OTT: The Challenges of Infrastructure

ALEXANDRIA, VA.—The biggest issue that OTT providers continue to face in 2017 is one of infrastructure—and unlike with cable providers who had traditionally built out their delivery network, OTT providers must rely on what is already in the ground or on utility poles.

“Infrastructure is clearly a problem, but isn’t something broadcasters alone can easily solve—for one how do you get that high-bandwidth delivery method to every home,” said Ian Young, product manager at Snell Advanced Media. “If you can’t be sure of your infrastructure you need to address why that audience is having an issue.”

Already there are issues with high profile events, and live content—including sports—that could become more problematic, especially as there is so much bandwidth available in the pipe.

“Some challenges are not surmountable,” said Jim DeFilippis, CEO of TMS Consulting. “Content providers can make all the best-of-breed arrangements including CDNs, origin bandwidth and storage, consumer app; but ultimately the performance of delivery of content over the internet is not guaranteed. Among the uncontrollable elements in the delivery of TV content over the internet are choke points where packets are delayed or dropped, especially with popular live content.”

Alex Holtz, director of market development for news and content at Grass Valley

Fortunately this is an issue that ISPs are already striving to resolve.

“The infrastructure players are actually ahead of those on the broadcast side, and within the next year or two we will see an even more seamless process to handle the increased bandwidth of traffic,” said Alex Holtz, director of market development for news and content delivery at Grass Valley. “Right now it is very complex as there are too many moving parts with systems that could be integrated.”

One solution to address the bandwidth issue could be content delivery networks, which limit how far the content will need to be streamed. In this way it will be closer to the viewer and address some of the network latency especially at peak viewing times. This could enable servers that aren’t much larger than the size of a DVD player to maintain an entire Netflix library of content.

“Netflix’s stream doesn’t go back to California,” explained Yuval Fisher of Imagine Communications. “Its content is widely distributed over a VPN, and the same type of delivery will have to happen with replication at the last mile. The other thing that we expect is an increase in bandwidth, which could include putting more fiber in the ground.”

Richard Brandon

In the short term however, this won’t be so much about adding more routers and switches, but rather, replicate the content closer to the viewers. “The last mile isn’t really the problem with OTT,” said Richard Brandon, CMO of Edgeware. “Most people have enough bandwidth today to watch this content. It is increasingly the distance to the source. The model however gets harder for fringe content.”

To make all this possible, local channels will also have to be OTT-ready, but other issues will need to be addressed, as well.

“The content rights need to be resolved, either by replacing content embargoed for streaming, or by ‘decorating’ the channel, such as by adding in-band streaming restrictions,” said Jean Macher, director of market development with Harmonic. “The broadcast network and the local broadcasters will have to collaborate to be successful. In the U.S., the trend is to use SCTE-224 and SCTE-35 in tandem as a way for networks to decorate channels and send content rules to the MVPDs."

Harmonic is currently deploying such a solution for one of the big broadcast networks, using a hybrid on-prem and public cloud architecture, added Macher.

The key to all this is satisfying viewers who want to find their content on the most convenient platform.

“Sometimes that will be traditional TV, sometimes it’s through OTT, sometimes it’s through a mobile device,” said Louis Gump, CEO of NewsOn. “We’re still in a place where a lot of the content that is available in one platform is the same content that is available on another and there’s going to be an opportunity, especially in the case of mobile, about ways to use those platforms as ‘funnels’ to a ‘TV experience.’”