IP-based technology has had a significant impact on video services delivered to the consumer, but it is also affecting video contribution and processing further upstream in the video value chain.
Video feeds from event facilities like sports stadiums are usually transported back to the broadcast center, where they are then integrated with graphics, commentary and so on before they are broadcast to our TV screens. These are known as contribution feeds (as opposed to distribution feeds, which are to the end user). Traditionally, contribution has been the domain of satellite companies, but more recently broadcasters have been looking at fiber-based network providers to deliver the same services.
Many fiber-based contribution providers have also started to offer value-added services such as video processing, as distribution feeds increasingly also have to be adapted for online delivery. Edge caching, video adaptation and content delivery is also becoming important for OTT distribution as services go multiscreen. Naturally, operators have an opportunity here to leverage the network assets they already have in place.
Tata Communications Ltd. has targeted this opportunity in recent years, and Telco Transformation caught up with Brian Morris, vice president and general manager of global media and entertainment services at the operator, to discuss the current status and long-term plans in this area.
Telco Transformation: What are the principal changes you are seeing in the media industry from your vantage point?
Brian Morris: The principal shift we have seen more recently is the rapid evolution from historic video distribution infrastructure that was satellite based, to IP-based infrastructure, for a substantial part of video services [for contribution]; and the transition from appliance-based processing to cloud-based processing architectures.
This fits well with Tata Communications' strategy -- our core assets are 220km of undersea cable and more than 1 million square feet of data centers across a number of different locations.
We are seeing the media ecosystem change and we are changing alongside to cater to it. We need to address the cloud-based usage needs of different verticals, from traditional content owners who need to develop and redistribute content globally, service providers as part of the value chain but also movie studios, gaming platforms, new media companies such as Vice, Red Bull and ATN networks in South Asia -- companies that are now going direct to consumer.
We provide transport for contribution, distribution, hosting -- once it's in our cloud we can do media storage, transcoding, ABR [adaptive bit rate video streaming], broadcast playout, graphics -- a whole host of functions. And it's cloud-based, so it's all opex -- buy-as-you-go, usage-based pricing.
TT: What led to this shift, i.e. cloud-based solutions?
BM: The industry has been looking at this for a while. I was at Cisco previously and we were looking at this five to six years ago. We could see the potential but we weren't ready for a broadcast implementation. The technology has become sufficiently developed in the last two to four years, and the ecosystem has developed. We've built our own facilities, created teleports for content to tap into this trend, for example.
Companies are finding that opex can be enhanced by moving to managed services, and we've seen opex-based models spin up dramatically. This is clear for large media companies, but also for the little guys, the new media companies that want to launch new services. We're seeing a technology and market shift occur and it lets us leverage our data center and network properties.
TT: Can you share an example of this trend?
BM: Sure -- for example we have a large service provider client. Right now, they are delivering 800 channels. They have redesigned their network, decommissioned sites and are now using our network. This has led to a 20% decrease in their opex.
Do you think satellite is going to fade away for contribution?
BM: I think to say they are a 100% loser is not the right way to look at it. But I do see a degradation of content volume, as it shifts to terrestrial IP-based platforms. For us, we have added 77 new customers and seen 40% growth.
I think we are seeing a migration happening, where customers are thinking more when renewing their satellite uplinks, and thinking again when their hardware needs to be upgraded. And there is a lot up for renewal in coming years.
TT: What are the advantages of an IP-based approach over satellite? Is it lower cost?
BM: There are certainly cost-associated advantages, but also terrestrial networks can offer resiliency easily, through diversified paths. We can also add capacity very quickly, specially for remote production, 360-degree video and other advanced formats.
With enormous bandwidth requirements also come large operational savings. We can bring camera feeds back [to a central broadcast facility instead of processing on location] -- that's higher bandwidth, but less logistical cost for broadcasters.
TT: So do you see VR and UHD as major opportunities? What are your expectations of these technologies?
BM: 4K/UHD certainly has potential in the market, we saw that a few years ago. We delivered the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix to the UK a few years ago. Technology-wise I think the industry is ready to go. We have processing, systems -- we have everything in place. Device penetration is also growing, it's at about 10% of global homes according to some numbers I have seen. And in 2020, 22-25% of all households will have a UHD viewing experiences.
Channels are limited till next year. In 2017 more UHD channels will launch, though with limited channel capacity there will be challenges. But providers will say they have it, and it will accelerate from 2017 to 2020. It's already changed on the production side -- for example, we have one studio client that only does UHD. And I think we'll see more and more of that, for sports in particular.
TT: How can your cloud-based services support global delivery? And do you focus on live or file-based [VoD] delivery?
BM: Well, we have a network of 300 media hotspots, many in a client location like a BT Tower, aimed at video delivery as part of our Video Connect solution. We can conduct video processing at a variety of locations -- London, Pune, Chennai and the west and east coasts of the US. And we'll be adding Singapore next year.
We definitely do both live and file-based, we have to do both. That's a must now. Live does pose some additional challenges. The main one is latency, we have to find ways to reduce latency. We have teamed up with Net Insight for that. We offer an ultra-low latency app built across servers in our data centers. This eliminates the file deconstruction and reconstruction that takes place at most CDN nodes. And by using this we can provide a live OTT feed faster than a broadcast feed to the same customer. It's a three- to six-second lead over the broadcast feed, so we can build a buffer to synchronize with the broadcast feed.
This also provides multiscreen synchronization which is useful for gambling apps and for social media interaction, for example, especially for sporting events. We should have this fully launched by the end of 2016 with multiple customers to demonstrate its capability.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation