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The new technologies are changing the television industry

The world of television and video streaming has been developing rapidly in the past years, and it will continue to do so in the upcoming years. People expect to watch what the like, whenever they like it, wherever they are. And the technologies to make this possible are affordable now. In this article we will investigate the changes in the underlaying technologies.

The evolution of watching television

The video offering continues to grow. In the sixties there were only two Dutch black and white channels, whereas now there are hundreds of high definition broadcasts coming into our living rooms. And nowadays there is no problem if you have missed a show, because you can always watch it afterwards via an application, the operator itself (e.g. Ziggo, KPN or Tele2) or the broadcaster (e.g. NPO, RTL or Talpa).

In the eighties and nineties, the VCR made its appearance, soon followed by the DVD player. Movies from studios such as Disney and Sony could now also be watched at home. For a film, however, you still had to go to the shop or video store. Nowadays there is an increase in online steaming services such as Netflix and Disney+. Additionally, users are sharing their own content as well via YouTube and Instagram.

Each minute, 500 hours of video is being uploaded on YouTube. Netflix accounts for 60% of new films and series available via internet streaming and increases its budget for new content production from $17 billion to $26 billion this year. Do we have the time to watch all this content? Yes and no.

The time of watching videos in the US is increasing: from 6,52 hours a day in 2014 to an estimate of 7,16 hours a day in 2021. However, the time of watching television is decreasing. Nowadays, people watch more and more videos video mobile phones, tablets or desktops.

Technological trends

The rise of online video is made possible by rapidly evolving technologies.

Architecture

We will dive into a simple architecture to determine the terminology.

The video is being watched via a (smart)tv or a mobile phone. The applications that make this possible are called front-end. These applications communicate with a computer system: the back-end. The content is delivered as video, e.g. a tv show or mpeg file and it always contains metadata. The metadata contains the information needed to enable the video functionality in the application, such as program information, images or content rights. The back office is responsible for the management of the system and the video streamers ensure that the correct format video is played.

From a classical cable system to the cloud

With cable TV, the video is modulated and sent to the front-end which is usually a digital receiver.  The back-end runs on dedicated servers in the operator's data center. Both front-end and back-end are built specifically for the operator by specialists, which requires a substantial investment and takes a long time to build. Many operators have already made the switch to IP-based video streaming.

Streaming services do not have a cable network or data centers, but have built a back-end in the cloud. They can use the modern tools, technology and services offered by Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft (Azure), among others. The continuing development of the TV market by an increase in complete video streaming platforms is a serious threat for major players such as Amazon. This is shown by the recent acquisition by AWS of Elemental, a respected supplier of transcoders. Other video streaming components such as DRM and CDN are also available in the cloud.

The advantages are evident: the investments and lead time of the projects are reduced drastically. In addition, the cloud providers offer the possibility of elastic scaling, so you don't have to buy hardware for maximum capacity in advance. You see that many operators therefore adopt a (hybrid) cloud strategy.

Streaming platforms use standard point-to-point Internet connections: each user receives its own video stream (unicast), even in the case of a live broadcast. This means that the video stream is duplicated for each viewer. An operator saves bandwidth by only broadcasting the live broadcast once over his network to all viewers (multicast). Multicast, only possible for operators with their own network, therefore saves a lot of bandwidth on the network. The lack of multicast for streaming services is partially compensated by Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR)14 technology and extra caching in the network.

Client

The end user only sees the front-end, for example an app on the SmartTV, and that determines a large part of the customer experience.

More and more standard Android and iOS functionality is being used for the front-end. Google offers a special version of AndroidTV to meet the needs of the operators. An advantage for the consumer is that the app works just like all other apps.

The alternative is RDK, a portable SW-stack for a digital TV receiver, built by Comcast and supported by Liberty Global. RDK will have to distinguish itself from mainstream internet technology supported by Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure) and Google (AndroidTV). However, if you don't want to be dependent on these big three, RDK has an alternative.

Security

Cyber security is important when an operator of a closed cable network transfers to the open internet. For example, when ransomware is locked in the back-end files, it can no longer provide the front-end with information. This could mean that the end user can no longer watch TV until the system has been rebuilt (or ransom money has been paid).

User data

With the constantly growing video offering, it becomes increasingly difficult for the user to find the right video or TV broadcast. To help the consumer, user data is collected, analyzed and presented in the form of recommendations. Think of the suggestions of Netflix, for example the 'Because you watched Breaking Bad' channel.

Facebook and Google take it to the next level: they build comprehensive profiles of users for advertising purposes. Google dominates the online advertising market and with AndroidTV it is expected that this will be extended to the video streaming domain.

Meanwhile, broadcasters, telcos and cable operators are experiencing a drop in advertising revenue. They, too, are looking for ways to personalize advertising. Replacing general commercials in TV shows by a specific commercials for a specific user profile is already technically possible. So far, only Talpa and KPN are experimenting with this in the Netherlands.

User data is also collected from the front-end applications to enhance the user experience or promote products, such as films or subscriptions. There is a wide variety of tools that make the necessary information available to the marketing department of the telecom or cable operator.

Personal TV

Because a lot of video content is offered directly by the creator, there is a role for an aggregator. The aggregator collects the program or movie data and can make recommendations based on user profiles. The film is then purchased from the relevant service.  A good example is RottenTomatoes.

The user profiles are built up using big data and are so refined that the TV programmes, including advertising, can be fully tailored to the user. The aggregator user interface then becomes your personal video page with recommendations and advertising tailored to your profile.

The telecom and cable companies would like to fulfill this aggregator role for their customers. Google and Facebook are of course far advanced in building profiles. Moreover, Google has all the data on video content available and reaches Android(TV) into our houses. Both are big in advertising on the internet. Or will one of the independent parties win over the territory?

 

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