#ETIA14 Examines Evolution of OTT

STANFORD, CALIF.— 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 with phones.”

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 types.

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 up 4K

“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.”