S02E08: Game of Streams (Calm after the storm)
Our Media Solution Consultant, Magnus Svensson, is sharing his reflections from the online streaming industry in this post. This is part of a monthly series so make sure to follow us here if you don’t want to miss an episode.
With some exceptions, it feels like the streaming video market has taken a deep breath and some well-deserved vacation after the FIFA World Cup. The break is however short as the viewers have increasing expectations on their streaming services. The competition accelerates for every month when cord-shifters move towards online skinny bundles and more and more content owners decide to go for a direct to consumer model.
So how do you build a streaming solution? As a media solution consultant, I’m often involved advising companies that would like to start with streaming or improve their existing service. My recommendations are always unique for each customer as there are no “one-size-fits-all” and the circumstances always differ.
If you start from a legacy platform, which is usually the case, you have a different situation than if you build a streaming solution from scratch. If you’re going for a VoD service, you have different needs than ongoing for live streaming. In the coming chapters, I will go through a few areas to think of when building a streaming solution.
Build yourself or managed service
One of the first decisions you need to make is if you’re going for a managed service or if you build yourself. In many cases, I would recommend a managed service, even for big organizations and companies. Building a streaming solution is very complex, and unless you have experience in streaming services and technical competence it’s not recommended. It’s better to focus on your core competence, that could be content production and selling you service and content.
If you decide to build yourself, the choices are more or less endless. But it could, of course, give more freedom and flexibility. You could full cloud, fully on-premise or a mix if the two. Running 24x7 live channels from the cloud is still very costly but for events and VoD services, it could be a good option. With today’s technology, it is possible to go for a mix, and quite easily move between cloud and on-premise.
The complexity increases the more devices and platforms you intend to reach. Each platform (mobile phone, tablet, web-browser, smart-tv and other streaming devices) has its own characteristics and limitations. Even if you only go for the most common platforms and devices you will end up with multiple transport protocols, multiple encryption methods (yes, this is still the case) and in some cases multiple codecs.
Adding to the complexity with devices, each device will have frequent operating system updates which would mean testing of your solution, and in some cases development impact.
Depending on your needs for content protection the industry offers different choices. You could go for a simple solution with token security or add encryption and Digital Rights Management (DRM). Going back to the device complexity, the different devices use different DRM solutions. The best in this case is to go for a multi-DRM vendor that will remove most of this complexity.
Another layer of security, that gets more and more attention, is watermarking. This means that you add a fingerprint, visible or forensic, to the actual video. The technology makes it possible to pinpoint where the leak comes from.
For live streaming, especially for live sports, latency is an area to handle. During the FIFA World Cup, the latency introduced by streaming became known by the general public. There are technologies today that reduce latency and depending on your needs, you could go as low as sub-second latency. But there are no free lunches, and most solutions come with drawbacks such as vulnerability to network disturbances. The lower latency you go for, the fewer options exist in the market.
Capacity and scalability
As stated above, streaming has become a commodity and the choice of TV services for many people. This means that you need to be able to scale and deliver the content without buffering and disturbances. All components in your solution must handle the load, including surrounding components such as authentication and billing. It’s important that each part of the system could be bypassed in case of failure so that the video is always delivered even if for example, the billing system is down.
All in all, with current technology, every content owner could build a streaming platform and distribute their content directly to the subscribers. But the type of solution could be carefully selected depending on needs, experience, and technical competence.
To watch out for the coming months…
IBC in Amsterdam is just around the corner. As usual, we will see a lot of new product announcements and partnerships. I expect to see a lot around low-latency and machine learning, and AI and the codec discussions will continue.
The speakers have been announced for Streaming Tech Sweden, that will take place on the 7th of November in Stockholm. You will be able to listen to speakers from Netflix, Youtube, Akamai and many more and this is a very good opportunity to be inspired and educated by leading technology experts in the streaming industry.
Magnus Svensson is a Media Solution Consultant and partner at Eyevinn Technology. Eyevinn Technology is the leading independent consultant firm specializing in video technology and media distribution.