With the fall of Megaupload, legal VOD sites are quickly gaining back popularity as consumers are eager to watch fresh video contents on all their connected devices. If you are a content owner, a TV channel or a telco, it may be the right time to (re)launch you Multiscreen OTT VOD offer. This post intends to start from the reference tech choices in this game – Netflix’s ones – explain the major challenges of such type of service and the associated DRM issues, and finally drive you throughout the different market options you have to setup your own service on a close basis. Everything would have been easier if Netflix did sell its solution as a white label platform, but it’s not (yet) the case, so this leaves fun territories to explore !
Some pioneer second-screen applications have been deployed over the past year, so we now can find various use cases for content synchronization, from live TV shows to BluRay and soon VOD, for a wide range of interactive features like quizz/votes, branded merchandising, interactive ads and so on (high creativity required here)… To make the connected devices aware of the content, all of these apps use either automatic content recognition (ACR) via fingerprinting or content tagging via audio watermarking, using the tablet’s microphone as the audio capture source. There are some other techniques, more or less identified, that can also be used, we’ll see it later on.
Here is our scenario : you are the technical director of a web startup, already having proven your talents with your thematic VOD streaming channel – and your boss suddenly thinks you’re a grown enough company to jump on the broadcast wagon and manage your own 24/7 live TV channel, targeting IPTV and multiplatform OTT, with a mix of some live studio shows and mainly pre-recorded programs. And of course readify it for later iTV DTT distribution. Quite an exciting challenge !
Fortunately, the web attitude has contaminated many industries with its desire to promote interoperability and avoid vendor lock-in with full-IP standard worflows. The BBC has shown the way for a long-time, funding many developments like the Dirac codec for its own needs of tapeless workflows and open-sourcing them quickly afterwards. Other TV channels like SVT from Sweden (with CasparCG) and many independent developers have jumped onboard, and by combining their efforts with your usual web video tools like FFmpeg or other free tools, you can for sure build the target platform.
If you got a plane for Amsterdam in September, there’s a chance that it’s not (only) to make you bulldog walking under the red lights : you will probably be undermining your new pair of shoes in the alleys of the RAI, seeking the freshness of streaming video innovations.
Each year the trip is too short – and the feet do hurt – especially if you didn’t carefully select your target booths in advance in order to see the more interesting technology breakthroughs. While making this preparation exercise, I thought that I could share my choices, in order to save your time and shoes a bit, and to hear back your tips as comments. So here are some suggestions of visits to arrange if your job is to build streaming-media-oriented-production-workflows like I do.
WebM is surely one of the hotest streaming topics right now, because it’s one of the two final HTML5 video standards with H.264. When Google bought On2 in 2009 and open-sourced its latest VP8 codec one year later, two promises were made : providing a codec which quality can compete with H.264 , and providing it in a royalty-free way. On the quality point, the general opinion is that the VP8 codec is slightly less performing than H.264 – but it can be an acceptable trade-off regarding the royalties point.
Precisely, the royalty-free point is the one which raises the more questions now, as MPEG-LA is said to have a lineup of 12 patent owners ready to claim their rights on intellectual property, as VP8 would use compression techniques taken from H.264. Seeing their fight against Google being a success would cause a major setback in HTML5 standardization efforts around open source solutions – WebM then being another coding technology subject to royalties after H.264. Nevertheless, the patent war has not started yet and WebM is still a good alternative to H.264, on the paper. And that’s why we are curious to know how we can implement it in our existing or upcoming workflows.
There are basically two ways to sustain the extensive growth of video formats that you must, as a media distributor, serve to your different target clients’ devices : the most common answer is to choose the best in breed most-powerful encoders to prepare all the target formats during the content preparation time, but you can adopt a different approach saying that you want to prepare your contents once and have the distribution part of the overall workflow take care of the repackaging and protection of the contents on the fly.
This alternative approach means : less files to manage in the main production workflow, less storage, less bandwidth to populate the origin servers, smaller time to contents’ online availability and easier support for new formats – shortly said, an agile path. Potentially a risky one, but quite attractive…