Monitoring the future of streaming

By Erik Otto, CEO, Mediaproxy

 

OTT has become the media success story of the last decade, offering a wide variety of content and challenging the dominance of terrestrial, cable and satellite television. It has also posed new technical issues that need to be addressed. Erik Otto, CEO of Mediaproxy, looks at the various challenges facing the OTT/streaming sector from a compliance and monitoring perspective.

Streaming has made a profound and lasting impact on how people watch films and TV shows at home. It has not only changed the traditional, linear model of broadcasting but also led to the original streamers, notably Netflix and Amazon, moving into production and making both feature films and mini-series.

The growth in OTT has also necessitated technological changes, not least in the way the multiple streams are monitored and analyzed to ensure that the content both complies with regulatory standards and also distributed efficiently to the wide range of platforms and devices now being used by viewers. To achieve this, streamed video services are employing sophisticated compliance logging systems to ensure the quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE) their viewership expects.

 

Audiences today not only want the same picture and audio quality as linear channels but the higher resolution and immersiveness that the likes of Netflix and Amazon have made their key selling points through Ultra HD/4K and Dolby Atmos. This has put further pressure on playout facilities to ensure that not only does the output meet the necessary standards at source but also maintains a high level of quality as it travels along the distribution chain and passes through different stages along the way, including cable head-ends and ad insertion points.

The modern playout center has to be flexible and adaptable, with the ability to scale up – or down – as channels are added or removed. While technical operation staff are still important to the running of things, they can no longer be expected to physically monitor every channel being played out. As a consequence, master control rooms (MCRs) are increasingly moving to the use of multiviewers, rather than relying on banks of displays each dedicated to showing only one output. This new way of working is underpinned by the concept of monitoring by exception, which enables operators to get on with other tasks until a problem is actually detected. Instead of having to sit and view multiple screens, they only need to bring a channel up on a display when alerted. They can then isolate, analyze and deal with any faults using specialist tools offered by the compliance system.

 

With this kind of capability, facilities are able to future-proof their operations, which will be crucial both technically and financially because it is likely that the number of channels will only go up, not down. This increase might not be permanent, with more channels being created for a set period of time during major events such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup, but playout companies and streaming clients need to have the capacity to not only add additional services when necessary but monitor them efficiently and comprehensively.

Streaming has been an incredibly successful technology. In the last ten years it has moved on from being a way for viewers to catch up with programs they missed on their initial terrestrial transmission to being the way that an ever-increasing number of people watch films and TV shows. Although the number of subscriptions increased dramatically during the Covid pandemic, the leading companies – Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Disney+ – have seen those figures drop significantly in the last year as people cut back due to the rise in the cost of living.

 

While streaming services in general, and Netflix in particular, championed the subscription model over advertising, there is now a swing towards the established, old fashioned practice of selling ad slots as a way to maintain revenue levels. In compliance monitoring terms, this has increased the reliance on dynamic ad insertion (DAI) to guarantee that the right ads are shown at the correct times on a specific platform.

Automated DAI systems can create streams combining video and ads without needing a web page or app to manage the procedure. This reduces the possibly of technical problems when a stream reaches the receiving device, which could be a smart TV, computer or laptop, smartphone or other mobile device. DAI is also able to deliver targeted advertising, with a higher degree of personalization that reflect a viewer’s interests and preferences. As this is similar to how commercial linear TV channels are organized, it is imperative that the OTT service does not suffer any latency or buffering between the video content and ads, instead presenting a continuous, seamless output.

 

Streaming has also embraced another core element of linear TV, the live broadcast. The most obvious example of this is sport, with both Amazon and specialist streamer DAZN showing live football, rugby and boxing, but concerts and coverage of major public events are also proving popular. As any break in the broadcast of, for example, a football match would be unacceptable, comprehensive monitoring of live streams is now absolutely essential.

Live broadcasting additionally demands there are no delays on either the feed from the venue or the stream to platforms and devices. As a result, monitoring systems have to support low latency formats such as Apple HLS (HTTP Live Streaming), MPEG-DASH, Microsoft Smooth Streaming, Zixi and SRT. This is imperative if streaming services are to deliver lag-free signals that match linear terrestrial TV broadcasts.

Streaming is now a major part of how people watch and enjoy video. Compliance monitoring should be a major component in how these streamed services are distributed to ensure the highest possible quality and enjoyment for the viewing audience.

 

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