Operators of all sizes are realizing the benefits of embracing streaming-based solutions – they provide a gateway to delivering exceptional TV experiences.
The immediate advantages are well-known; they enable more agile and flexible access to video services and are generally more cost-effective to operate. But by choosing to stream, operators can also unlock another, more understated benefit – enabling a one-stop-shop for media. By combining their own services alongside ones offered by OTT providers, they can position themselves as "super-aggregators" of all media content.
This opportunity comes amid a landslide shift in the pay-TV landscape, as the growing prevalence of streaming technology redefines user expectations for what a modern media service should offer. Access to content is the primary driver of this shift; consumers want to obtain a broad range of content across any device. And when they receive their entertainment services, they expect the highest possible quality of experience.
However, this fragmented approach to media consumption presents new challenges to operators. To launch such services at scale, they must ensure their strategies align with the market's new realities.
Realizing the benefits of streaming
Operators have increasingly opened access to their pay-TV and content offerings across a broader range of devices and users by leveraging streaming technology. This includes launching new streaming-only services for video-on-demand and live content. Their strong relationships with content owners and their subscribers mean they are expertly placed to position themselves and offer a complete range of content.
Becoming a true super-aggregator removes the need for consumers to hunt between apps to find relevant content. For operator TV platforms, a super-aggregated platform could also enable a single, convenient location for content and billing, helping to foster greater trust and deeper relationships between both the operator and the consumer.
Delivering a seamless user experience that enables consumers to access personalized and relevant content makes discovery and aggregation fundamental. However, before operators wholly embrace this wave of change, notable evolutions of both technology and business models must be addressed. Optimizing the entire audio-visual pipeline becomes the foremost priority.
Optimizing the end-to-end streaming backend
Traditional TV experiences watched over dedicated, high-quality broadcast infrastructures, such as broadcast, cable, and satellite, have set the modern standard for live content. By contrast, the flexibility users have from streaming platforms has set a precedent for non-live viewing experiences.
In both live and on-demand scenarios, these expectations are shifting further. Consumers want access through various device types, each with its own varying capabilities, screen sizes, and connectivity. The streaming experience must therefore deliver on all of these expectations and provide a seamless end-user service. To realize this level of service, the entire media processing and delivery pipeline must have reliability, scalability, low latency and quality.
The importance of latency
Conviva's State of Streaming Q4 2020 report found that smart TVs and connected devices now account for more than half of all streaming hours viewed. Streaming technology has evolved from being purely a means of delivery for small devices to forming the bedrock of many main screen experiences.
To ensure streaming services live up to the expectation of "just working," achieving a reliable streaming media workflow must be prioritized to ensure streaming services live up to the minimum consumer expectation – that they "just work." Automated monitoring of service reliability and client experience shorten the feedback loop to resolving issues. Meanwhile, cloud-native technologies prevent these issues from ever occurring through automation and component self-healing characteristics.
For live sports and other socially active live content, end-to-end video latency is a key differentiator between streaming and traditionally delivered services. The first conceptions of OTT live technologies had up to 60 seconds of latency. With the growth of social media and push notifications from mobile apps, this could mean finding out about a goal a minute before you saw it. This means end-to-end latency needs to be in the same ballpark for streaming to become a viable alternative to traditional broadcast. Technologies are already in play to reduce live latency, either using standards-based approaches (such as Common Media Application Format and Low-Latency HLS or through proprietary approaches.
Reaching a broader audience
Cisco's Annual Internet Report (2018-2023) found that 66% of connected flat-panel TVs will be capable of 4K by 2023. As TVs become increasingly used for streaming content, the demand for higher resolution content will continue to grow. In turn, however, this will also drive the bandwidth required for each viewer.
For encoding and compression, live content requires significantly more optimization than file-based non-linear services simply due to its real-time nature. Compression research for current codecs can improve quality for a given bitrate (or conversely reduce bitrate for the same quality). MediaKind research shows a 10% year-over-year decrease in bitrate requirements, and therefore associated cost.
Versatile Video Codec (VVC) and Essential Video Coding (EVC) can potentially reduce the bitrates available today using High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), with VVC currently expecting to see around a 40% bitrate saving over current codecs. Streaming makes implementing new codecs far simpler through the flexibility of clients and the ability to introduce them to subsets of the audience depending on device availability.
One of the most significant challenges in transitioning to a streaming service is dealing with the unpredictability of scaling a solution to contend with a potentially unforeseen peak in viewing traffic, such as during a live sporting event. This is especially true in operator use cases, where their network capacity needs to be considered at every stage, as well as factoring in the costs for scaling of unicast traffic via operator content delivery networks.
A streaming-first future for operators
The proliferation of streaming technology has radically evolved and reshaped the operator landscape. While this evolution brings new technical considerations, it also accelerates innovation in the space and introduces new offerings to end-users. This change also aligns with the growing adoption of cloud-native technologies, enabling the decoupling from legacy dedicated infrastructure approaches, increasing product evolution while ensuring flexibility for hybrid-level deployments.
Streaming introduces a plethora of new experiences for the consumer and exciting business models for operators. The opportunities presented by choosing streaming-based components and workflows are fruitful, and operators are prime candidates to reap its rewards.
— Damien Montessuit, SVP, Global Sales, MediaKind