For many different reasons, 2020 has been a year we will never forget. Global lockdown orders have elevated viewing figures for all media to unprecedented levels, with subscription to and streaming of OTT services a particular beneficiary. More content has been watched by more people than ever before, but what are some of the trends behind the headline figures, and what can they tell us about the way that the industry has rapidly evolved during the pandemic?
From our conversations with our customers and partners, and being involved in industry research projects around the world, we have identified the six following trends that will have a key impact in 2021 and beyond.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTENT
Increasingly we are seeing that companies both create and distribute content, with very few either sticking to solely creation or distribution, but rather taking total ownership of the entire vertical.
We have seen an increasing move towards live content as the year has unfolded. Despite 2020 being a dreadful year for live events—with sports particularly affected as seasons paused and then truncated—live entertainment has fared little better and we are starting to see live content featured more heavily in the plans of streaming services, and even overtaking on-demand in some cases.
This is almost a complete reversal from the start of the pandemic, and live linear is a very large part of this movement, as witnessed by the launch of services such as NBC Universal’s Peacock, Fubo’s expansion and successful IPO, as well as the growing interest from OTT providers in offering local feeds to their subscribers.
AN INCREASE IN VIRTUALIZATION
We are seeing a big growth in software-defined streaming infrastructure versus hardware-defined infrastructure.
This trend goes back over a decade but seems to be accelerating in the pandemic as people move urgently toward remote production workflows and are therefore having to implement plans that they have already had on the drawing board for some time. Currently, the reliance on software-defined vs. hardware-defined infrastructure is hovering around a 65:35 split, but we expect this to shift further to a 90:10 ratio over the next few years.
DELIVERY OVER IP
We are a long way from the time when broadcast video was delivered over finite types of connectivity. Fifty-six percent of the respondents in a recent survey on the state of the streaming industry are now saying they will be using standard internet connections over the next two years, with the rest comprised of 25% CDN, 12% fiber, 4% cellular and 2% satellite.
As a caveat, the survey did not allow for multiple answers, but we were surprised to see that the internet was that high and conversely cellular was so low.
THE GROWTH OF 5G
The 5G introduction to the consumer market has been complex, but in terms of B2B usage it is already starting to make waves, and as a result we’re conducting active production pilots with major broadcasters in partnership with Verizon and AWS Wavelength Zones. The first workflow that we are putting into production is distribution, effectively a satellite-replacement distribution workflow over 5G.
Distribution is exciting work and seen across the industry as a key use case for the future of 5G, followed closely by direct-to-consumer applications. Contribution, B2B uses and in-venue delivery are all gaining interest but not quite yet building up significant momentum. We suspect that contribution specifically will end up becoming significant in the coming years.
What level of impact will 5G have on video streaming strategies? Over the next two years opinion is mixed, with the industry largely spread out on a scale between a total game-changer or having no impact at all. Though if anything, opinion is slightly weighted to the latter end of that scale.
THE NEED FOR INTEROPERABILITY
Unsurprisingly given the industry’s increasing path to complexity, the majority of companies are stating that interoperability is of the highest importance to their streaming infrastructures.
This is partly a result of people doubling down on their existing infrastructures and not wishing to throw everything out with the installation of a new system and makes perfect sense given the level of mergers that have dominated the media industry, as well as modern production workflows that touch far more than the single organization. No one wants to find themselves trapped in a silo.
THE IMPACT OF MACHINE LEARNING
The streaming industry sees quality of service as being the primary use for machine learning (ML) deployments, with predictive maintenance and transport optimization tied for second place. Anomaly detection and security are distant considerations, though arguably all of these are related to QoS in one way or another.
As shifting workflows within and between media companies increase in complexity, the data and analytics gathered from across that supply chain can be mined and interpreted using AI and ML tools to ensure optimal Quality of Transport, Quality of Service, Quality of Content and therefore create optimal Quality of Experience for end users.
We see potential in using AI and ML to streamline broadcast workflows even further, including better identifying root cause analysis, optimizing video transport across different IP networks and much more. We’ve also used ML to work out that there are situations where we shouldn’t be using ML, and that some things are much better being hard-coded in. In other words, there are valuable things you can learn from ML even if you don’t put it into production.
One thing ML can’t do is predict exactly what trends we’ll be talking about as 2021 unwinds. At this time a year ago few among us could have foreseen the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and the rest of the world. But these six trends represent issues are the starting point, and it will be fascinating to monitor how they develop over the next 12 months.
John Wastcoat is senior vice president of strategic alliances and marketing at Zixi.
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