquisition. Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) picked up video processing specialist Elemental Technologies Inc. (ETI) last week in a move to help it "achieve its long-term vision for software-defined video delivery." While Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) just announced its acquisition of Envivio Inc. (NASDAQ: ENVI) as a way to extend its capabilities in hardware- and software-based video compression. (See Amazon Acquires Elemental for AWS and Ericsson Beefs Up TV Biz With Envivio Buy, AT&T Deal.)
The ability to process live streams as well as on-demand video is also becoming a crucial element for video platform and managed services providers. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) stormed out of the gate at IBC with the launch of its Live Linear Streaming service as part of the Comcast Wholesale business. The company has long provided more traditional cable content management and delivery services to smaller operators, but it's now moved full force into video streaming services that combine, among other things, its mpx video management system from subsidiary thePlatform Inc. and its newly launched content delivery network service.
On the delivery side, Comcast is one of the few companies that can offer its own CDN, although it's an optional add-on for the new streaming service. Most video platform providers have to partner and have either done so already or are doing so now.
Toronto-based QuickPlay Media Inc. , which raised $45.7 million in a new funding round earlier this year, just announced at IBC that it's teaming up with Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) both for that company's cloud DVR service and its Velocix CDN. The combination will give customers the ability to access hundreds of nearly-live video channels and hundreds of thousands of hours of on-demand content, and then stream those shows out to consumers through an optimized delivery system. On the back end, Quickplay provides a virtual headend and managed services model, handling everything from content management and security to authentication and dynamic ad insertion.
Who wins? It's difficult to handicap the players in the media services space because there are so many, and because it's changing so rapidly. However, a few companies stand out simply because of the deployments they've already achieved. Verizon Digital Media Services is a clear leader, having already proven itself with customers, including Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO). VDMS also has the advantage of offering both video processing services and video delivery. (See Verizon Builds Toward OTT Launch .)
Adobe has some impressive wins too with customers, including MLB Advanced Media -- which is using Primetime for the HBO Now service -- and Showtime Networks Inc. . Adobe partners with several CDN companies, including Akamai and Level 3 for video delivery.
Partnerships also bring up another issue. It's often difficult to delineate between service providers because so many of them partner with each other. MLBAM is its own well-established media services company, but it also partners with Adobe. And Adobe also partners with Comcast-owned thePlatform for customers who want services from both.
What is clear is that the video streaming space has picked up significant momentum. A year of massive new consumer product launches -- Sling TV, HBO Now, CBS All Access and more -- is heating up the market.
And everyone wants a piece of the action.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading