— Since 1994, the Internet has gone from an
academic discussion to a mass media delivery platform—one that Stanford’s Bernd
Girod described as “taking over cable TV.”
Girod was on hand for the opening of the SMPTE’s second annual Entertainment
Technology in the Internet Age conference
at Stanford University. The event focuses on the confluence of new and
traditional media creation and distribution technologies. The first European
version will be held in Berlin May 7-8, 2015, “to compare U.S. and European
markets” according to Dolby’s Pat Griffis, conference chair.
Day 1 kicked off with a discussion between Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia and Ian
Blaine, co-founder of thePlatform, a Seattle-based online video publisher.
Blaine and a team of technologists from Microsoft and Adobe formed thePlatform
in 2000, when Netflix was a DVD rental company and broadband penetration was
roughly 15 to 20 percent.
Blaine said the idea for thePlatform came out of Microsoft as a software
offering, but Blaine and others envisioned a software-as-a-service model. Early
adopters included Microsoft, Bank of America and others willing to take a risk.
“It was rocky going. There was limited bandwidth. There was limited content. We
had to have faith that it would become what it is today,” Blaine said.
“When we started, the market rate for [online video] delivery was $10 per GB.
That does not work as a business. Today, it’s pennies. It’s a dramatic change
over a short period of time. That’s pivotal to delivery of online video.
“Devices that were first-class video-capable landing in the market was another
huge one. I’d be lying if I said I could predict what the iPad would do, but it
highly changed the market,” he said. “Consumers didn’t quite react the same way
Game consoles also were big for thePlatform, as well as TV Everywhere.
Microsoft’s patronage didn’t hurt, but ThePlatform also was able to get a
foothold because expectations were different as well. Timeliness was less
urgent, Blaine said. Now, news has to be up within a couple of minutes. Even
entertainment is beholden to a different set of windows, and the pressure to
target online ads is increasing, “even though the numbers are a fraction of
what they are for television,” he said.
Dixon noted that H.264 was critical to online video delivery as well. Blaine
said network improvements also contributed. Another development—adaptive
bitrate streaming—enabled better quality of service to a multitude of device
So then, Dixon wondered, Is the Internet the new TV: “
When I watch Netflix, I’m watching television, so are we there?
Not yet, Blaine said.
“There are still optimizations that have to be done around peak events. The
Oscars had issues. HBO has issues on premiere nights.”
Dixon asks if new codecs will solve the problem of peaks breaking the Internet.
Not immediately, according to Blaine.
“We see early vanguard around HEVC and DASH,” Blaine said. “But we also see
customers still managing HDS and HLS.”
DASH—Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP—enables multiplatform delivery using
existing Web technology. It’s similar to Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and
Adobe’s HTTP Dynamic Streaming technology. Dixon asked if DASH would solve
streaming format fragmentation.
Blaine said it likely would suffer from the security concerns on the part of
content providers, but that device reach will be better.
I can see and HLS and DASH world
for a while. Hulu is going to MPEG-DASH,” he said.
On the compression side, Dixon noted that HEVC typically is attached to Ultra
HD. Netflix is doing “House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad” in 4K. Amazon is ramping
“How far along are you for that type of delivery, when do you see it taking
off?” Dixon asked.
“We’re ready for it,” Blaine said. “It’s an opportunity for over-the-top. Most
legacy set-tops won’t play 4K. When you consider overarching strategy, there
are hurdles to 4K adoption.”
Comcast is getting past the set-top hurdle with a Samsung smart TV app that
will convert video to 4K, he said.
“TV manufacturers are hot to sell 4K, but you don’t hear a clamoring demand for
4K resolution,” Blaine said.
Dixon talked about seeing a clip in 4K that made him cry out for a soft filter.
Blaine said sports and content especially created for 4K would be “fantastic.”